What could possibly be missing from an explanation of all explanations? Isn’t an explanatory model that offers an explanation for anything just great? Well, not really.
I’m pretty burned out on the evolutionary biological explanation for every damn trait, behavior, emotion, physical movement, body hair placement, millimeter degree separation of nail bed from cuticle, we seem to express as humans.
I mean seriously, how much flexibility is needed to justify depression’s prevalence as being caused by an ancestral need of hibernation?! (as purported on a recent podcast that I otherwise find very valuable – I don’t now recall which one, or I’d link it here). Or the fact that child abuse is more prevalent among step-families because treating biological off-spring less abusively would lead to a better chance of promulgating our genes (I came across this idea with a google search for absurd evolutionary explanations).
I may be out of my league to suggest this evolutionary explanatory model does not expand to everything. I don’t have physiological or biological education, but I do have some experience with human psychology. I recently read (ok, tried to read – I did a lot of skimming) the book Blueprint by Nicholas Christakis. I’m going to be lazy here, and not cite specific examples, because, well, because, this is just more of a ranting blog post. But the book is filled with these psychological and sociological explanations of our past that are fun to think about – but that’s really the extent to which I can take many of them.
Must there be an adaptive advantage to everything?
And I don’t think this is inconsistent with acceptance of evolution as a theory. My main criticism is that, why should we assume that the here-and-now of human development represents the pinnacle or even progress from a previous incarnation??
I mean in order to concoct a story of why something is the way it is, evolutionarily speaking, there must be some reliance on the the idea that we’ve ‘arrived’. That this is it, the next, best, newest and greatest thing.
Why can’t it be the case that we’re still evolving and eventually these seemingly non-adaptive traits WILL eventually be discarded.
That’s the whole idea of survival of the fittest right? Are we to assume that the present day stat of affairs represents the fittest-ness of humanity? Perhaps we’ve inadvertently dived down a genetic path toward extinction. I mean do we even need to point out the obvious aspect that the recent pandemic has shown how fragile we’ve become, as societies, cultures, humans?
A more widely presented criticism of evolutionary theory is that it is not falsifiable. How can we test the back-bending conjecture that explains the reason we have difficulty swatting this annoying gnats out of the air. They just always seem to avoid our miss no matter how hard we try. My theory? Well given the prevalence of these buggers and their flight proximity to our heads, and therefore brains, they are able somehow reprogram our motor skills in such a way as we just can’t ever seem to swat them out of the air. How do they do perform this re-programming? Well the mechanism can’t be figured out because whenever we try to test them, the mechanism stops. You can’t tell me, so it must be correct then, right? I mean it fits because the gnats are at their peak evolutionary status. They have to be to still be around, see it all makes sense though an evolutionary lens.
Ok, great theory, how can we prove it wrong? Short answer is we can’t.
And according to Karl Popper (of renown philosophy of science esteem) a core aspect to something being determined as truthful is its ability to be falsified.
We can’t possibly disprove the story that depression is a current manifestation of some human primordial need to hibernate.
This is the same problem that theologians experience when claiming that God made everything. How can I prove that to be false? I can’t. But that doesn’t necessitate it being true!
Certainly I believe in evolution. I just don’t think we need to be able to explain every currently manifestation we have as derived by some evolutionary advantage. Again, this desire seems to rest on the circular notion that what we currently do, think, feel is an evolutionary advantage. And at a minimum this seems very pompous.