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  1. griffer
    Know of any good medical journals and/or blogs online? Whenever I want to find out stuff like the causes of atherosclerosis or how diet XYZ affects lab rats I usually only find ads, misinformation, and radical vegan propagandists.
  2. bluedot
    South of the border.
  3. Siddhartha
    Where in Canada do you live?
  4. bluedot
    Yup, still can. I don't really need to see it.
  5. Ciel
    Can you still see that forum you were added to earlier? Not that I'm kicking you out, I'm just trying to fix the permissions.
  6. bluedot
    Okay, I see where you're going. I think it is possible, in some instances, to test the hypotheses of evolutionary psychology. In large part this is because we know a lot about biology, and psychology can be regarded as a sub-field of it. But I agree that in very many instances, some of the assertions are not actually testable and therefore unfalsifiable. It's difficult to make predictions and it's not even really helpful to explain observations (like you would with a science like astronomy, since you can't exactly make your own galaxies to experiment with).

    As an example of what I mean, consider mate selection. Again, I really don't know tons about evolutionary psychology but from what I understand, this is one of the huge topics in the field. This is particularly fitting because attraction is certainly a psychological phenomenon and mating/reproduction is central to our understanding of evolution. In any event, even in this big topic there is a non-uniqueness involved in explaining psychological aspects of mate selection. For instance, both the Rubenesque ideal of beauty and the male attraction to large breasts are frequently explained by noting that fat connotes wealth and fertility. Nowadays we prefer our women to be thinner than did Rubens, and I imagine a variety of explanations could be offered to give an evolutionary basis for that, but you still have two conflicting hypotheses there. But suppose you want to go one step back and have only one explanatory hypothesis. You might, with sufficient creativity, posit that both observations can be explained by a human tendency to "fit in" and because we're social beings, sometimes our taste is governed by the taste of others around us. That's a perfectly rational explanation, but then runs smack into counter-cultural movements and niche preferences so you have to refine still further. I think that, at the end of the day, it's almost impossible to conclusively answer some of these questions.

    With that said, there are some questions in evolutionary psychology that have been answered pretty well and can inform our understanding of things like anthropology. For instance, it seems that the architecture of the hominid brain changed right around the time we started eating meat from large game. This is thought to reflect cooperative hunting and increased social behavior, which then allowed us to up our caloric intake and carry around more brain and therefore evolve in that direction. There is a lot of solid data to back this idea up.

    So in the end, my opinion (and it's just an opinion) is that since psychology is a branch of biology, and because biology is understood to be effected by evolution, then psychology is also effected by evolution. However, because of the inherent complexity of the topic, it is much more difficult to answer specific questions in psychology using the framework of evolution than in other areas.
  7. CraZyKoKeNo
    i'm not talking about evolution as a theoretical structure. i'm interested in the more specific claims, similar to the one you made in your earlier response regarding motion sickness. or other more general claims like the following: "most of what we do is in an effort to impress the other sex." i believe dahnjin has made posts to that effect. my question is whether or not those kinds of claims should be seen as having merit. my suspicion is that when it comes to things like this, evo psych theory, at least as far as it has been presented popularly, has a kind of unfalsifiability to it. murh was alluding to this later in the thread and it is something i have remarked on in the past. but not being terribly well versed in these kinds of things i am not able to get too specific about it.
  8. bluedot
    Well, I'm not really incredibly knowledgeable about economics, so this all may be bullshit, but here's my crack at it:

    Economists frequently think based on the assumption of economic rationality: people will act in such a way as to improve their circumstance when they have freedom of choice. In other words, people are motivated by rational self-interest. One thing that is being better and better understood is that this is not always, or maybe even frequently, true. (Check out Dan Ariely's book "Predictably Irrational" for a really awesome exploration of this idea.) However, we do know that actions are not usually (if ever) completely without motivation... so we know there is a motivation, and we often try to explain it in terms of responding to incentives because people do tend to act that way -- even if the incentive is transient or even misguided. (An example from Ariely: people will almost always say they'd never have unprotected sex -- high risk, low reward -- but when they're really sexually aroused, the reality is frequently different.) So in that sense, an analysis of behavior from the view of responding to incentives is sometimes, as you say, trivially true.

    As far as scientific/economic realism, I think the answer is that yes, we are getting better and better at describing nature. In science this is largely because of predictive theories. A prime example of this would be Dirac's prediction of anti-matter which followed from the consequences of a mathematical equation. It was a fairly zany prediction but it was proved experimentally later on. In economics, this is much harder because the systems are inherently more complex and sometimes being able to explain events after they happen is the only way to go. Predicting economic phenomena is much, much harder because there are so many moving parts. However, as with the case of evolution, we can almost always invent a mechanism to explain why something happened once it already did -- it's very difficult to tell whether we were right.

    I didn't actually follow that thread after my post, so I don't know what Dahnjin's post was about, but evolution as a theoretical structure has gone through the wringer a zillion times and is one of the most successful, well-tested theories on the planet. But that doesn't mean that every time someone invokes evolutionary pressure as a mechanism for a feature that it's correct. There are plenty of "frozen in accidents" and it's hard to tease them out from among mechanisms that might have lead to natural selection.
  9. CraZyKoKeNo
    "Relating it to the Freakonomics books, you can play the same game with most economic behaviors: I can invent a mechanism whereby a strange outcome occurs due to personal incentives being pursued, but I could come up with loads of different incentives and different stories to explain it, so is it really all that helpful as a framework? I think the answer is yes, and that (behavioral) economics makes sense only when pursuit of incentives is your framework, but there are economic actions are not always so easily explained by saying, "well, it must be the pursuit of an incentive that causes such-and-such behavior.""

    this part is most interesting to me. when you say that this or that story can be made to support this or that view of behavioral economics, are you saying that there is a degree of indeterminacy in our ability to understand economic behavior (which of these incentive theories is the right one)? but that, presumably, one story or some combination of those stories would be "right?" or is it that this kind of story making as a whole is wrong or somehow inadequate (i.e. it doesn't capture other important variables or explanatory methodologies)? or that it is just trivially true (or perhaps unfalsifiable)?

    my other question pertains to scientific or, perhaps in this case, economic realism if you can call it that. by this i mean the view that your scientific theories are actually describing the real world in better and better ways (they are an increasingly accurate mirror of nature, to use richard rorty's phrase); that their success or lack thereof is not to be measured solely by their ability to accurately describe new or existing phenomena. the question then is do you think these economic or evo psych theories are of that sort?

    so i guess between these two questions we are asking first whether or not these theory making efforts actually produce successful results. and if they are successful, we are asking how it is that success should be understood.

    related to this is dahnjin's remark in that thread that evolutionary theories of this sort have undergone verification experiments or observation (or something). now i'm not particularly well versed in what this would mean so perhaps you can fill that out a bit. or perhaps the book you mentioned earlier will go into that?
  10. bluedot
    I don't really know all that much about evolutionary psychology, but evolution is an immense area of research so it's hard to summarize. The best one-off source would have to be Stephen Jay Gould's book "The Structure of Modern Evolutionary Theory" but it's a very long book and pretty technical. Gould's entire bibliography is pretty damn awesome, so I'd start with him. It's interesting to note that Gould was a critic of evolutionary psychology.

    And my comment in that thread was a very brief remark that is probably hard to understand if you don't know much about evolution. But basically the situation is this: almost none of biology makes much sense without the context of evolution, however, that doesn't mean that evolution is the explanation for all biological observations. Particularly, you can't say that such-and-such feature of a particular organism is there because it conferred a selective advantage that lead to the organisms success and leave it at that. To wit: most genetic mutations are actually neutral; they neither confer an advantage or incur a penalty. Explaining a feature caused by such a mutation cannot be done by selection mechanisms alone. For instance, I could explain why motion sickness in humans exists due to selective advantages but it turns out that it's more or less an accident of brain architecture... it exists even though it doesn't serve much of a purpose.

    Relating it to the Freakonomics books, you can play the same game with most economic behaviors: I can invent a mechanism whereby a strange outcome occurs due to personal incentives being pursued, but I could come up with loads of different incentives and different stories to explain it, so is it really all that helpful as a framework? I think the answer is yes, and that (behavioral) economics makes sense only when pursuit of incentives is your framework, but there are economic actions are not always so easily explained by saying, "well, it must be the pursuit of an incentive that causes such-and-such behavior."
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