Getting Darwin Wrong: Why Evolutionary Psychology Won't Work

16th September 2010
There is an episode in The Lord of the Rings in which the wizards Saruman and Gandalf have a convoluted debate, which results in the former holding the latter prisoner. In the film version, director Peter Jackson replaced the conversation with a fistfight, partly for the perverse bone-crunching pleasure of watching two very old men clobbering each other. In the end, neither character has much sympathy for the other. Witness, then, the spectacle of one psychologist (Wallace) attempting to clobber another psychologist (Steven Pinker) in public before a non-specialist audience who’d be forgiven for not caring much about either. There is perhaps no more unedifying sound than the sterile grinding of another man’s axe. Wallace has a beef about Cognitivism, the trend in psychology that tends to view the human mind as a computer. Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate is according to Wallace, the poster-boy of this movement, which Wallace argues against. The book’s title is therefore misleading – Evolutionary Psychology is said to be a spin-off of Cognitivism, but despite promises, Wallace never quite gets round to discussing it. As for Darwin, Wallace is as much in the dark as he claims Pinker is. Henry Gee is a senior editor of the journal Nature

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Price: £14.95 (180pp, pbk)