Evolutionary psychology is again under attack as mere "just-so" storytelling. But giving up on telling and testing just-so stories is giving up hope of answering the most compelling questions about our species: Who are we and how did we get this way?
New research doesn’t just suggest that fictitious gays blazed the trail that led to Barrack Obama’s historic endorsement of gay marriage. It suggests that but for “fictitious blacks”—from Kunta Kinte to the powerful African American commander-in-chief on the television show 24—we might not have had a President Obama in the first place.
Imagine you find a magical device that allows you to enter an alternate universe as an invisible observer. Before entering, you know you will witness brutal, scarring things: the rapes and murders of women and children, bodies tortured, defiled, and dismembered.
Why did we evolve to be religious? How did dogmatic faith in imaginary beings not diminish our ability to survive and reproduce? How could the frugal mechanisms of natural selection not have worked against religion, given the high cost of religious sacrifices, taboos, and commandments?
What’s really striking about conspiracy theory is not how strange it is, but how ordinary it is. Go to Google, type in “conspiracy,” and browse through some of the millions of hits. Conspiracy theory is the product of certain universal biases in human psychology.
LR was an average looking young man. There was nothing menacing in his eyes or the set of his jaw or the way he held his hands. But one day, quite without prompting, he confessed to a horrendous crime. He described it with cold panache, without the slightest twinge of regret in his voice.
Starting in the 1960s, biologists defined altruism—real and authentic selflessness--out of existence. On a planet ruled by selfish genes, any apparent act of altruism was just disguised selfishness. As Michael Ghiselin put it, “Scratch an altruist and watch a hypocrite bleed.”
The other day I wrote a blog post on the crappy drafts of great books. It included pages from the actual drafts of great novels. My friend, the Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd, sent me another great example.
The deranged psychology of sports fans has been a mystery for centuries. During football season, tens of millions of us sit through games where we see an average of 11 minutes of actual football action, and approximately 30 hours of commercials. Why do people invest so much money and time, so much energy and emotion, in watching other people play?
When I teach freshman writing, my first job is to destroy my students' illusions. TV shows and films give them the dangerous idea that great authors just wait to get inspired, and then genius pours out of their pens in an unstoppable flood.