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Another worry that critics have about evolutionarypsychologists' approach to hypothesis testing is that they giveinsufficient weight to serious alternate hypotheses that fit therelevant data. Buller dedicates several chapters of his book onevolutionary psychology to an examination of hypothesis testing andmany of his criticisms center around the introduction of alternatehypotheses that do as good a job, or a better job, of accounting forthe data. For example, he argues that the hypothesis ofassortative mating by status does a better job of accounting for someof evolutionary psychologists' mate selection data than theirpreferred high status preference hypothesis. This debate hangs onhow the empirical tests come out. The previous debate is moreclosely connected to theoretical issues in philosophy of biology.
Buller's criticism that evolutionary psychologists assume thatevolution is finished for the traits that they are interested inconnects worries about the understanding of evolutionary theory withworries about the testing of evolutionary hypotheses. Here isTooby and Cosmides clear statement of the assumption that Buller isworried about: “evolutionary psychologists primarily explore thedesign of the universal, evolved psychological and neuralarchitecture that we all share by virtue of being human. Evolutionarypsychologists are usually less interested in human characteristics thatvary due to genetic differences because they recognize that thesedifferences are unlikely to be evolved adaptations central to humannature. Of the three kinds of characteristics that are found inthe design of organisms – adaptations, by-products, and noise– traits caused by genetic variants are predominantlyevolutionary noise, with little adaptive significance, while complexadaptations are likely to be universal in the species” (Tooby andCosmides 2005, 39). This line of thinking also capturesevolutionary psychologists' view of human nature: human nature isour collection of universally shared adaptations. (See Downes and Machery 2013 for more discussion of this and other, contrasting biologically based accounts of human nature.) The problemhere is that it is false to assume that adaptations cannot be subject tovariation. The underlying problem is the constrained notion ofadaptation. Adaptations are traits that arise as a result ofnatural selection and not traits that exhibit design and are universalin a given species (cf. Seger and Stubblefield 1996). As a result, it is quite consistent to argue,as Buller does, that many human traits may still be under selection andyet reasonably be called adaptations. Finally, philosophers of biologyhave articulated several different types of adaptationism (seee.g. Godfrey-Smith 2001; Lewens 2009; Sober 2000). While some of thesetypes of adaptationism can be reasonably seen placing constraints onhow evolutionary research is carried out, Godfrey-Smith's "explanatoryadaptationism" is different in character (Godfrey-Smith2001). Explanatory adaptationism is the view that apparent design isone of the big questions we face in explaining our natural world andnatural selection is the big (and only supportable) answer to such abig question. Explanatory adaptationism is often adopted by those whowant to distinguish evolutionary thinking from creationism orintelligent design and is the way evolutionary psychologists oftencouch their work to distinguish it from their colleagues in thebroader social sciences. While explanatory adaptationism does serve todistinguish evolutionary psychology from such markedly differentapproaches to accounting for design in nature, it does not place manyclear constraints on the way in which evolutionary explanations shouldbe sought (cf. Downes forthcoming). So far these are disagreementsthat are located in differing views about the nature and scope ofevolutionary explanation but they have ramifications in the discussionabout hypothesis testing.
Writing a Hypothesis for Your Science Fair Project
The second type of argument is one side of a perennial debate in thephilosophy of cognitive science. Fodor (2000, 68) takes thisargument to rest on the unwarranted assumption that there is nodomain-independent criterion of cognitive success, which he thinksrequires an argument that evolutionary psychologists do notprovide. Samuels (see esp. Samuels 1998) responds to evolutionarypsychologists that arguments of this type do not sufficientlydiscriminate between a conclusion about domain specific processingmechanisms and domain specific knowledge or information. Samuelsarticulates what he calls the “library model of cognition”in which there is domain specific information or knowledge but domaingeneral processing. The library model of cognition is notmassively modular in the relevant sense but type two arguments supportit. According to Samuels, evolutionary psychologists needsomething more than this type of argument to warrant their specifickind of conclusion about massive modularity. Buller (2005)introduces further worries for this type of argument by tackling theassumption that there can be no such thing as a domain general problemsolving mechanism. Buller worries that in their attempt tosupport this claim, evolutionary psychologists fail to adequatelycharacterize a domain general problem solver. For example, theyfail to distinguish between a domain general problem solver and adomain specific problem solver that is over generalized. Heoffers the example of social learning as a domain general mechanismthat would produce domain specific solutions to problems. He usesa nice biological analogy to drive this point home: the immune systemis a domain general system in that it allows the body to respond to awide variety of pathogens. While it is true that the immunesystem produces domain specific responses to pathogens in the form ofspecific antibodies, the antibodies are produced by one domain generalsystem. These and many other respondents conclude that type twoarguments do not adequately support the massive modularity thesis.
The second type of argument makes no appeal to biologicalconsiderations whatsoever (although many evolutionary psychologistsgive these arguments a biological twist). Call this the computationalargument, which unfolds as follows: minds are computational problem solvingdevices; there are specific types of solutions to specific types ofproblems; and so for minds to be (successful) general problem solvingdevices, they must consist of collections of specific problemsolving devices, i.e. many computational modules. This type ofargument is structurally similar to the biological argument (asCarruthers points out). The key idea is that there is no sense tothe idea of a general problem solver and that no headway can be made incognitive science without breaking down problems into their componentparts.
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Evolutionary psychology is one of many biologically informedapproaches to the study of human behavior. Along with cognitivepsychologists, evolutionary psychologists propose that much, if notall, of our behavior can be explained by appeal to internalpsychological mechanisms. What distinguishes evolutionarypsychologists from many cognitive psychologists is the proposal thatthe relevant internal mechanisms are adaptations—products ofnatural selection—that helped our ancestors get around theworld, survive and reproduce. To understand the central claims ofevolutionary psychology we require an understanding of some keyconcepts in evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, philosophy ofscience and philosophy of mind. Philosophers are interested inevolutionary psychology for a number of reasons. For philosophers ofscience —mostly philosophers of biology—evolutionarypsychology provides a critical target. There is a broad consensusamong philosophers of science that evolutionary psychology is a deeplyflawed enterprise. For philosophers of mind and cognitive scienceevolutionary psychology has been a source of empirical hypothesesabout cognitive architecture and specific components of thatarchitecture. Philosophers of mind are also critical of evolutionarypsychology but their criticisms are not as all-encompassing as thosepresented by philosophers of biology. Evolutionary psychology is alsoinvoked by philosophers interested in moral psychology both as asource of empirical hypotheses and as a critical target.
In what follows I briefly explain evolutionary psychology's relationsto other work on the biology of human behavior and the cognitivesciences. Next I introduce the research tradition's key theoreticalconcepts. In the following section I take up discussions aboutevolutionary psychology in the philosophy of mind, specificallyfocusing on the debate about the massive modularity thesis. I go on toreview some of the criticisms of evolutionary psychology presented byphilosophers of biology and assess some responses to thosecriticisms. I then go on to introduce some of evolutionarypsychology's contributions to moral psychology and, finally, brieflydiscuss the reach and impact of evolutionary psychology.
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Evolutionary psychology is invoked in a wide range of areas of study,for example, in English Literature, Consumer Studies and Law. (SeeBuss 2005 for discussion of Literature and Law and Saad 2007 for adetailed presentation of evolutionary psychology and consumerstudies.) In these contexts, evolutionary psychology is usuallyintroduced as providing resources for practitioners, which willadvance the relevant field. Philosophers have responded critically tosome of these applications of evolutionary psychology. One concern isthat often evolutionary psychology is conflated with evolution orevolutionary theory in general (see e.g. Leiter and Weisberg 2009 andDownes 2013). The discussion reviewed in Section 4. above, reveals agood deal of disagreement between evolutionary theorists andevolutionary psychologists over the proper account ofevolution. Evolutionary psychologists offer to enhance fields such asLaw and Consumer Studies by introducing evolutionary ideas but what isin fact offered is a selection of theoretical resources championedonly by proponents of a specific approach to evolutionarypsychology. For example, Gad Saad (2007) argues that Consumer Studieswill profit greatly from the addition of adaptive thinking,i.e. looking for apparent design, and by introducing hypotheticalevolved modules to account for consumer behavior. Many do not see thisas an effort to bring evolutionary theory, broadly construed, to bearon Consumer Studies (cf. Downes 2013). Promoting disputed theoreticalideas is certainly problematic but bigger worries arise whenthoroughly discredited work is promoted in the effort to applyevolutionary psychology. Owen Jones (see e.g. 2000; 2005), whobelieves that Law will benefit from the application of evolutionarypsychology, champions Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer's (2000) widelydiscredited view that rape is an adaptation as exemplary evolutionarywork (see de Waal 2000, Coyne and Berry 2000, Coyne 2003, Lloyd 2003,Vickers and Kitcher 2003, and Kimmel 2003). Further, Jones (2000)claims that the critics of Thornhill and Palmer's work have nocredibility as scientists and evolutionary theorists. This claimindicates Jones' serious disconnect with the wider scientific (andphilosophical) literature on evolutionary theory (cf. Leiter andWeisberg 2009).
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Many philosophers who work on moral psychology understand that theirtopic is empirically constrained. Philosophers take two mainapproaches to using empirical results in moral psychology. One isto use empirical results (and empirically based theories frompsychology) to criticize philosophical accounts of moral psychology(see e.g. Doris 2002) and one is to generate (and, in the experimentalphilosophy tradition, to test) hypotheses about our moral psychology(see e.g. Nichols 2004). For those who think that some (or all)of our moral psychology is based in innate capacities, evolutionarypsychology is a good source of empirical results and empirically basedtheory. One account of the make-up of our moral psychologyfollows from the massive modularity account of the architecture of themind. Our moral judgments are a product of domain specificpsychological modules that are adaptations and arose in our hominidforebears in response to contingencies in our (mostly) socialenvironments. This position is currently widely discussedby philosophers working in moral psychology. An example of thisdiscussion follows.
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