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The Evolutionary Psychologist Will See You Now

Photo credit: Nik Shuliahin, via Unsplash.

If you’ve ever sought counseling over distressing issues in your life, consider the prospect of looking for help from an evolutionary psychologist. Denyse O’Leary at Mind Matters offers a brilliant dissection of an article by a pair of anthropologists who emphasize the Darwinian view that humans are nothing more than evolved animals. 

Writing at Psyche, Kristen Syme and Edward H. Hagen argue that “Most anguish isn’t an illness but an evolved response to adversity”:

Fear, anxiety, sadness and low mood are forms of psychological pain that probably serve functions that are analogous to physical pain — informing the organism that it is experiencing harm, helping it escape or mitigate harm, and stimulating it to learn to avoid similar harms. Psychological pain, like physical pain, probably evolved by natural selection, and in many or most cases is therefore not a disease.

They see value in avoiding the “stigma” associated with disease. O’Leary:

Probably. But it’s unclear that most mental health professionals treat grief and anxiety as a disease unless it is harming physical and mental health and relationships, and then they really must see it that way. Issues about how and why it “evolved” wouldn’t matter much in the medical context.

“Wouldn’t Matter Much”? 

How about wouldn’t matter at all? There are problems with thinking of anguish as simply an evolved animal response. It is empty evolutionary storytelling, for one thing. This should sound familiar. As Philip Skell, writing for The Scientist, found after surveying research in a number of relevant scientific fields, the pattern is this: “Darwin’s theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.”

Or as neuroscientist Michael Egnor has written here:

Darwinists use “evolution” because it’s their creation myth and because its regular invocation is required by their thought police. Doctors and medical researchers don’t use “evolution” because it’s irrelevant to medical research. Fairy tales about survival of survivors contribute nothing to medical research, or to any other research.

A Mother’s Instinct

False medicalization of what needs a wise counselor’s intervention instead could ruin a person’s life. Resisting a diagnosis of disease when it’s not appropriate is important, but you didn’t need evolution to tell you that. I have observed up close a case of just that kind and it was the mother’s instinct, not the evolutionist’s narrative, that won the day and averted what might have been a disaster.

The limits, veering on the uselessness, of the evolutionary insight stands out. But worse, false evolutionary analysis, in a context where, again, wise counsel is required, could be as harmful as the false medical take. It needs no wisdom to stamp “ANIMAL” on the sufferer’s forehead, any more than it does to stamp “DISEASED.”

Would you ever seek help from an avowed evolutionary psychologist? I sure wouldn’t. Would anyone? Not many, probably not many evolutionary biologists for that matter. But if they did, there are worse things than irrelevance. Treating serious problems of the soul with a touch of narrative gloss could be nothing less than catastrophic. Read the rest at Mind Matters.