The ASCAP Bulletin, Volume 2 No 3, pages 13-16, August 2001

Reactions to the Panksepps' Seven Sins of Evolutionary Psychology in Evolution and Cognition Journal ABSTRACTS ...

Background: In the April 2001 ASCAP the abstract of the provocative article entitled "Seven Sins of Evolutionary Psychology" written by Jaak and Jules B. Panksepp was reprinted from the European journal Evolution and Cognition. There were a number of responders and we copy these here along with the Panksepps' after response. Parenthetically, the first respondent is the author of the impressive well reviewed Defenders of the Truth: The Battle for Science in the Sociobiology Debate and Beyond. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000

Segerstråle U: Minding the brain: the continuing conflict about models and reality. Evolution & Cognition. 2001;7:6-13. Abstract: The battle for ‘good science’, so evident in the sociobiology controversy, now continues in the realm of neuroscience. Modelers again clash with hardnosed scientific ‘realists’. From the Panksepps’ point of view, in order to be scientific and ground their their own enterprise, evolutionary psychologists ought to pay attention to anatomy and the evolutionary history of the mind. Moreover, the Panksepps’ criticism of cognitive neuroscience parallels traditional ethological objections to sociobiology, emphasizing not only the ultimate function, but the development, evolutionary theory, and proximate causes of behaviors. This may signal an emerging conflict between evolutionary psychology and ethology. Meanwhile the Panksepps are in good critical company with many others, such as developmentally oriented scientists, who argue that the modularity in the adult brain does not reflect a pre-existing domain specificity, but is rather a product of epigenesis. Indeed, a new interdisciplinary alliance may be currently emerging, as the critics of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, in their search for more ‘holistic’ and ‘pluralistic’ paradigm, have recently discovered ethology! Finally, we should not forget that evolutionary psychology is an evolving research program. Most likely, we will see an eventual rapprochement between cognitive and affective neuroscience. A possible mediator could be the interdisciplinary field of nonverbal communica tion.

Mealey L: "La plus ça change…" Response to a critique of evolutionary psychology. Evolution & Cognition. 2001;7:14-19. Abstract: Panksepp and Panksepp are not alone in their criticisms of Evolutionary Psychology. It is clear, however, that most of the critics, including P&P, are against neither evolution nor psychology – nor even the use of evolutionary approaches in psychology. Criticism has, rather, focused on a particular approach taken by a very small but highly visible group of individuals who share a specific stance on a set of related issues. I share P&P’s concerns about the rigidity and doctrinal restrictiveness of "some currently fashionable versions of evolutionary psychology". But this debate is not new, and I believe that as with most controversies in science, its sparks have propelled us more steps forward than back.

Stegman C: Comments on Jaak Panksepp and Jules B. Panksepp’s paper: "The seven sins of evolutionary psychology. Evolution & Cognition. 2001;7:20-24. Abstract: The commented paper states that, "to remain on the shores of sound scientific inquiry" evolutionary psychology should be consistent with the findings of cognitive neuroscience and brain research. This argument is extended in the present comments. The human species is an integrated natural entity composed of strata of sociocultural group behavior, of   individual behavior, and of neural mechanisms. Events or phenomena affecting the entity are one-and-the-same in all and each of the strata, and thus any factually correct explanation of human nature, including psychology, must be interdisciplinary in scope. Psychological phenomena must be explainable in terms of reductions of laws which govern the sociocultural stratum, such as those discovered by Friedrich Hayek related to the extended order of human society, and be reducible in turn to the mechanisms that operate in the neurophysiological stratum. The comments conclude that only such an interdisciplinary approach can provide a compass to navigate in the dark sea of human brain and mind phenomena.

Gardner R: Affective neuroscience, psychiatry and sociophysiology. Evolution & Cognition. 2001;7:25-30. Abstract: The Panksepps laudably emphasize that evolutionary psychology (EP) has not appreciated the ancient contributions to the human brain; rather it conflates subcortical emotional factors with cognitions amplified in recent human evolution. Remarkably, despite overvaluing the mushroomed cortex, EP pays little attention to communicative and social facets of human development although new work shows that a significant proportion of the variance in primate brain size stems from its correlation with species group size. Jaak Panksepp’s earlier work on emotional communications assists the development of a basic science of psychiatry, a framework now sadly lacking. Instead, market forces in the absence of a comprehensive scientific rationale have led to what could be summarized as "relationshipless" values that are contrary to the ally-formation particularly facilitated by human brains. In concert with Panksepps’ argument, psychiatry requires a basic science framework titled sociophysiology entailing comparisons (similarities) as well as contrasts of humans to other animals.

Meisenberg G: Degrees of modularity. Evolution & Cognition. 2001;7:31-38. Abstract: It is argued that the distinction between cognitive and modular functions as originally proposed by J. Fodor (1983) is valid, but that two types of modular functions should be distinguished: (1) hardwired ‘primary’ modules that are mainly but not exclusively subcortical and are mainly concerned with motivation (e.g. fear conditioning); and (2) ‘modularized’ functions that are mainly cortical, are shaped by recurrent sensory and/or cognitive input, and are concerned mainly with sensory analysis and motor control (e.g. language). A strict distinction between hard-wired subcortical circuits and non-modular cortical functions, as proposed by Panksepp and Panksepp, is rejected. Also the ‘Swiss army knife model’ of evolutionary psychology is held to be simplistic. Instead it is proposed that many brain mechanisms, including the cognitive system are multi-purpose. These ‘guns for hire’ are recruited by functionally specialized modules to produce adaptive behavior. It is argued that the most useful conceptual framework is an expanded ethological model in which specialized brain systems may use either sensory or cognitive input and may produce either behavioral or cognitive output.

Pitchford I: No evolution. No cognition. Evolution & Cognition. 2001;7:39-45. Abstract: Although scholars in the natural and human sciences will generally disavow any belief in distinct material and immaterial substances contemporary debates are phrased in terms that would have been familiar to the Greek philosophers, and which still divide human characteristics into ‘divine’ or ‘transcendent’ attributes – in modern terminology the surrogate terms are rational, cognitive, discursive, autonomous and creative – and ‘animal’ or ‘corporeal’ attributes – the surrogates being emotional, instinctive, determined, immutable, and bounded. This essential dualism preserves the three key dichotomies of mind/body, cognition/emotion and nature/nurture found in many, if not most, discussions of human nature. Neuroevolutionary psychobiology’s concern to divide the brain into determined affective components and unbounded plastic neocortex by employing such concepts as ‘exaptations’, ‘spandrels’, and ‘emergence’ resides firmly within this quasi-theological Western philosophic tradition. This dualistic approach provides no coherent foundation for the critique of evolutionary psychology.    

Atran S: The case for modularity: sin or salvation. Evolution & Cognition. 2001;7:46-55. Abstract: The case for modularity rests on several converging lines of evidence: functional design (analogy), ethology (homology), universality, precocity of acquisition, independence from perceptual experience (poverty of stimulus), selective pathology (cerebral impairment), resistance to inhibition (hyperactivity), ease of cultural transmission. No factor may be necessary but evidence for all or some is compelling, if not conclusive, for domains like folkmechanics, folkbiology, folkpsychology. By contrast no empirical evidence supports Panksepp and Panksepp’s central thesis: that what evolutionary psychologists (and many cognitive and developmental psychologists) consider modular structures are actually epigenetic products of subcortical mammalian emotions and neocortical general-purpose computations. Arguably, no significant empirical discovery about language or other higher-order cognitive structures yet owes to inquiries about evolutionary origins and functions. Nevertheless, adopting evolutionary psychology’s requirement that candidate exaptations and spandrels be described, as far as possible, in connection with evolved adaptations, opens new avenues for exploring and testing modular designs.

Panksepp J, Panksepp JB: A continuing critique of evolutionary psychology: seven sins for seven sinners, plus or minus two. Evolution & Cognition. 2001;7:56-80. Abstract: Of the many issues raised by commentators, two stand out: a debate about modularity and the evolution of language. A neocortically focused developmental systems perspective, coupled with an understanding of the ingrained emotional and motivational systems we share with other mammals, will provide more insights into what types of intrinsic functions evolution actually constructed in the human mind/brain than will any proposed variant of cortical modularity. For instance, it is unlikely that our higher cerebral expansions could develop language abilities without the ancient pre-existing subcortical systems that generate socio-emotional urges and non-verbal, gestural pragmatics. Although humans may have ‘communicative instincts’ and eventually ‘proclivities towards language acquisition’, there is little evidence that they are born with ‘language modules’. It is imperative for evolutionary psychologists to be constrained by the neuroscience evidence garnered from all mammalian species.

Extract: Note 1. We thank all commentators for sharing their perspectives and trust that the thinking of some of the remaining seven investigators who were invited to comment on our ideas have been influenced as well (i.e., David Buss, Leda Cosmides, Bobbie Lowe, Randy Nesse, Steven Pinker, John Tooby, and E.O. Wilson). The editors are willing to consider sharing their comments in future issues of this journal.