Evolution and the Psychology of Thinking: The Debate

By David E. Over | Go to book overview

Introduction: The evolutionary psychology of thinking

David E. Over

Barkow, Cosmides, and Tooby (1992, p. 3) defined evolutionary psychology, in the collection of papers that did much to help launch the new subject, in the following terms:

Evolutionary psychology is simply the psychology that is informed by the additional knowledge that evolutionary biology has to offer, in the expectation that understanding the process that designed the human mind will advance the discovery of its architecture. It unites modern evolutionary biology with the cognitive revolution in a way that has the potential to draw together all of the disparate branches of psychology into a single organised system of knowledge.

This definition gave little portent of the vigorous debate, sometimes with unproductive heat, that would flare up over evolutionary psychology (Archer, 2001a, 2001b; Buss, 2001; Campbell, 2001; Dunbar, 2001; Rose & Rose, 2001; Segal, 2001). Leading up to this debate were great advances in evolutionary biology, of obvious relevance to psychology, particularly in the study of the evolution of social behaviour (Hamilton, 1964a, 1964b) and of reciprocal altruism (Trivers, 1971). It is true that sociobiology had appeared before evolutionary psychology and been heavily criticized for its “vaulting ambition” (Kitcher, 1985). Sociobiology primed the critics, but it should have been clear that evolutionary psychology advanced beyond its forerunner, if only in not bypassing the human mind by trying to go straight from biology to human society and culture. (For introductions to the subject at a range of

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