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Unread January 8th, 2009, 09:42 AM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Arrow Buller's Critique of EP

David Buller doesn't doubt that EP, in the sense of looking for the adaptive functions underlying the mind, is the right approach in general. He just doubts that we can ever actually do it properly with the kinds of methods and evidence that we're left with.

Unlike most other critiques, like Gould's general and largely implausible spandrels arguments regarding the mind and Fodor's somewhat ironic arguments against higher level modularity, Buller focuses on evaluation of specific experimental cases.

The problems raised by Buller:

1. Methdological problems inherent in trying to identify adaptive problems that are both unique to humans and universal to all humans. The compelling argument for Pleistocene mind arguments are based on the time span of human evolution, more than our having identified a common EEA.

2. A primary tool of adaptation analysis, the comparison of species which share a common ancestor, is rendered problematic by our lack of knowledge other hominid species any closer than chimps.

3. Buller doesn't buy the time argument for the Pleistocene EEA at either end. He insists that rapid evolutionary change since the Pleistocene is potentially relevant, and points out the difficulties distinguishing adaptations of the Pleistocene from those far more ancient.

4. Buller has specific critiques of several of the major EP experimental programs, questioning how their data relates back to evidence for adaptations.

Obviously none of these is a knock-down argument against human adaptation analysis, and I think Buller's pessimism goes too far in places. But for right now, it remains one of the best thought out cautionary tales and Buller is far more familiar with the work he criticizes than Gould was, making his critique often more interesting and useful.

Sci Am article, Four Fallacies

Book, Adapting Minds
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