[Paleopsych] Alice Andrews: An Evolutionary Mind

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Alice Andrews: An Evolutionary Mind
Metanexus Anthropos. 2005.01.13. 12, 300 words.

[This is an absolute delight and an effective way of carrying evolutionary 
psychology to its right-brained (?), politically left-wing (?) enemies. I am 
the one who abandoned reality for fiction, as you'll read below, though I only 
meant that I'm turning to fiction to supplement my understanding of human 
nature, since I've gone down the scientific path about as far as the state of 
the art can take me.

[Alice's novel, Trine Erotic, has been among those I have read since the 
abandonment. It may mark the beginnings of a new kind of literature, 
meta-fiction, and I think novels in the future will have to incorporate 
evolutionary psychology themes, at least implicitly. Innocence has been lost 
(again). I'd like another novel about life-long loves and the evolutionary 
psychology behind them. What does it take to keep the spark of infatuation 
alive? How does it matter that, as the years go on, the couple become more and 
more intertwined and co-evolved? Monogamy means having one mirror in which to 
reflect one's self, but only one. This preserves the unity of self and adds to 
the many reasons why divorce should be difficult.]


Alice Andrews, in a wonderfully playful and deeply critical essay,
explores evolutionary psychology, human nature, and evolutionary
storytelling. In her words:

"Evolutionary psychology's view that there is a universal human nature
is explored, as well as the idea that there are two kinds of minds
(Apollinian and Dionysian) whose etiology may be genetically based.
Dionysian minds, it is argued, may be more comfortable with innatist
views of human nature because such minds are 'less defended' and less
compartmentalized. A defense of evolutionary psychology is elaborated
and concludes that we should aim to use our knowledge of our human
nature to make the external world fit our evolved natures, while at
the same time aim to be transcendent via various practices and
practice, i.e., to go against certain hardwired programs. In addition,
evolutionary fiction (meta-seductive fiction) is discussed and
connected to the Dionysian mind. The idea that this particular kind of
storywriting could be a genetic indicator is explored and offers an
explanation for the sometimes serious and passionate business of
critical theory and aesthetic judgments generally."

Alice Andrews (with degrees in philosophy and developmental psychology
from Columbia University; [1]http://bhs.sunydutchess.edu/andrews) has
taught both writing and psychology (and sometimes both at the same
time) with an evolutionary lens for over a decade; and currently
teaches psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Alice is also an editor and writer (books and magazines); was the
associate editor of Chronogram from 2000-2002; and now publishes and
edits Entelechy: Mind and Culture
([2]http://www.entelechyjournal.com), an online journal/'zine devoted
to philosophical, psychological, spiritual, revolutionary, and
evolutionary ideas expressed artfully and creatively. She is also the
author of Trine Erotic, a novel which explores evolutionary


An Evolutionary Mind

by Alice Andrews

Close your Deleuze; open your Darwin.

-Robert Storey, Mimesis and the Human Animal

Of Two Minds

Not that long ago, for about a year, I dated a cute, left-wing
economist off-and-on (though mostly off). We found each other
attractive and exotic and perhaps even fascinating, but we didn't get
along or get each other one bit. It was a frustrating and futile
experiment in the chemistry and mathematics of pairing with someone so
different in every way-even our horoscopes said we were disastrous for
each other. (That a pretty smart girl like me would even mention the
word horoscope in a piece for public consumption would probably make
him cringe and clear his throat a few times.) But in the process of
going toward something so foreign and at once attractive and
repellant, I solidified my worldview that there really are two
different kinds of minds.

Recently, the New York Times ran an article titled "The Political
Brain." The piece suggested that the liberal mind and the conservative
mind are quite different and that this difference is related to the
differences in the way their limbic systems (in particular, the
amygdala) respond to particular stimuli-particularly suffering and
violence. The author made clear to point out that it was difficult to
parse if liberals were born with more sensitive/reactive amygdalae or
if their experiences, etc., shaped the patterns of response; and that
indeed it was probably a little of both, as these things often are.

Of course, in the game 'the nature/nurture debate,' where anyone over
the age of 13 knows the answer is: "it's both," you are really being
asked: To which side do you lean or, perhaps, which side do you
defend? And in this game my answer is nature; though I consider myself
an interactionist; and am informed by an epigenetic, adaptionist
model. (The adaptionist model as it relates to human minds and
behavior is most often referred to as evolutionary psychology (EP)-and
sometimes Darwinian psychology. I will henceforth refer to the
adaptionist model as it relates to the human psyche and human behavior
as EP (evolutionary psychology), since "EP" is the most popular term
for this approach, and seems to be a more rigorous and coherent
meta-theory than some other closely related fields, such as: human
ethology, evolutionary anthropology, and human behavioral biology)

So I will defend an innatist position (while maintaining that the
environment has shaped adaptations and hardwiring and that we're
influenced by the environment). Why? Because I feel it is true-that
much is innate in us-and because others feel it is true, and because
there is some scientific evidence that it is true (e.g., behavioral
genetics). Perhaps I'm an innate underdoggist with a sensitive
amygdala! Because, although being on the nature side these days may
seem fashionable to some, in fact, it hasn't been fashionable for most
of my reading, thinking, and writing years.

The economist on the other hand (or brain) is a social
constructionist/environmentalist-big on Freud (and Marx) and early
childhood experiences as forming personality traits and very big on
the narrative. ('Environmentalist' is a confusing term because of its
other, more common meaning related to efforts to preserve and care for
the natural environment. But in this context, of course, it means
nurture proponent.) He attributed my sympathy with
innatist/essentialist models to a rebellion against my parents! Yet,
I'm an older sibling, and there's empirical evidence to suggest that
older siblings tend to conform, somewhat, to their parents' beliefs.
That was the case with me. It felt awful to feel 'the truth' and to go
'against' their social constructionist view of things. It took a very
long time to individuate. A much better explanation (to me) is that I
have a kind of brain that pushes me in that direction. There's no
question to me that the male/female; left-brain/right- brain;
western/eastern dichotomy is a valuable one for trying to understand
our differences. It may even be better than scanning amygdalae.

Here's the thing: It's a phenomenological certainty that the economist
and I can't see any other way but the way we do; and indeed, our
explanations for things have everything to do with our cognitive
style. You see, I can't help think the way I do because of something
deep and essential and real-my brain. And this thought in itself I
believe comes from my essential nature/brain. I literally cannot get
out of it. And he cannot get out of the way he sees the way he does,
due to his brain/nature. I am right-brain dominant, female and lean
toward an Eastern/collectivist worldview. (I'll call it a Dionysian
mind, after Nietzsche's distinction between the Dionysian and the
Apollinian in The Birth of Tragedy.) I think I'm also old-brainy and
he's new-brainy. This all seems obvious to me. But he'd probably call
it a story, a tall-tale or fiction. He'd say, nice narrative, Alice!
when perhaps this difference lies in our blood and brains. Or genes.
Or souls. Or maybe I just have access to something that he doesn't
always have; or doesn't want to have. It's hard to know.

Indeed, the brain's organization may well be what accounts for the
difference between my Dionysian mind and the economist's Apollinian
mind. Chris McManus, in his awards-winning book Right Hand, Left Hand
(2002), explains that although there's oddly little research done on
the genetics of handedness, and 'brainedness', there is good reason to
believe there are genes responsible for hemispheric dominance,
lateralization and organization. According to McManus, there is a
left-handed gene and it is known as the C gene; the right-handed gene
is known as the D gene. Three manifestations of the alleles are
possible: CC, DC and DD. Most CC individuals will be left-handed but
also may be susceptible to such things as dyslexia, stuttering,
autism, and schizophrenia. These individuals make up about 4% of the
population. Most DD individuals will be right-handed and make up 64%
of the population. And finally the DC individuals (32% of the
population), will be right-handed and left-handed.

McManus writes:

"In looking for an advantage for the C gene-and specifically for the
DC genotype-a good starting place is the most striking feature of the
C gene: its ability to confer randomness on the organization of the
brain, not only for manual dexterity and language...but almost
certainly for a host of other cerebral symmetries, such as those for
reading, writing, visual-spatial processing and emotion. Although it
might seem paradoxical, randomness, at least in small amounts, can
benefit complex systems."

His theory of random cerebral variation "provides an explanation," he
explains, "for the lay belief that some people literally 'think
differently' or have their brain 'wired differently.' In a nutshell,
McManus characterizes the DD brain/mind as "the standard textbook
description" and having the "cold certainty of an ice crystal." For
McManus, every DD brain is effectively built the same way and that
about 2/3 of the population have such brains/mind. The DCers, in
contrast, have modules all over the place, their brains neither
lateralized nor compartmentalized the way DD-brainers' are. What this
randomness means is that there's a good chance you get a kind of
creativity you might not have gotten otherwise. Why? Here are a couple
of his examples, but there are many:

Say a DC individual has "a module specialised for understanding
emotions located in the left hemisphere rather than the right, so that
it now sits alongside left-hemisphere modules involved in the
production of spoken or written language, that might be beneficial for
writing poetry or being an actor....Or "imagine that that a module for
understanding three-dimensional space is in the left hemisphere rather
than the right, so that it is now located alongside modules involved
in fast, accurate, precise control of the hand; that might well
benefit drawing or the visual arts, or perhaps ball control in sport."

It's somehow reassuring to me that I may be the way I am because of an
old C gene. And it is old. The C gene, according to McManus is more
primitive than the R gene. Indeed, this fits in with my sense of the
economist, who I think of as a neo-culturalphile. His mind is
attracted to new things-even shiny things-from his need to see the
latest hippest film, to his postmodern apartment and trendy
metrosexual style. I, on the other hand, am attracted to old things.
My house is old and so are the things I put in it. I liked vintage
clothes 20 years ago and I still wear retro-clothes, though new-since
such clothes exist now, I'm a grown-up, and they fit better. Mr.
economist hardly ever goes back in time to understand the world and
humans, but when he does, he goes back hundreds and sometimes
thousands of years and studies men and systems; whereas when I search
for answers I go back 30, 000 to 300 million years, and study our
distant primate relatives and even microbes. (I should add that I am
also fairly neophilic, but in the way Geoffrey Miller (2000) discusses
neophilia in The Mating Mind.)

How does a new, Apollinian mind-or DD (left-brain dominant) mind work?
The culture at this very moment in time says that (for a female)
having a bit of a tummy (as opposed to very flat or muscley) is nice,
and so this is what he likes now. But when it didn't-just a few
summers ago-he didn't. (This 'bit-o-tummy' meme may change by the
summer, though!) There are some men who have a hair-trigger
sensitivity to culture's ebbs and flows and laws and fashions-while
some men listen to something much more deep and primal; who listen to
the 'nature' within. (Again, I'm not sure if it's a question of
listening to the depth within, or a question of having it there to
listen to or not.)

In social psychology there is something called attribution
theory-dispositional attribution versus situational attribution. A
dispositional attribution (inference) is when a person identifies or
attributes someone's behavior to the person's disposition, nature, and
personality. A situational attribution (inference) is when a person
identifies or attributes someone's behavior to the person's
situation/environment. The tendency for people to attribute a
particular behavior or trait to one's essential nature and not to the
situation, more often, and therefore, more often erroneously, is what
is known as "correspondence bias" and more specifically "the
fundamental attribution error" (Ross, 1977). Most thinking people are
aware of the fundamental attribution error. The right-wing typically
is identified with this kind of less reasoned, more automatic
attribution; the left typically with more reasoned and fairer
situational attributions. There is no social psychological term (as of
yet, and probably there never will be) for the tendency for folks who
are hyper-sensitive to the fundamental attribution error or who have a
tendency to make situational attributions more often than
dispositional ones; their number are so few. (One again wonders if
this dichotomy, this difference in attribution style can be located
somewhere...in the brain or genes...Actually, I wonder. My economist

As essentially more Dionysian, my mind is oodles and oodles more fluid
and boundary-less, and uncontrolling and feminine and eastern, and
artistic and nonjudgmental and non-labely, and okay, a little bit more
nutty than Mr. economist's Apollinian mind. When I think of the people
I know who are social constructionists, these are people who are very
masculine, logical, judgmental, critical, controlling, rigid, etc. Why
is this so? It doesn't make sense! Especially since the EP
(evolutionary psychology) model is innatist and positivist and male,
whereas the social-constructionist model is relational and female.
Maybe there is something to his thing about rebellion! Maybe we adopt
these views as reaction formations?

A "reaction formation" is a kind of defense mechanism which protects
one's self-concept. The classic example is of the homophobe who is, in
fact, a latent homosexual. Although Tom feels Id-y homosexual longing
and desire (having something to do with nature and nurture, no doubt,
though probably more to do with nature), he also feels a strong
Super-ego-y injunction against homosexual behavior (having something
to do with nature and nurture, no doubt, though probably more to do
with nurture). So how does Tom, with his strong moral judge/Super-ego
defend himself from acting on these Id-y impulses that do not jibe
with his self-concept? He reacts against them most fiercely. And he
does so because he knows about the foot-in-the-door phenomenon. He
knows that once you open the door a little to something, you are just
a few more steps from acting on something. So the door must be
completely shut; the smallest opening, the barest light shining
through, and it's all over. He would love and get in a bed with a man;
Tom would be a gay man.

I suggest the same thing happens with fierce social constructionists.
So, the question is, does the economist cling to his social
constructionist view because his real view frightens him? He is very
decent and has a highly developed moral sense and conscience. Perhaps
he doesn't like what or the way he thinks naturally, and so he pushes
it away and goes in the complete opposite direction because he doesn't
feel comfortable with himself and he doesn't like the real, implicit,
deep-down views he holds because they flow from the way his male,
left-brain works: judging, labeling, boxing in, always truly
committing the fundamental attribution error at an automatic,
unconscious level. (See later discussion on genetic determinism and
free-will. My economist is perhaps doing the best thing he can, given
his nature!) I, on the other hand, don't do this by nature. I feel
open to stuff, and don't generally feel the need to cover up how I
feel about people, things, etc. I feel fairly comfortable with myself
and my true feelings and views about people, etc. And so I feel free
and easy to be open to all kinds of information. Information that
suggests things are innate or hardwired is very threatening to people
whose minds naturally have heuristics and algorithms which are male
and compartmentalized. My openness to knowledge-and often what is
considered 'dangerous knowledge' is treated by aggressive male social
constructionists as, indeed, dangerous. But it's as if the ideas
really don't matter that much, but that what matters is their (the
social constructionists') domination in the ideology war. (Here, maybe
some memes- contra memetic-theory-are in service of some genes (DD).)

As J. Phillippe Rushton, an evolutionary theorist points out:

"It would appear that people are able to detect genetic similarity in
others and act accordingly. Religious, political, and other
ideological battles may become as heated as they do because they have
implications for genetic fitness; genotypes will thrive more in some
cultures than others. From this perspective, Karl Marx did not take
the argument far enough in the distal direction: ideology serves more
than economic interest; it also serves genetic purpose."

Truth versus Fiction

There appear to be several critiques of EP from the social

Environmental Superficial straw-man argument

The argument that EP doesn't consider the environment an influence or
even a cause of human behavior and psyche, that it's solely about
genes and therefore erroneous because the Standard Social Science
Model has proven time and time again that the environment plays a
large role in influencing human behavior and psyche, fails because it
doesn't take into account that "evolutionary theory [psychology]
represents a truly interactionist framework. Human behavior cannot
occur without two ingredients: 1. evolved adaptations and 2.
environmental input that triggers the development and activation of
these adaptations" (Buss, 1999).

Social Structural/Social Role Theory Deeper, well-informed etiology

Arguments that recognize that evolutionary psychologists are not
committing a fallacy of false dichotomy about nature and nurture, go
back farther in time and argue about origins. Here is Alice Eagley
(1999), a proponent of the social structural/role theory:

"One important feature is shared by these two origin theories: Both
offer a functional analysis of behavior that emphasizes adjustment to
environmental conditions. However, the two schools of thought differ
radically in their analysis of the timing of the adjustments that are
most important to sex-differentiated behavior.. . .in the origin
theory proposed by evolutionary psychologists, the critical causal
arrow points from evolutionary adaptations to psychological sex
differences. Because women and men possess sex-specific evolved
mechanisms, they differ psychologically and tend to occupy different
social roles. In contrast, in the social structural origin theory, the
critical causal arrow points from social structure to psychological
sex differences. Because men and women tend to occupy different social
roles, they become psychologically different in ways that adjust them
to these roles."

We will probably never be able to answer with authority who is right
here. I think we can, however, say that EP has more explanatory power
than social structural/role theory. It attempts to answer why "men and
women tend to occupy different social roles" not just describe it.
Evolutionary psychologists do study innate, evolved psychological
mechanisms, but the model admits that those mechanisms have been
selected for and have been shaped by the environment through natural
and sexual selection, and also, that those mechanisms are subject to
huge variability within environments-that we are quite adaptable and

Social Structuralist/Social Constructionist/Environmentalist EP =
genetic determinism/immutability begs-the-question argument

Certainly the desire to dispute EP comes from an understandable fear
(historically) that nativist arguments are akin to genetic determinism
and immutability, which they are not. The feminist psychologist Hilary
M. Lips (2005) writes:

"The [sociobiological] theory implies that such human social behaviors
as war, rape, and racism have been 'built in' through our evolution
and that it is impossible to make fundamental changes in the relations
between the sexes." (p.77)

Yikes. The theory neither implies this, nor do evolutionary
psychologists (or sociobiologists) say this. In fact, they say quite
the opposite. I'll return to this question later, but here's
evolutionary psychologist, David M. Buss (1996, p. 306

"Contrary to common misconceptions about evolutionary psychology,
documenting that sex differences originated through a causal process
of sexual selection does not imply that the differences are
unchangeable or intractable."

Social Constructionist/Poststructuralist Knowledge is socially
constructed; there is no Truth; EP-is-a- narrative argument.

It seems pretty safe and reasonable to say that ideology and
subjectivity can shape our epistemological framework; ideology and
subjectivity color our assumptions and premises, our research
methodology, and the way we interpret evidence and data. However, even
social constructionists admit:

"We need not turn away from scientific research. Rather, we must
remain conscious of the ways in which the research process and its
results are shaped and limited by social context." (Lips, 2004, p.126)

Admitting knowledge is socially constructed is not tantamount to
throwing away the epistemic baby with the bath water. That is, the
truth of social constructionism does not in-and-of-itself necessarily
negate epistemological advances or make knowledge gathered from the
sciences inert.

Karl Popper, who along with Thomas Kuhn forever changed the way we see
'truth' writes:

"Here then is the similarity between my own view (the 'third view')
and essentialism; although I do not think we can ever describe, by our
universal laws, an ultimate essence of the world, I do not doubt that
we may seek to probe deeper and deeper into the structure of the world
or, as we might say, into properties of the world that are more and
more essential, or of greater and greater depth. (1957, p.166-7)

Some things are fiction and some things are true, and some things are
closer to truth than fiction. That's what EP is, closer to truth. When
it comes to 'knowledge' gained from the social sciences (and perhaps,
all sciences) it is virtually impossible to say it is 'true'. The
'soft' science of psychology can never be a pure, objective hard
science, by dint of what it is. But even in the hard sciences there is
recapitulation and 'truth' changes. (E.g., Kuhnian paradigm shifts,
such as Ptomelaic to Copernican to Keplerian model (planets), or
Newton to Einstein (general relativity).)

Talking about narratives, then, becomes a semantics game. I would be
willing to see the differences as different narratives, if I knew
exactly what my friend the economist really meant by narrative. But if
he means that EP is a narrative because everything is a narrative-even
our hardest sciences are narratives and metaphors-then, sure, okay, EP
is a narrative. But it belongs in a particular spot on the narrative
spectrum, in terms of its explanatory power. Of course, this is a
subjective spectrum-he might see it quite differently (i.e., he might
not see it as a spectrum at all, or he might order it in a different

But as far as disciplines advancing our knowledge and getting a better
understanding of human nature, I'd order the 'narrative spectrum'
something like this:

Literature/Religion (Literature and Religion can be interchanged in
terms of order, depending on the specific literature or religion.
Indeed, some Eastern religions also have explanatory power that would
have them in the next levels, possibly.) ->

Philosophy [examples: moral, philosophy of mind, existential, Eastern,
metaphysics, etc.] ->

SSSM (Standard Social Science Model) [examples: sociology, social
psychology, cognitive/behavioral psychology, psychoanalytic/Jungian]

Evolutionary Psychology [a synthesis of: evolutionary biology,
primatology, anthropology, cognitive science, computer science,
ethology, neuroscience, behavioral genetics, archeology, social
psychology, Jungian/Freudian psychology] (EP also flirts with
literature -Adaptionist Literary Studies, Darwinian Literary
Criticism, Darwinian Literary Science, Evolutionary Fiction- and much
from the disciplines in the social sciences, philosophy, and

*Note that 'science' figures ever more prominently as you move 'down'
the spectrum.

So, the big-picture critique from the social
constructionists/structuralists/ environmentalists goes something like

Since there is no truth, and since we construct our truth/narratives,
and since we are not genetically determined, and since the
genetic-determinist narrative is dangerous as it suggests that we
cannot change, or that the environment can't ameliorate certain social
problems, etc., we should reject its use-value as a narrative.

This critique doesn't stand up because:

* the premise that there is no truth is specious;

* the premise that EP is genetically determinist is false; and

* the premise that EP is patently false because the social environment
plays a more central role, is questionable.

Again, EP is the closest to truth that we can get to an understanding
of human nature. But just as it's not nature or nurture but an
interaction, it's also not a question of positivism versus social
constructionism, or science versus just-so-stories. It's not the
absolute truth; but it most certainly is not a just-so story, either.
As narratives go, we might argue it is a truer one-richer and deeper
in explanation, than others.

Why EP is Where It's At (on the Narrative Spectrum)

Evolutionary psychology is a synthesis of many sciences-some fairly
hard ones, as shown in the 'narrative spectrum' above: cognitive
science, evolutionary biology, anthropology, behavioral genetics,
primatology, neuroscience, archaeology, ethology, to name just a few.
It is an integrative and synthetic social science, which stands on the
shoulders of various sciences and accumulated 'knowledge' and uses its
own relatively young parent, psychology, to make predictions and to
generate hypotheses. In essence, it weaves a synthetic interpretation
from all these sciences to understand our nature, offering us the best
model (story) we've ever had for understanding human nature. It is far
beyond a Just-so story. It is a very good and compelling story, in the
same way Darwin's 'story' is 'better' and more 'true' than the
Bible's. (But, of course, there is much disagreement about that, too.)

In fact, I don't see EP as a sub-discipline of psychology at all, the
way it is now taught in introductory psychology courses. As a powerful
meta-theory, I see it as Psychology-as a consilient, synthetic,
interdisciplinary social science, which not only uses other
disciplines and sub-disciplines to understand the human mind and human
behavior, it also sometimes helps to explain certain phenomena in
sub-disciplines. As an example, take evolutionary psychology and
social psychology. While social psychology sometimes explains and
predicts behavior, it also does a fair amount of just describing it.
Evolutionary psychology, however, explains further and deeper.

> From David Meyers's widely used Social Psychology textbook:

"Men are more likely than women to attribute a woman's friendliness to
mild sexual interest. This misreading of warmth as a sexual come-on
(called misattribution) can contribute to behavior that women
(especially American women) regard as sexual harassment or rape...Men
more often than women think about sex. Men also tend to assume that
others, including women, share their feelings. Thus, men can easily
overestimate the sexual significance of a woman's courtesy smile. What
Jane intends as 'just a smile' may give John the wrong idea." (p. 85)

Compare that, which is fundamentally descriptive, to David Buss's
treatment of the courtesy smile, which has a little more explanatory
power. Evolutionary psychology doesn't disagree with social
psychology, it just explains why such a misattribution might exist.

"When in doubt men infer sexual interest according to studies (Abbey,
1982; Saal, Johnson, & Werber, 1989) (DeSouza, Pierce, Zanelli, &
Hutz, 1992)]. Men act on their inferences, occasionally opening up
sexual opportunities. If over evolutionary history even a tiny
fraction of these led to sex, men would have evolved lower thresholds
for inferring women's sexual interest. (p. 315-6)

One can think of other ways to look at this, using evolutionary
psychology, social psychology, learning theory, and feminist models:
The smile as a universally submissive sign. Or, the smile as a
secondary reinforcer; and as such, it probably lights up reward
centers in the brain of the observer. The simple heuristic/algorithm
might then be: "When she smiles, that means I am valued; when I'm
valued, I am 'wanted.

In addition, some evolutionary psychologists not only describe and
explain; they also discuss ways in which their theories might be
helpful in reducing human behavior that may be painful or harmful to

Here's David Buss's prescriptive 'take' on the smile:

"Evolutionary psychology provides a heuristic to identify the contexts
more likely to trigger conflict between the sexes. In my own research,
for example, I have examined the cues that cause men to infer greater
sexual interest on the part of a woman than may be the case...a woman
smiling at a man, being friendly to a man, and going to a bar
alone....[and] have identified signals that do not appear to cause
misunderstanding such as dancing closely and prolonged eye contact.
This work thus reveals the contexts in which intervention would be
most likely to succeed at reducing conflict between men and women. For
example, men as a group could be apprised of the finding that, as a
group, they tend to overestimate the sexual intentions of a woman who
smile at them and thus may want to be more cautious before acting on
the basis of a mere smile. After all, a woman might simply be trying
to be friendly (Abby, 1992)." (Buss, 1996, p. 315)

Choosey Minds, Whorish Modules, and the Politics of Darwin

We can empirically prove that hydrogen has one proton with one
electron orbiting it. But wait, apparently, we shouldn't say
'orbiting' anymore, because that would be seeing things from the
outdated and discredited Rutherford model, and we would be closer to
the 'truth' if we said "more or less hovering around it in a fuzzy
sort of way." But still, we can feel wonderful epistemic certainty
(see below about 'epistemic anxiety') that Hydrogen has one proton and
one electron more or less hovering around it in a fuzzy sort of way.
Quantity and numbers we can have certainty about, description and
movement is another thing.

We cannot empirically prove that men tend to have an evolved
psychological mechanism that prefers youth and beauty because youth
and beauty conferred particular reproductive payoffs over millions of
years of natural and sexual selection; and that those characteristics
(youth and beauty) were (and still are) a signal of fecundity,
reproductive value, developmental stability, health, etc. But EP's
theoretical and scientific explanation is pretty close to empirical-as
empirical as you're likely to get studying the human mind and

The EP-model explains this particular male propensity deeply and more
scientifically, going back further in time and using many more
disciplines than the SSSM (standard social science model)-which in
this case would be the feminist view. Feminism argues that this male
propensity has been learned and is the result of men's historical and
current domination over women; that the culture reflects that misogyny
and that men react and learn from it. EP theory doesn't necessarily
argue against that view, but rather views such an assertion as limited
in scope.

Here's an example of how an understanding of our human nature through
an evolutionary lens, with an historical and environmental/cultural
approach, can be the most powerful, and why I am, frankly, irked by
knee-jerk feminists who know little about what EP is about, yet make
claims against it. We can actually take an EP approach to the question
of men and their evolved preferences for youth and beauty and admit
feminist ideology. How so? First we must look at what it means when we
say youth and beauty. What is generally considered beautiful and
attractive in females tends toward the neotenous and gracile spectrum;
that is, youthful and 'feminine' features. Of course, what is thought
of as feminine in this culture is, to some degree, in flux. But let us
for a moment think of it in absolutist terms, more like yin, at least
so there can be a discussion.

One can imagine, from an EP view, that our male ancestors had (as
males have today) a strong desire not to be cuckolded. There is a good
deal of evidence in the literature to defend this assertion, having to
do with "paternity uncertainty," hidden ovulation, and the male desire
to not invest resources to mother and offspring, if the offspring's
genes are someone else's. From this position of epistemic anxiety (see
beginning of essay about male/female dichotomy), which all men have
(and women necessarily don't have-we know when our kid is our kid),
one could imagine that men might select as sexual partners women who
were relatively submissive and docile. As it happens, there is
probably a correlation between one's disposition (aggressive/passive)
and one's endocrine system, as well as a connection between one's
hormones and one's fitness indicators. That is, large eyes, full lips,
small nose, small chin, low face and large forehead may indicate and
signal various hormones (e.g., estrogen, oxytocin) which may signal
high fecundity and high maternal behavior. These features may also
signal low testosterone, which might signal a relatively lower sex
drive which would be desirable in a female mate, as it could result in
her not seeking out other sexual partners-and receptivity/passivity
generally. The idea is, that these features would be selected for
(unconsciously, of course, having to do with a female's behavior and
personality) so that men could dominate physically and perhaps even in
some other domains.

So it should be apparent how one could adopt an evolutionary lens to
understand why men prefer young and beautiful women, while at the same
time holding a feminist perspective. Unfortunately, the popular
culture has generated some shallow and spurious EP sound bites which
have had an influence even on social scientists. Here's what a
feminist academic psychologist just asked me the other day: "But isn't
it dangerous to teach that women's sexual strategies are monogamous
and men's are not?" Ah! But this is not at all what I teach, nor is it
what evolutionary psychologists teach. Evolutionary psychologists
devote much theorizing as to why, in fact, women are often not
monogamous. In David M. Buss's Evolutionary Psychology (1999, p.176-7)
textbook, under the heading: "Hypotheses about the Adaptive Benefits
to Women of Short-term Mating," he lists five classes of benefits
which have been proposed, and goes on to describe them in detail:
resources, genes, mate switching, mate skill acquisition, and mate
manipulation. EP teaches that both men and women employ both long-term
and short-term mating strategies, including non-monogamous strategies.
Evolutionary psychologists, I don't think, ever say that women are
more monogamous than men, only that, from an adaptionist perspective
of men's biology (from a gene's-eye view), it might have been more
adaptive and fitness-maximizing (replicating more genes) for men to
have evolved a strong propensity (a psychological mechanism) for
wanting sex with lots of women, and women to have evolved a
psychological mechanism for being choosier. This says nothing about
what women in fact do, or what they ought to do. And evolutionary
psychologists certainly never make the claim that it's woman's
essential nature to be monogamous.

Buss writes:

The great initial parental investment of females makes them a valuable
reproductive resource (Trivers, 1972). Gestating, bearing, lactating,
nurturing, protecting, and feeding a child are exceptionally valuable
reproductive resources that are not allocated indiscriminately.
Economics 101 tells us that those who hold valuable resources do not
give them away haphazardly. Because women in our evolutionary past
risked investing enormously as a consequence of having sex, evolution
favored women who were highly selective about their mates. Ancestral
women suffered severe costs if they were indiscriminating-they
experienced lower reproductive success, and fewer of their children
survived to reproductive age."

But he also says this, which should be interesting to my feminist

"When it comes to long-term mating or marriage, however, it is equally
clear that both men and women invest heavily in children, and so the
theory of parental investment predicts that both sexes should be very
choosy and discriminating." (p. 102-3)

The bottom line is this: men and women both engage in short- and
long-term mating strategies, but when it comes down to it, it is
probably not just enculturation that makes a woman much less likely to
say 'yes' to a stranger's sexual advances than a man's to a strange
woman's. In fact one study had 50% of both men and women saying yes to
a date with a stranger, but when asked for sex, 75% of males and 0% of
females agreed (Clarke and Hatfield, 1989).

The feminist academic psychologist also asked me if it was not
dangerous to our students to teach that "motherhood is innate and that
the only way to be happy is to be a mother." My goodness! What does
she think I'm teaching, Spencerian anti-feminist, fundamentalist
essentialism? That most women are equipped to be mothers is a
biological truth. That we have a particular evolved psychological
mechanism for attachment and nurturing is also a truism I think anyone
would be hard-pressed to deny. But so what? We have many
'developmental programs' within us that don't get activated by the
environment and don't 'need' to be. A woman can be just as happy
without children as she can be miserable with them! One thing
evolutionary psychologists and EP supporters must continue to explain
to people is that they're not in the business of committing the
naturalistic fallacy!

Here's another example of how the social structural/role perspective
can be misleading, from Questions of Gender (1998), a textbook that is
generally a little more balanced than some of the other
Gender/Psychology of Women textbooks:

"In traditional heterosexual dating relationships, there are roles
assigned to male and females. Typically men initiate the date, make
the plans, and pay for both his and her expenses. Women respond to
male initiatives. Of course, not everyone follows these social roles.
When these roles are violated, however, people are often acutely aware
that their behavior or the behavior of others is in violation of a
social expectation. Clearly, these social roles have no biological
mandate-we are not hardwired to either pay or not pay for a movie or
dinner, to respond 'yes' or 'no' to an invitation to a party, or to
open doors or smile at bad jokes." (Anselmi & Law p. 2)

Though we are not hardwired to pay or not pay for a date, there is
some reason to suspect that we may have algorithms or decision rules
to prefer paying or being paid for; and that, statistically-speaking,
what one's sex is (not just gender) has something to do with such
preferences. If learning and the environment are more powerful than
biology, as the above quote very clearly expresses, and in fact,
hardwiring has nothing to do with my behavior or psyche on a date, why
would I, having grown up on a solid diet of postmodern feminism and
Marxism from the moment I could babble and somewhat understand all the
grown-ups around me, and with all the people around me supporting
"equality of the sexes" in such things as paying for dates, etc.,
still have this general, unamorous feeling deep inside when a man on a
first date (it hasn't happened often-okay, it happened once!) doesn't
offer to pay, but then wants a goodnight kiss. This dark and
not-so-nice response I experienced goes against what I believe in and
everything my subculture believes in. I refuse to believe that it's
because the dominant culture has so deeply embedded these feelings of
value and meaning into my psyche. I am not that weak. The voice I hear
is not the voice of Madison Avenue. It is the voice of my ancestral
mothers; all those women before me who were clever and resourceful and
sexy enough to extract some form of payment (meat, care for young,
etc.) in exchange for sexual favors/access. Such an understanding of
woman's nature is actually liberating to me...it helps to understand
the cognitive dissonance I have so often felt. And with time, it could
help me to work against such hardwiring, if I so desired.

Which brings up, again, the notion of genetic determinism and
free-will. Steven Pinker, in the Blank Slate, writes eloquently in
defending the position that it is logical to say that we can have both
innate propensities (evolved psychological mechanisms) and free-will.
David Berlinski, of the Discovery Institute (an anti-Darwinian
"Intelligent Design" think-tank), thinks otherwise:

"Thus, when Steven Pinker writes that 'nature does not dictate what we
should accept or how we should live our lives,' he is expressing a
hope entirely at odds with his professional commitments. If ordinary
men and women are, like the professor himself, perfectly free to tell
their genes 'to go jump in the lake,' why then pay the slightest
attention to evolutionary psychology-why pay the slightest attention
to Pinker?" (Commentary, 2004)

I will turn to this existential, transcendental question again, but
one point should be made here. Cognitive psychology and social
psychology have 'discovered' some interesting things about our brains
and minds. One such interesting thing is our dual attitude system. "We
can have differing explicit (conscious) and implicit (automatic)
attitudes toward the same target." (Meyers, 2004, p. 337) I would
argue that these implicit automatic attitudes, preferences, or
responses are very deep and reflect millions of years of adaptations
to the environment via natural and sexual selection. But part of the
automatic system is also laid down during one's early years. Here's
where there is hope, though, even for automatic thinking:

"Although explicit attitudes may change dramatically with education,
implicit attitudes may linger, changing only as we form new habits
through practice." (Meyers, 2004, p. 337)

So, an 'implicit' racist can change. But it takes work, at the
individual level and at the societal level. But first we must be
honest about our hardwiring, our 'program'. Social psychology,
evolutionary psychology, and cognitive psychology have shown us that
we are wired to be prejudiced; that thinking in such ways is a simple
heuristic device that was actually helpful to our ancestors. But we
all have the ability to think 'out of the simple box.' We're not fated
to our automatic impulses and instincts.

Even if we could determine with certitude (an unlikely possibility)
that we have particular archetypal, modular, algorithmic,
'structures,' say, a mother-infant system, or a heterosexual-system
(father-mother archetypes), we would be very mistaken to extract any
ethical, moral values from such, and certainly to go further toward
social policy would be disastrous. Social
constructionists/environmentalists are often alarmed at particular
research or even speculation on such hard-wired systems/algorithms.
They write things like: "...Sociobiologists in general reach the
conclusion that women should do the childcare (p. 24)....The use of
sociobiology to 'justify' a role for mothers as exclusive child
caretakers is unjustified. (p. 42)" (Sternglanz, Nash, 1988).

I agree it is unjustified and would like to know who these
sociobiologists are who say this.

Here's why social constructionists and environmentalists shouldn't
fear research or speculation on hard-wired systems:

1. Evolutionary psychology simply is not genetic determinism, as was
discussed earlier.

2. An epistemically open society is better than an epistemically
repressed society. With research and speculation comes opposing
assertions and models. If people are driven to hide their
speculations, it only festers and gains momentum and power in a kind
of underground, communal memetic sphere. But if research is out in the
open, it provides open-dialogue with an opposition, which is good.
(Recall reaction formation from an earlier discussion and why it is
valuable for the individual and society for an individual to be open
and unrepressed. For example, some hate crimes are the result of
repressed, reaction formations.) And, if researchers somehow
'discovered' a heterosexual-system, say, it could perhaps invoke a
response to dispute it, or to perhaps search for a hardwired
homosexual-system, or some other kind of archetypal system.

Here's Helena Cronin, a feminist EPer (Interview/The Philosopher's

"Certainly, human nature is fixed. But the behaviour that it generates
is richly varied. Our evolved minds are designed to help us to react
appropriately to the different environments that we find ourselves in.
It is thanks to our genetic endowment, not in spite of it, that we can
generate our rich behavioural repertoire. Change the environment and
you change the behaviour. So an understanding of the evolved
psychology of our species - of our motivations and desires - is vital
for political action; we need to know which aspects of our environment
have to be altered in order to achieve the desired ends. The task,
then, is to understand human nature, not to change it."

Of One Mind?

In terms of evolved psychological mechanisms/innate releasing
mechanisms (IRMs) and manifest behavior or traits, I would like to be
able to argue for a universal human nature, even in the face of huge
individual differences. However, say I wanted to argue that, along
with our hierarchical nature, we also have the capacity to be
nonhierarchical. Now, right there it almost sounds nonsensical to say
it is our human nature to be hierarchical but that we have the
capacity not to be that way. (This was Berlinski's point against
Pinker.) But I do understand Cosmides (1992), I think, and I'm willing
to view it as an epigenetic structure that can be turned up/on, or
not, which has great variability, etc. However, it seems to me, that
we'd be better off talking about multi-phylogenetic modes along the
lines of Paul MacLean's triune brain model (1976) or Jim Henry's
four-brain system (1977) instead of a universal human nature. Homo
Sapiens's hierarchical mode (Apollinian) is probably a lot newer than
Homo Sapiens's
spiritual/connected-to-everything-feeling/nonhierarchical mode
(Dionysian)-which must represent, phylogenetically, something older-
even though we think of the hierarchical mode as being more primitive
and the connected/spiritual as being more 'evolved'. In terms of a
time-line it might go something like this:

Pre-reptiles (beginning of reptiles)-nonhierarchical Reptiles and
hominids-hierarchical EEA cousins-nonhierarchical and hierarchical
Modern homo sapiens sapiens-hierarchical and nonhierarchical

EP and behavioral genetics are at odds sometimes, but they needn't be.
And now it looks like that they've found the genes controlling
spiritual 'feeling'. And my suspicion that some people have it and
some don't, appears to be true.

> From my novel, Trine Erotic (2002

"She suspected these romantic, fate thoughts they both had were
'designed' for a reason. That there had to be some kind of
belief-in-fate module, a mental organ in the brain, just as there is a
belief-in-God module. Some people's are 'set' very high. Others don't
even have them. Perhaps this fate module was even close to the God
module, some kind of Belief area, maybe near the amygdala or

'Caleb, I think this fate idea, or feeling that we have is some kind
of mechanical, deep evolutionary thing. You can see the value as far
as reproduction, right?...Our ancestors who had thoughts like this
were probably tenacious...and could beat out their rivals for their
desired mate...and would care for their loved offspring in a
passionate way. The survival of the belief-in-fate gene.'" (p.136)

Now, that doesn't mean that someone who doesn't have all the genes
that might make someone feel spiritual naturally, can't get to that
place. But it would probably take concerted effort-lots and lots of
meditation and will, and indoctrination, and mushrooms, etc. And then
still, it may not be the same thing as the natural Dionysian man-not
even close.

How would the universal human nature argument proceed, then? We all
have psychological evolved mechanisms/structures to feel
connected/spiritual, Dionysian, etc.? But, again, what about people
who don't feel this way and don't have these genes? Do they have this
potential/structure? What does that look like? If nonspirituals
(Apollinian types) don't have genes that seem to carry such a
disposition and their brains don't appear to reflect it either, how
can we say it is there for everyone? Especially when, despite powerful
forces like models (parents), school, peers, society, some people have
no spiritual feeling or religiosity, etc. And the reverse is also
true. Is it that the 'spiritual' program isn't universal, because even
the environment doesn't seem to be able to kick it in? Or that it is a
part of universal human nature, because if it's not there innately, it
is possible for people to feel such feelings given the right set of
circumstances? Is it semantic and political? If we say there's no
universal human nature, but then make nativist claims here and there,
do we get closer to right-wing ideology and behavior genetics?

I think we have two choices-but we can choose both if we want.

1. We can say here is human nature warts and all and it's taken
millions of years of mother nature's 'fine-tuning' to get it where it
is and it's not likely to change in any dramatic way anytime soon, so
let's, with our knowledge and understanding of who we are and where we
came from, try to change (as Cronin and others suggest), our
environment, to make it more compatible with our hunter-gatherer
minds. (An example would be to focus on creating more cohesive
communities and less fractured alienated ones, since we know that 99%
of our "brain-time" as a species evolved in small hunter-gatherer
tribes.) This is the practical, pragmatic, active approach. The idea
would be to try to create a world that by and large helps to activate
certain modules/bioprograms.

However, this could sound, to some, like on the path to right-wing
ideology or whacky Luddite utopia. But it doesn't have to be either.
We needn't not be realistic nor give up freedoms and individual rights
and choice. Freedom and individual rights trump the notion that there
may be an inherent, archetypal, mother-father system, say. If we
maintain as the ultimate goal, though, the pursuit and experience of
happiness and democracy, then other ways will not only be tolerated,
but embraced and supported. What the project in this case would do
would be to try to support people's innate archetypal goals and
programs. (My own opinion regarding an archetypal mother-father system
is that if there is such an archetypal module (Price/Stevens), it is
not so much a question of sex (i.e., man and woman), but of an
inherent need of a developing person (i.e., child) to have the two
modes of masculine and feminine principles exhibited. In homes with
two moms and two dads, there is usually one parent who plays the role
of nurturer and merger of boundaries (more passive) and one who plays
the role of fixed boundaries and the law (more active). Aside from all
the obvious reasons why being a single parent is so tough (I am one),
it may in part have to do with the dual roles one has to play more
often than not. A better understanding of such an innate system could
yield ways in which to support the developmental needs of children-
and to support single parents and parents in same-sex relationships,
etc. (But this is very speculative.)

2. And/or we can take the more existential, romantic, transcendental,
dualistic route, not terribly postmodern position and say, one of
human nature's features is that it is binary: Reason and passion, Id
and Superego, reptilian brain and neocortex, feeling and thought,
left-brain and right-brain, head and heart, Dionysian and Appolinian,
agonic and hedonic (Chance, 1970), hierarchical versus affiliative,
instinct and rationality, animalness and godliness, nature and
culture, individualistic/separate-feeling vs
communitarian/connected-feeling-I could go on. We are every bit of one
as we are the other. And we can choose to act on instinct or not. When
we are hit, we can choose, through thinking first, whether we wish to
do what feels good (limbically and reptiliany) and "right"-which is,
generally, to hit back. Our prefrontal lobes give us the gift of not
hitting back, running away, or freezing. We can reason, we can ask
why, we can negotiate, we can forgive. The mass-proliferation of
Eastern traditions, philosophies, and spiritualities (by way of
prayer, meditation, yoga, belief, etc.) in the West over the past
three decades attests to our yearning for this way of being.

The 'science of spirituality' is hot right now:

"The deeper that people descend into meditation or prayer, Newberg
found, the more active the frontal lobe and the limbic system become.
The frontal lobe is the seat of concentration and attention; the
limbic system is where powerful feelings, including rapture, are
processed. More revealing is the fact that at the same time these
regions flash to life, another important region-the parietal lobe at
the back of the brain-goes dim. It's this lobe that orients the
individual in time and space. Take it off-line, and the boundaries of
the self fall away, creating the feeling of being at one with the
universe. Combine that with what's going on in the other two lobes,
and you can put together a profound religious experience." (Time,

The capacity to feel spiritual or feel connected, self-transcendent,
is probably a part of human nature. But, as with many things that
evolutionary psychologists call a part of our universal human nature,
in every individual there is variance, due to nature and nurture.
Writes John Steadman Rice in his article "Romantic Modernism and the

"The Transcendentalists, for example, maintained that humans possess,
by nature, a divine inner being, an innate and benevolent
spirituality. As such, individuals must be free to develop these
innate capacities through 'a process of growth, unfolding and
ripening, a gradual realization of inherent qualities latent in the
organism from its very birth'-a process, again, believed to be
'thwarted in its development by a...conformist society.

As I suggested, the above two choices, though quite philosophically
dissimilar (the first one practical, with an emphasis on environmental
factors-a materialist, empirical, almost revolutionary view; and the
second one, transcendental, rational, with an emphasis on internal,
subjective existential factors, need not be mutually exclusive. It is
interesting to note that these two positions closely resemble a
division in the adaptionist field, which Robert Storey describes in
Mimesis and the Human Animal: On the Biogenetic Foundations of
Literary Representation:

"It is between theorists who regard the human being as a 'hodgepodge'
(to use E.O. Wilson's word) of various psychological adaptations to an
ancient environment that no longer exists, and those who look upon the
human being as a 'fitness-maximizing' organism, each of whose
capacities may be assumed to have evolved to turn social environments
to its genetic advantage." (Storey, 1996, p. xix)

If one leans toward a hodgepodgist 'ultimate' view, one might lean
toward choice number one (the materialist, practical, environmental
program). Whereas, if one leans toward a more fitness-maximizing
'proximate' view, one might lean toward choice two, with its emphasis
on rational, subjective choices. (One could almost apply a
nature-nurture dichotomy/continuum here; where hodgepodgists are more
nativist and 'fitness-maximizists' are less so.) I believe (as does
Storey) that the answer lies on both sides of the division, and
therefore, I see no reason to choose between programs, and so
ultimately think choosing both is best.

Interestingly, E.O. Wilson (who holds a hodgepodge view), argues
against the transcendental position in an Atlantic Monthly article
"The Biological Basis of Morality." In it he argues that the
"naturalistic fallacy" is not a fallacy but a problem; that the
Kantian formulation that there's a separate domain for making reasoned
moral decisions, those which transcend instinct and reptilian Id-y
desire, is wrong. "For if ought is not is, what is?" he asks. Wilson's
point that much of what are moral codes and laws can be found
hardwired into our biology because that's the way evolution works, is
important and I think true. He writes:

"From the consilient perspective of the natural sciences, they are no
more principles of the social contract hardened into rules and
dictates-the behavioral codes that members of a society fervently wish
others to follow and are themselves willing to accept for the common

One can be, like Wilson, an empiricist and recognize that our morality
has been hardwired, while at the same time a transcendentalist,
recognizing that our free will and bifurcated/triune brains enable us
to go against what is, whatever the is is.

We don't need to choose between these two options of pragmatism and
transcendentalism. We can have an understanding of our transcendental
nature, and every day put it into practice. (This is often the domain
of faith and religion, but it doesn't have to be, it can be very
practical. Recall an earlier discussion about the 'dual attitude
system' and implicit and explicit/automatic and conscious attitudes;
recall, too, Mr. left-wing economist-we can, albeit slowly, change our
ancient habits of mind through practice.)

And on the other side, empirically and pragmatically, we can view our
bifurcated nature as somewhat fixed and that rather than relying on
religion, the law and hope, we can actually change our social
structure in some radical way to fit our human nature, rather than the
other way around. Wilson might argue we have the systems we have
because of our nature, which may be true, but they are only some of
the possible ones to have come out of our hierarchal nature. And
that's where the two kinds of minds come in again. We are hierarchal.
And that kind of way of categorizing the world seems to be especially
a left-brain (DD-mind), Western, male, individualist,
language-dependent thing. Whereas the non-hierarchal mode seems to be
more a feature of a right-brain (DC-mind), Eastern, female,
collectivist, emotion-dependent way. Some evolutionary psychologists
would have us believe that it is our nature to be hierarchal, but
that's only one side/part of us. It's there to be sure, but we have
the capacity for getting out of it.

So the program might be: Let's have people do more of what they can do
to activate the underdog side, since we all can clearly see where the
uber-dogs are taking us. And, let us bravely engage in the best
science we can to understand our human nature, especially the part
that makes life so interesting and difficult. Because it is from our
sound understanding of ourselves that we will be better equipped to
make better decisions about social policy, and which may even help
inform us on how to design better worlds and communities to live in.
As one leading evolutionary psychologist wrote to me in a personal
correspondence: "A social agenda that isn't grounded in an accurate
understanding of human nature has always been worse than useless."

Of course, any attentive social constructionist would get up in arms
about such a statement-an accurate understanding of human nature. Talk
about positivist! Though I'm very sympathetic with such a statement, I
would probably say a 'more accurate understanding.' He and I-unlike my
ex, the economist-share a similar worldview. But I suspect that that
tiny distinction regarding certitude, once again, could have something
to do with the essential differences of our nature and minds.

A Mind for Evolutionary Fiction

Man must be a liar by nature, he must be above all an artist. And he
is one. Metaphysics, religion, morality, science-all of them only
products of his will to art, to lie, to flight from 'truth,' to
negation of truth....Art is worth more than truth... Art as the real
task of life.

- Nietzsche, The Will to Power

The continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollinian and
Dionysian duality....The balance of these ideas, and thus the balance
of the individual and the whole, leads to the development of higher
forms of art, specifically an equally Dionysian and Apollinian form of
art-Attic tragedy.

- Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Critical theory and aesthetics are kind of dry, namby-pamby
sub-disciplines relative to other forceful and real-world
sub-disciplines such as political theory, say, or evolutionary theory,
aren't they? And yet, who hasn't gotten excited and furious at least a
couple of times in life over defending a film, painting, or book? What
is the reason for this 'aesthetics passion'? The reason we so often
come alive when interpreting, defending, judging, and assigning (or
not assigning) value or merit to (aesthetic) cultural products, I
would argue-and will, is that these judgments are really, in the end,
battles; and not just battles of wit and ego, but blood and gene
battles-for what and who survives. Not so namby-pamby. (The battles of
wits and egos are also, ultimately, about what and who survives.)

In Michelle Scalise Sugiyama's abstract, from her article, "The
Origins of Narrative: Storyteller Bias as a Fitness-Enhancing
Strategy" she writes:

"Stories consist largely of representations of the human social
environment. These representations can be used to influence the
behavior of others (consider, e.g., rumor, propaganda, public
relations, advertising). Storytelling can thus be seen as a
transaction in which the benefit to the listener is information about
his or her environment, and the benefit to the storyteller is the
elicitation of behavior from the listener that serves the former's
interests. However, because no two individuals have exactly the same
fitness interests, we would expect different storytellers to have
different narrative perspectives and priorities due to differences in
sex, age, health, social status, marital status, number of offspring,
and so on." (p.403)

I think this is true not only of the storyteller, but of the
transmitter and promoter and detractor of the story (its content and
form/style). So critic, editor, publisher, mother, all have much more
at stake (in terms of fitness-enhancing, i.e., in terms of their
genes) than we usually imagine.

Someone on an e-listserv I belong to wrote:

"I am abandoning reality for fiction and will stop reading non-fiction
books. I think I know pretty much, at least in outline form, what is
actually known about human nature from the biological and social
sciences. Novelists have a way of getting at the complexities of the
human condition that scientists have not."

This is the romantic, seductive view, and pretty much any lover of
fiction subscribes to this. 'You can learn more or get more from a
novel' so goes the fictphilia meme, 'than say, a psychology textbook.'
And there's much truth to this. Cognitive psychologists and
evolutionary psychologists tell us that stories are an ancient
heuristic-they're how we learn best. Our brains actually have story
algorithms (or modules, if you will) because the narrative format
probably helped our ancestors to remember invaluable
information-information that was necessary for our survival. But the
traditional fictiphiles are purists who seem to believe that once we
become aware of a lesson or of information in the story, once the
author starts 'telling us' instead of 'showing us'-it's all over: The
pleasure is gone, its power is gone, and subsequently, the story's
merit and value are gone. The romantic fictiphiles believe the only
good fiction is fiction shrouded in a kind of Dionysian mystery. It's
hard not to be sympathetic to this literary, artistic, romantic view.
The character, Hermione, in D. H. Lawrence's, Women in Love
characterizes the view quite well: "When we have knowledge, don't we
lose everything but knowledge?" she asked pathetically. "If I know
about the flower, don't I lose the flower and have only the knowledge?
Aren't we exchanging the substance for the shadow, aren't we
forfeiting life for this dead quality of knowledge? And what does it
mean to me, after all? What does all this knowing mean to me? It means
nothing." (p. 34-5)

At one point does art become science? At one point do we lose the
Dionysian mystery? How much telling and how much science before a
story, a novel, becomes less pleasurable, less powerful and less
valuable? Hero, in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing says: "Some
Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." Traditional fictiphiles
believe fiction gets its power from traps-from hiding and mystery.
Just as the lover who is never quite in reach seduces and compels,
good narrative, the argument goes, seduces by hiding, by appearing not
to seduce. Of course, it's human nature to be drawn in and affected by
what is elusive and not transparent; to want to search beyond what's
offered and available; to always want a little more. Distant,
enigmatic, and maybe even a little commitment-phobic, traditional
fiction evokes desire and passion by 'exploiting' our evolved
psychological mechanisms and preferences.

We are cerebrally bifurcated and lateralized creatures. So, unlike
music and visual art which are limbic and right hemispheric
("emotional"), and Dionysian -language is not. One way to make
language a little more artistic and Dionysian (without music) is to
write poetry, another is through story. And we know from Gazzaniga's
studies with split-brain patients how the left brain has an endless
capacity to make stuff up. What lies between truth and lies? What lies
between science and art? What lies between the-thing-in-itself and
mystery? Between knowing and being? Between reason and feeling? I
think there's even more pleasure to be had than with the traditional
pleasure of seductive fiction. And that pleasure, I think, can be
found in the arrows of what I call 'meta-seductive fiction'
-traditional fiction's sexy contender. Meta-seductive fiction seduces
(if it's successful) by countering the seductive "hiding" strategy,
with its openness-with hiding from hiding. Meta-seductive fiction
flirts with truth and intimacy by telling the reader what it's doing
and by expressing ideas openly, unafraid of logic's potential to
prevent feeling. It isn't afraid of wanting to affect (and having a
relationship with) the reader. It is male and positivist (in terms of
content and epistemic project), while at the same time female and
relational (in terms of form and affective project). But
meta-seductive fiction doesn't say: "Tell, don't show." But rather:
"tell and show; reveal and conceal."

So how can you 'have the flower' in fiction - or in any language art?
You can't. It's as simple as that. Again, that's the nature of
language and of knowledge. Once you give up trying to make language
something it's not, you are free to do something much more worthwhile
and rather Dionysian: Meta-seductive fiction-a synthetic literary
Attic art that is informed by science and 'truth'; that fuses the
Apollinian (science and ideas, rationality) with the relatively
Dionysian art of storymaking and lovely, euphonious, musical words. I
am not afraid to push literature over to the edge of Apollo to burn.
In fact, I believe the more we let in the light from certain
Appolinian universals or 'truths', it becomes more Dionysian, or at
the least, an Attic balancing of these principles. My novel, Trine
Erotic, I believe comes close to marrying these two cultures of the
humanities and the sciences (C.P. Snow)-what some refer to as
third-culture art (Brockman; www.edge.org).

Critical theorist Barry Laga writes: Deconstruction "wants to reveal
the ideology of the binaries that govern a text (Who benefits from
keeping these terms separate? Who benefits from the present polarity?)
and open up new paths, reveal opportunities and possibilities, and
offer a new way of perceiving the world."

I want to do this, too! Who benefits from keeping art separate from
science? From judging one kind of art as better than another art?
Meta-seductive 'evolutionary fiction'-fiction which is informed by
evolutionary theory, EP, ethology, Jung, neuroscience, etc., (but also
'evolutionary' in a transcendent sense), is to me "better" than most
stories which are just straight narratives, uninformed by a "science
of the mind." Now, 'better' for me only means that it gives me
pleasure. It gives me pleasure because it lights up parts of my brain
that have come to understand the world and human nature the way such
writers of this infant genre have. Why such writers and I have this
similar way of viewing the world, etc., is of course as complicated as
all of these questions are; having to do with our essential nature,
where our nature takes us, and also our 'nurture'. There is a
mathematics to the pleasure I get from reading evolutionary fiction;
as if my algorithms are working in synch with the writers', as if all
the choices I have made to take in or discard information, add up
(neuronally), and I am left with the same lens and language-and that
sameness lights up the reward system in my brain. Because, after all,
we have an ancient heuristics for digging things that are similar and
the same. It makes things simpler and easier.

I think there is a little battle just beginning between people who are
social scientists and passionate about understanding the mind, yet who
are creative and write stories, versus 'writers' without such a
knowledge or drive to understand our human nature in such a particular
way. I would not go so far as to say that evolutionary fiction-fiction
that is informed and written through the lens of an evolutionary
understanding of human nature-is better. But I can say that I enjoy
immensely reading a story that is infused with the ideas of
evolutionary theory/psychology, because that is how I understand the

In terms of aesthetic merit and valuation, I believe it's
phenomenological-that there is only one's subjective valuation. I see
the labeling of what is good art versus what is not as a 'male',
left-brain, Western, controlling activity; one that is meant to shape
and control reproductive strategies, etc. "This is beautiful and
should be hung up on a wall, or put in a magazine for all to see." The
masses see it, imbibe it, and process what is beautiful and make
reproductive choices (which is favoring some genes and brains over
others). This idea is cogently expressed in George Heresy's The
Evolution of Allure. In rephrasing a quote by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
he writes: "Beautiful statues reacted upon their creators, and
beautiful men and women selected each other when they looked like
those statues. Because of this, beautiful children were born."
Heresy's thesis is about visual art and how the artist, influenced by
already-created art and his or her experience of people
(bodies/faces), creates art. The Platonic 'lovers of life'-people who
view this art-are then influenced by it, shaping sexual selection and
reproductive choices based on the art. I think we can look at all art
in this way. As everyone knows, in literature, film, etc., the
artist/writer can venerate a certain 'type' by all sorts of methods
(some subtle, some not so subtle). I can only imagine, for example,
that the selection for nebbishy, neurotic Jewish men has risen since
Woody Allen's films.

As a character (a Darwinian socialist) in Trine Erotic writes (p.68

"Because that's one of art's missions. It pushes us. It reveals. It
pries us open little by little, exposing us, in a comfort zone. It's
about normative values. And power, of course. If you rule art, you
rule the world. Forget about the means of production. Art changes the
strategy of reproduction. We are the product of art. Our minds, our
bodies. What cultural products are valued? Rejected? What survives?
Who survives

I do believe there is a difference between saying: 'This story gives
me more pleasure than that one because that is my worldview and closer
to my sensibility and corresponds to my synaptic connections,' or
what-have you, as opposed to a more positivist,
authoritative/authoritarian approach which proclaims: 'This story is
better.' 'This story is good art and that one isn't. This story is
valuable. This story is. . . .' without qualification or a
relativist/subjective position. Even with qualification, it is just a
form of domination and exaltation of one's own particular aesthetic

Ironically, I am distinctly aware that by creating an attractive forum
(my online journal Entelechy) for the kind of art that I value-I am
participating in the battle. So be it. The kind of writing I value has
sometimes been undervalued, depreciated and unrecognized-and after
all, we're talking about a kind of complex meme (third-culture,
meta-seductive, evolutionary fiction meme) which is somehow related to
a certain set of genes (in me!); and of course these genes help
maintain and support this meme (and vice-versa, ad infinutum).

Perhaps this all sounds like I'm contradicting myself, but I feel
there's a difference between being the underdog and saying, "We're
okay, too" versus being the dominant aesthetic and saying "We are the
only good and true art." In the end, it probably is a battle for what
and who survives; though I kind of wish it weren't. I think it's all
valuable. I want it all to survive.


1. EP is a young science, not much more than 15-years-old, begat by
Leda Cosmides and John Tooby at UCSB. Other fields that share this
approach are human ethology, evolutionary anthropology, and human
behavioral biology. All these fields are the descendants of the
30-year-old discipline sociobiology, (E.O Wilson is the founding
father); which, according to David Buss (1999, p. 17) is "a synthesis
of cellular biology, integrative ethology, comparative psychology,
population biology and behavioral ecology" and is basically the study
of the genetic and evolutionary basis of animal and human behavior.


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1. http://bhs.sunydutchess.edu/andrews
2. http://www.entelechyjournal.com/
3. http://mesastate.edu/
4. mailto:editor at metanexus.net

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