Banner
    Epigenetics: Is Stress Carried In Your DNA?
    By Hank Campbell | April 7th 2011 05:04 PM | 45 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone...

    View Hank's Profile
    People may object to my calling for Ph.D. programs in Theoretical Phys Ed and Quantum Paleontology, but humor is not far off the mark.  Evolutionary psychology, for example, is practically self-ridiculing.   

    But I was somewhat intrigued by recent research I saw about stress being a genetic issue and the person behind it called it theoretical evolutionary biology.    This concerns me on a few levels; first, evolutionary biology has detractors by a fringe religious minority obsessed with what Darwin did not know 150 years ago so slapping the word 'theoretical' in front of evolutionary biology will make people think 'made up', like people do about a lot of the more obscure physics ideas, which is more hypothetical than theoretical.

    Worse, this supposed theoretical conclusion, which will make people believe there is more than one theory of evolution, is not a conclusion based on any research except a meta-analysis of other studies.    And it's under the guise of epigenetics, which will cause even more confusion.  Let's see if we can clear it up.


    Wil Farrell introduces us to quantum paleontology.

    What is epigenetics?

    If you are interested in creating a Master Race, you will love the idea of epigenetics.   Epigenetics says you can alter your DNA environmentally to such an extent it is heritable - for example, while a pregnant woman with a bad diet may cause issues for a baby, epigenetics believes even behavior in early life will have an impact on offspring.   How positively Lamarckian!  Basically, researchers in epigenetics contend your environment can leave genetic imprints on the genetic material in eggs and sperm - but they aren't really changes in the genetic code.  Instead, patterns of gene expression are in cellular material on top of the genome.   Evolution becomes a matter of chemistry and no longer takes years.


    Want to do some epigenetics?  Thanks to the fine folks at the University of Utah, you can!   Turn the control knob and epigenetic tags change the shape of the gene.  Gene, mRNA and protein production change together.

    Back to business.   The theoretical evolutionary biologist who did the meta analysis is Prof. Eva Jablonka of Tel Aviv University's Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas.    At an epigenetics conference in North Carolina, she said her meta-analysis found more than 100 examples of living organisms, from bacteria to human beings, demonstrating how our genes' expression can be altered and inherited.

    "I am a story teller. I read a lot of information and develop theories about evolution. For the last 25 years, before it became a fad, I was interested in the transmission of information not dependent on DNA variations," Jablonka says. "Epigenetic inheritance is information about us that is not explicitly encoded in our genes. Two individuals may have identical genes, but the genes present very different characteristics. They can be genetically identical but different epigenetically."

    Well, I appreciate a great narrative but saying stress and environmental factors will cause inheritance problems will take a little more to be convincing - it's hypothetical rather than theoretical at this point - but when that understanding comes, obviously genome-wide reprogramming of DNA can have enormous value in medicine.    The big promise of epigenetics is not so much the heritability as the reversibility.     DNA methylation alters gene function so if processes hidden inside cells can be influenced by lifestyle and disease, they can also be changed back.   That's not to say we should just go ahead and pollute.     Likewise, we know stress is bad even if passing on stress DNA to your kids remains hypothetical, so less of it is going to pay dividends.

    Some things can't be avoided in the modern world.   Androgen suppressors, like some pesticides and fungicides, can have effects on gene expression so it would be nice to undo them once we know how.    Or we could just go back to using DDT.   

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, you had me going there a bit, but when you mentioned Dr. Eva Jablonka, well ... that's a game changer.  She's well respected (as far as I can tell) and if anyone knows about epigenetics, it would be her.  She was also one of the Altenberg 16 back in 2008.

    Basically she's no light-weight when it comes to this research.

    Actually her assertion isn't without a strong basis, since there is a fair amount of evidence that indicates how various stressors in the environment can affect gene expression. 

    I suspect her use of the term "theoretical" is more in line with the idea of trying to find more evidence for additional non-genetic factors that are heritable.  Her book "Evolution in Four Dimensions" addresses some of these other points by including learning and culture.  While I obviously can't do justice to these points here, suffice it to say that she has a very compelling argument and evidence to indicate why these elements are just as heritable as something often thought of as genetic only.  These additional areas are classified as Epigenetic Inheritance Systems (EIS), Behavioral Inheritance Systems (BIS), and Symbolic Inheritance Systems (SIS).

    Basically genetics is inadequate to account for everything that occurs in natural selection, so her additional explorations are well grounded.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Sure, I have no issue with epigenetics, though it gave me a chance to stick it to people who poo poo'ed Lamarck for apparently being right, even if he didn't have the data to be correct, in much the same way Darwin did not but didn't get clobbered by later biologists.

    Theoretical is what bugged me, for the reason I state - if people start to think there are competing theories of evolution, science understanding will go way down.  Plus, I don't care what committee anyone was on, if you do a meta analysis, you are basically phoning in a paper to fill a requirement.
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, Lamarck was sort of right, insofar as organisms can change based on their environmental influences, however that's not a complete vindication.

    While I understand what you're saying about the word "theoretical", I would submit that there is no "competition" regarding evolution.  Either people accept it on a scientific basis, or they don't based on some other belief that they can cling to.  It has nothing to do with actually examining the evidence and has been suggested before, I'm not clear on why we feel compelled to teach evolutionary in high school anyway.

    BTW ... what was the paper?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    I used paper incorrectly in my comment - her paper was 2009, the meta analysis was for a conference.  Don't know where it is scheduled to be published yet.

    I agree evolution is perhaps too complex for high school but the idea there are competing theories of evolution will muddy the water more.   And it's pretty muddy culturally already.
    Gerhard Adam
    I still think that the problem is that evolution appears to be too easy to understand and consequently with a partial education people feel free to reach their own conclusions.  You don't see that in physics (at least at the culturally concerned level) where everyone is talking about dark matter or dark energy or string theory or multiverses.  It isn't as if these people understand what they're talking about either, but it doesn't seem to present a teaching issue.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Stopped reading at "Evolutionary psychology is practically self-ridiculing"

    Hank
    I know what you are doing your PhD in.  We'll mention "sex" and you'll be back.
    Unless you're saying that evolution did not shape our psychology at all, you're just trying to sound cool by bashing a newish field of science. I went to your other articles on EP looking for a challenge, can't imagine you put a lot of effort into those. I'm doing my PhD in humbling blowhards. Ask yourself what are you doing wrong dude http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/science20.com# Not tryin' to ruin your day but maybe you're not being real enough.

    Hank
    For those who don't know, Alexa is a free measurement service for people too cheap to pay for Comscore. Like evo psych, their results are funny. They say our audience consists solely of poor single mothers. And they think our traffic is less than what just this article will get today. This is the same tool that claimed Google was the #2 site on the Internet and they had to hardcode them in at first place. Back on topic, I don't refute evo psych because it isn't science. I also do not refute astrology. Like astrology, evo psych takes some science data, makes an assertion, and then looks for correlation. Oh, and everything is sex, so it's more fun than astrology.
    Yeah sorry man that wasn't even called for, I put you up in compare and the other sites beat you but that doesn't really matter, you're right. Which I guess is just more evidence that evo psych supporters are half-wits ;) I just watched Richard Dawkins and David Buss talking about these issues for an hour in an interview, good to know that neither of those men have the slightest idea what they were talking about and all I need to do is compare the entire field to astrology in order to break out of the cult. Cheerio

    Hank
    That's a pretty good comment. Glad you stopped taking it all so seriously. On Dawkins, let's not confuse fame with science. His most important hypothesis is soundly ridiculed. He will, however, embrace anyone against creationism so it's good to know my degree in Evolutionary Philiosophy will not get me laughed at
    So don't confuse fame with science and next sentence argument from authority against his most important hypotheses! I could have used a link to some debunking material on what I guess is the gene-centered theory of evolution? Sorry man I failed English that last sentence doesn't make sense to me, you have a degree in EP and his war on the creationists helps you get more respect for that? Help me out here dude, I'm all worried that I'm in a cult now and my view of the species has been warped by junk science...

    Hank
    The error you are making is saying the scientific fact that astrology is useless is a logical fallacy - it is not.  But 'Richard Dawkins agrees evolutionary psychology is cool' is an appeal to authority.   Those are not equivalent statements.  I like hearing Richard Dawkins talk, I like how he thinks - this does not mean I care who he votes for or that he may be open-minded about evolutionary psychology, which you take as validation.    He is not a research guy.
    Actually I base my acceptence of certain EP theories based on the many studies I have read and the evidence they gathered, after reading the critics viewpoint. I was merely hinting that you watch that interview on youtube if you hadn't seen it since they talk about these issues and lay out the arguments, it seems like you're unaware of them. I'm making the point that you're this guy telling everyone EP is as smart as Quantum Paleontology but your debunking is non-existent or lacking. Can you send me a links that will help debunk EP or gene-centered evolution? Do you have a strong case beyond a philosophical one (which would have no merit)? That's what I wanna know! And thanks to you I watched land of the lost this weekend, was hilarious. Cheers.

    Gerhard Adam
    I don't know if it's a question of debunking EP, as much as it is trying to avoid the "just-so" stories that become convenient anecdotes for why humans behave the way they do.  Given that there is no possibility of having much of a historical record regarding human behavior, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) formulate much substance regarding psychological evolution.

    As for the gene-centered view ... that's a bit easier, since it is clear that genes are the purveyors of most information into the next generation and certainly play an important role, there is ample evidence that this is insufficient to produce successful offspring (as has already been mentioned).  More importantly, the problem with the gene-centric view is that there is no way for genes to actually be specifically selected for during sexual selection.  It is the organism that is selected, not the genes.  While it can serve as a useful vehicle to provide a perspective, it clearly isn't how things actually work. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    EP has been going for decades you think no one though of that and published on it yet? It's obvious that you are unfamiliar with the literature. I would refer you to Buss, 2010, American Psychologist (online) We can't observe the big bang either, Tex.

    Interesting.... wait but that's your opinion, I thought everyone stood around laughing at Dawkins like he's some kind of kook. Everyone knows about the Gould/Dawkins rivalry. I wasn't under the impression that there was a consensus that he was wrong... sounds like it's stll a debate to me.

    Gerhard Adam
    EP has been going for decades you think no one though of that and published on it yet?
    Whether they've thought about it or not, hasn't seem so slow down the number of stories being generated.
    ...sounds like it's stll a debate to me.
    Not much of  a debate if the idea doesn't actually work.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Ah, so you are like philosophers who dismiss new science on personal intuition/logic instead of proper debunking of the evidence. Makes perfect sense now. Actually this is old hat because the first 10 minutes of that interview is in regards to philosophers frothing at the mouth over EP. So I guess this is it, I'm on side with Dennet and Dawkins, you're all about Gould and friends,. and we're neatly divided up along party lines. Well, one of us is wrong!

    Gerhard Adam
    What evidence?  Give me an example of something that EP has explained based on evidence?

    As for the rest, I'm assuming that you're taking the gene-centric position?  Which is a position I also find interesting, because again, I don't see any evidence that supports it. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    EP is just the evo biology of the human mind, so unless you think the brain wasn't subject to evolution, going around calling it bs is ridiculous and untenable. Attacking the studies that have been done is one thing, attacking it's foundations is another. Wow and it's always the bloody philosophers too, what would we achieve in biology without Jerry Fodor?!? A lot of what classifies as EP would be unquestionably accepted by you. Is hunger within EP? YES! When women prefer men with more symmetrical faces and higher testosterone during ovulation, does that reasonably mean women shift their mating preferences during that time to maximize the chance of a healthy baby? I think the studies done so far are really smart and demonstrate that. If you weren't aware, all of the objections your side have raised have been addressed. I'm interested in hearing you address their rebuttals, not the same old talking points that have been bandied about for decades. I'd start with stuff like this http://www.epjournal.net/blog/2010/10/a-critique-of-pure-buller-part-i/ Gene-centered evolution, uh, I don't know, I'm willing to entertain the possibility that it's wrong, I keep an open mind. Hank seems to think a bunch of people mocking Richard is good enough to debunk it! (I'm sure not really but it's how he said it!) Cheers

    Gerhard Adam
    I'll review the link a bit later, but arguing that the brain is subject to evolution isn't the same thing as arguing that there is evolutionary explanation for the cognitive processes associated with it.
    When women prefer men with more symmetrical faces and higher testosterone during ovulation, does that reasonably mean women shift their mating preferences during that time to maximize the chance of a healthy baby?
    What's the evolutionary argument here? 
    Mundus vult decipi
    How is the evolutionary argument not obvious? It's that women's mating preferences change unconsciously during estrous physically due to systems that evolved. The most common interpretation is that she wants to mate with the "alpha" but will lie with the betas during other times for support, since the alpha doesn't necessarily stick around, they don't have to. There are other reasons to think this, it's not a "just-so" story to support the data, if you really care to explore this theory david buss has lectures online and has written several books on the subject, it's complex.

    Gerhard Adam
    I've responded at the end to allow for more room.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Once again, I will reply at the bottom.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Epigenetics has nothing to do with stress, other than possibly changing the expression of genes due to depletion of key micronutrients, such as folic acid, B12, and zinc, used in the production of neurotransmitters which help maintain homeostasis of nervous system function.

    I suggest before you bash the scientific field of genes and the environment (epigenetics) you go back to school and get a masters, minimally, in biochemistry and cell and molecular biology.

    suzanne
    medical cytologist (CT (ASCP)

    @Gerhard, I see after reading your letter about Dr. Eva's book, there is evidence regarding heritable learning.

    Epigenetics is interesting when looking at the sudden genetic changes that have been noted in amphibeans downstream from waste water treatement plants. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, in particular, estrogen residues, release into the water from these plants are changing the sexuality of the fish and frogs
    .

    Gerhard Adam
    @anonymous (4/12/11)
    How is the evolutionary argument not obvious? It's that women's mating preferences change unconsciously during estrous physically due to systems that evolved.

    There are other reasons to think this, it's not a "just-so" story to support the data, if you really care to explore this theory david buss has lectures online and has written several books on the subject, it's complex.
    A couple of problems.  In the first place if a woman's preferences change "unconsciously" then what is the basis for assessing this?  I did review one of David Buss' lectures, but I couldn't get very far through it before it became silly.  It seems that there wasn't even an attempt to analyze different lifestyles (especially more primitive), but instead the entire presentation was focused on little more than a typical single's life in the U.S.

    However, I did also link to his response to an article, which still turned out to be silly.  This, in turn, linked to a paper by "evolutionary psychologists such as David Schmitt" who appeared to formulate evolutionary theories by asking people living in a modern society about their preferences.

    From the abstract:
    "The Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (SOI; Simpson&Gangestad, 1991) is a self-report measure of individual differences in human mating strategies."
    Surely he's joking.  How does "self-reporting" relate to evolutionary theory?

    After watching and reading some of this stuff, I'm not convinced that they actually understand modern humans, let alone having the slightest hypothesis regarding evolutionary origins.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    @anonymous (4/12/11 00:08 AM)
    This is the problem I have, because claims are made without regard for whether they are valid and then they are simply used as a jumping off point for more assumptions.

    From a paper by John Tooby, "The Emergence of Evolutionary Psychology"
    Thus, the genes present in any given generation are disproportionately those which have had, in preceding environments, effective "strategies" for their own propagation. The traits individuals express are present because the genes which govern their development were incorporated in the genome because they have successful strategies of self-propagation. In other words, genes work through the individual they occur in, and the individual's morphology and behavior embody the strategies of the genes it contains.
    How is it that genes can formulate "strategies" to ensure their own propagation?  In cases where this occurs (such as segregator-distorter genes) the outcome is uniformly detrimental to the organism.  So by ignoring epigenetics, behavioral influences, and culture, he has simply concluded that genes are the final arbiter of what constitutes human behavior.

    The application of these more precise models of selection at the level of the gene opened the door for meaningful explorations of a series of crucial behavioral problems, such as altruism towards kin, aggression, mate choice, parental care, reciprocation, foraging, and their cumulative consequences on social structure.
    It isn't even assured that these questions have been answered in a fundamentally meaningful way. This is especially true when we come to issues like altruism, where the explanation with respect to kin selection is almost immediately invalidated when human society is examined.   At its very best, we don't have a singular representation across cultures regarding any of these behaviors, and yet this is supposed to be supported by evolutionary data (and, please, don't refer me to any more "self-reported" studies).

    To make matters worse, we then proceed into an examination of human behavior (apparently from the perspective of a tourist in a wild animal park).
    To make this concrete, let us briefly describe in these terms what might happen to a hypothetical human hunter-gatherer when a distant lion becomes visible. The recognition of this predator triggers the internal "broadcast" of the feeling of fear; this feeling acts as a signal to all of the diverse mechanisms in the psychological architecture. Upon detecting this signal, they each switch into the "fear mode of operation": that is , the mode of operation most appropriate to dealing with danger presented by a predator. The mechanism maintaining the hunger motivation switches off and cognitive activity involved in reasoning about the discovery of food is stopped, neither being appropriate.

    Mechanisms regulating physiological processes issue new "instructions" making the person physiologically ready for the new sorts of behaviors which are now more adaptive: fighting or, more likely, flight. Cognitive activity switches to representations of the local terrain, estimates of probable actions by the lion, sources of help and protection from the lion, and so on. The primary motivation becomes the pursuit of safety.

    Evolutionary psychology employs functional thinking, that is, the modern rigorous understanding of adaptive strategies, to discover, sort out, and map the proximate mechanisms that incarnate these strategies.
    What's the basis for claiming that this is the human cognitive experience?  It is highly unlikely that primitive hunter-gatherers would've felt anything of the sort.  These were people that lived with and competed with these predators, so the scenario being painted here is completely implausible.  More to the point, it completely ignores the other factors that would also be present (i.e. are they competing for the same game?  is the lion stalking the hunter?).

    A prime example is the Maasai tribe that actually has experience in lion territory.
    The Maasai tribe sees lion hunting experience as a sign of bravery and personal achievement. In the past, when the lion population was high, the community encouraged solo lion hunting.

    It is not easy to hunt a lion alone. However, many Maasai warriors have done it. Solo lion hunting requires confidence and advance hunting skills. A warrior must be passionate about the game. Unlike group hunting, solo lion hunting is usually happened at random, when the warrior is out herding cattle.

    Lion hunting is all about challenging another creature without cheating.
    http://www.maasai-association.org/lion.html

    Perhaps it might have been prudent to talk to people that actually live in such an environment instead of making a sweeping statement that makes little sense from an evolutionary perspective.
    The residual sense in the cultural insulation argument is the sound but simple one of phylogenetic lag: modern humans have emerged so rapidly from Pleistocene conditions that their mechanisms are still following the programming of what would have been adaptive under Pleistocene conditions.
    http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/papers/Emergence.pdf
    What's the basis for this argument?  It can hardly be disputed that our cultural influences are radically different than living as hunter/gatherers.  In fact, it is relatively easy to examine a recent historical difference in this regard by examining the European settlers and their encounters with Native American peoples.  While there are many innate similarities, it is equally clear that their was a wide cultural chasm between the two groups.

    In fact, it is entirely presumptuous to suggest that the author understands anything about Pleistocene conditions.  More importantly, he's in no position to argue what may or may not have been "adaptive".

    The point that is interesting is that he's apparently suggesting that we are maladapted to modern society.  This is definitely a point that requires some evidence, since there doesn't seem to be a hint of it in the actual world we live in.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    Nicely argued Gerhard. My main bitch with ev psychology is that it's an off-shoot of selfish gene theory, (as the paragraph you gave from the Tooby paper clearly demonstrates) and so has a flawed foundation. And what a load of rubbish that paragraph is! It's a complete distortion of the role of genes in evolution.
    Sorry, see bottom of page for my reply.

    This is a good blog and shows a scientific mind at work that requires evidence.It also shows how influenced we are becoming by climate change and the influence OUR decisions are having on our environment.If we are genetically changed by stress can we undo it by refusing to be changed by it or building a better less stressfull society by choice.You know"Land of the free,home of the brave" stuff.

    I would like you to reply to my point that disparaging EP must be done on the particular studies you hate, or the people in it that you hate, because the concept of EP is sound and disputing that is nonsensical.

    So you don't understand how they controlled for the effect being unconscious and you find the whole thing silly. I'm not going to reply to that.

    I will reply to your concern about the mechanism of evolution. Let's say we have a bird with a red dot on it's beak. We observe that every time a chick pokes the dot with it's beak, it gets fed. Do we assume the chick has a brain program that says attack red dots when hungry? No. It's more like, the chick innately pokes at moving objects, and over time, it figures out that when it hits the red dot, then it will receive food. This is the story of the herring gull chicks. This is the problem I think people have with EP. They are demanding evidence for a "red dot poking program" when such a demand is ridiculous and unnecessary.

    What Tooby was doing was illustrating the perspective of EP, giving a really basic example of how it is understood, it made sense. And then your complain was wahhh! What about a hypothetically more complex reality about lions! :S really? You can't imagine that there is a simple to complex spectrum? Our ancestors always needed to run from lions, but later ones developed tools to hunt them and that disputes the fact that the earlier evolved functions still exist, just with new overlays?

    You strike me as a skeptic that hasn't taken the time to read the literature, a philosopher who will ignore the data because "the idea doesn't work" At least Einstein admitted the math went against his belief that the universe was expanding. Humming and hawing about how "the idea doesn't work" and "I don't like this study" doesn't make the entire field ridiculous. You're not even familiar with the body of work and you make fun of it.

    Another good study I liked was the phone where they went back through women's phone records and proved that they cut conversations short with their father's when they were in estrous. I guess you could spend all day trying to figure how that is not unconscious.

    Anyway if you have serious problems with that let me know because I am seriously trying to learn from the people who ridicule EP

    Correction: Einstein believed the universe was NOT expanding! Math wins

    Gerhard Adam
    Our ancestors always needed to run from lions...
    Based on what evidence?  This is a "just-so" story based exclusively on our modern views of what it means to live with lions.  My point wasn't that later ancestors learned how to deal with it, instead you should be looking at the evidence of how people actually in such an environment react.  Instead you continue to examine modern humans and try to extrapolate results backward in time.

    The foolishness of the "Why Women Have Sex" discussion is that it failed to even acknowledge that a significant part of the behavior is due to the role of birth control.

    I don't have a problem with a bonafide attempt to explore psychology from an evolutionary perspective if it were acknowledged that gains in such an area would be sparse at best, since it is virtually impossible to successfully argue that we know anything about the psychology of our ancestors.  More importantly, it is even more difficult to put together an argument that something is "adaptive" versus merely an "adaptation".  That is the basis for arguing evolution and without such input, it becomes a collection of plausible explanations with absolutely no basis in science.

    It's like the discussion surrounding why "sex" exists as a method of reproduction.  There are numerous explanations that account for why it might exist, but they all have the same problem;  there is no evidence to indicate which one might actually be correct.  It isn't due to the lack of imagination or plausible scenarios ... just no evidence.
    Another good study I liked was the phone where they went back through women's phone records and proved that they cut conversations short with their father's when they were in estrous.
    What is such a study supposed to demonstrate?  How does this relate to evolution in any fashion?  Even if you could successfully argue that such a thing has an evolutionary basis, how do you convert it from a "just-so" story to something that is supported by evidence?  This doesn't even make an adjustment for what has changed in our technological society versus those societies before such technology existed.  How is an evolutionary connection being made?
    Let's say we have a bird with a red dot on it's beak. We observe that every time a chick pokes the dot with it's beak, it gets fed. Do we assume the chick has a brain program that says attack red dots when hungry? No. It's more like, the chick innately pokes at moving objects, and over time, it figures out that when it hits the red dot, then it will receive food. This is the story of the herring gull chicks.
    No, here's the problem.  In the first place you haven't indicated whether this is "adaptive" behavior or simply an "adaptation" of some other behavior.  Presumably you're suggesting that it is the latter, however, this again creates the problem of how does this relate to evolutionary psychology in any way?  What is the psychological behavior that is being postulated as being a result of evolution?  I can think of no one that would argue that most animals are responsive to movements, and few would argue with the idea that this can be a learned behavior, but that isn't telling us any more than we already knew going into it.  What has evolutionary psychology contributed to the discussion?

    Give me a single example of something evolutionary psychology has discussed that illustrates knowledge of ancestral psychological behavior and how it has been adaptive (through natural selection) to produce modern behavior.  In most cases, it seems that the opposite argument is being made, in that we are the products of our ancient past and modern society is stressing our psychology in ways that we are not evolved to handle.  So, explain the contribution of EP?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Give me a single example of something evolutionary psychology has discussed that illustrates knowledge of ancestral psychological behavior and how it has been adaptive (through natural selection) to produce modern behavior. In most cases, it seems that the opposite argument is being made, in that we are the products of our ancient past and modern society is stressing our psychology in ways that we are not evolved to handle. So, explain the contribution of EP?
    This is the crux of the problem.   They want to use biology to legitimize a fuzzy social science bordering on being one of the humanities.  The only rationale for the entire field is that 'if brains evolved, psychology did also' but they make that error because they use the term evolution colloquially - they don't know what the word actually means scientifically.
    "I don't have a problem with a bonafide attempt to explore psychology from an evolutionary perspective if it were acknowledged that gains in such an area would be sparse at best"

    The only thing you have to back you up on this is your philosophy. Philosophers have the most problem with EP. This isn't even an argument. You have no rational basis for claiming this.

    If you think that Buss didn't control for modern birth control, I can see why you have a problem with him now

    Other than philosophers, the other group hostile to EP is the people who are afraid it will make hard biology look bad. This is an insane and childish worry. It might actually be true sometimes, but new sciences always have this problem, other than some handwavng and "I don't buy it" It's obvious what the motivations are emotionally.

    Just because we aren't sure if sex is just a clever way to outdo parasites or some other wild theory, doesn't mean we can't get evidence, or that we can't infer it. I find this as convincing as people who say we can't study the big bang because we didn't exist then.

    They made a prediction, that women are less likely to have contact will males who would be a bad father during estrous. This was confirmed by study. I don't see any problem with saying "Here is some decent evidence women change in estrous" There have been tons of studies done on estrous, with faces, with scents, all confirmed some kind of effect.

    If the chick didn't have the urge to poke at moving objects, the mother wouldn't get the cue to feed it. Of course, you'd have to somehow test this by preventing the chick from poking the mother.

    I hear one criticism is "People write poetry cause they want to get laid! Wow what a crock" When there is a huge difference between the sexual selection that shaped the brain and how we use that to pleasure ourselves now.

    I am a hack, I have no science training. I'm smart enough to understand what a blowhard is and what an intellectually honest scientist is. Here is Dawkins and Pink in another hour long interview talking about your misconceptions about their work.

    Gerhard Adam
    For your post, it is clear that you accept plausibility as evidence.  I don't.  There are numerous plausible explanations, but the problem with evolutionary psychology is that it is difficult (if not impossible) to claim to know anything about the psychology of our ancestors.
    They made a prediction, that women are less likely to have contact will males who would be a bad father during estrous.
    I suppose you don't see a problem with this, whereas I see nothing but problems.  In the most obvious case, is the assessment of someone being a "bad father".   What's the criteria being applied?  How is this being assessed?  Is this based on the woman's perception of what constitutes a "bad" or "good" father?  If so, then it's subjective and impossible to assert any evolutionary basis for it (i.e. it is a cultural trait and not a biological one).  What kind of contact are you referring to? 

    This also has numerous considerations regarding lifestyle (i.e. tribal versus modern society), population density, the proximity of various males, the level of familiarity, etc.  None of this can be accounted for in a modern context, so to argue that this was a "prediction" and "controlled for" is merely wishful thinking.
    If you think that Buss didn't control for modern birth control, I can see why you have a problem with him now.
    In his presentation, there were assertions made without any regard for the social context in which they occurred.  Having sex for revenge on a boyfriend, or to feel good about themselves, or to prove that they could get a man, or to compete with girlfriends ... all speaks to modern social interactions and has no basis in asserting a claim that our ancestors behaved in a similar fashion.  Remember the point here is not to study human sexuality in modern times, but to make a claim about its evolutionary origins, which was not done. 
    If the chick didn't have the urge to poke at moving objects, the mother wouldn't get the cue to feed it. Of course, you'd have to somehow test this by preventing the chick from poking the mother.
    No, it seems you don't understand the difference between a trait being "adaptive" versus a trait being an "adaptation".  An "adaptive" trait is one that specifically evolved because it "solved a problem" and came into being because it was selected for.  As a result, those that had that trait proved more successful than those that didn't.  This is extremely difficult to prove, even with physical traits, let alone psychological ones, so any claim here would have to have extraordinary proof.  However, an "adaptation" occurs when a particular behavior may have been selected for, and because of its existence it was "co-opted" for additional functions.  In other words, it didn't specifically evolve by natural selection (because that was driven by a different criteria), but since it exists, it could also be used for something else.  If this is the case, then it completely undermines any assertion that it was "selected for" in evolutionary psychological terms.

    Therefore what makes EP suspect, is that the assertions keep coming without a shred of evidence that there is any link to our evolutionary past.  There are simply a whole range of behaviors which are assumed to have existed, and then they are simply extrapolated into a series of stories surrounding modern behavior.  Contrary to what you make think, many of the elements that evolutionary psychology is addressing have been addressed by anthropology, which has attempted to provide a basis in understanding human behavior by studying people living more primitive lifestyles (under the assumption that those lifestyles may offer common ground to some of the behaviors we see in our modern society).

    However, until there is actually a theory of ancestral psychology, to discuss evolution is a dead-end. 

    This is NOT the same thing as the big-bang discussion, because there are many predictions and behaviors which support some of those claims although the specifics are obviously still a vague area (which is why physics is focusing on trying to understand the laws of physics as they would've applied at that time).  However, psychologists don't seem to want to focus on the origins of psychology, they just want to make claims about our current behavior in some sort of biologically assumed manner that has no credence.
    I hear one criticism is "People write poetry cause they want to get laid! Wow what a crock" When there is a huge difference between the sexual selection that shaped the brain and how we use that to pleasure ourselves now.
    Great to hear it.  So what's the explanation? 

    As it stands, psychology has enough problems in trying to be specific enough to rise above simply being a "social" science, so to assert a biologically evolutionary connection is a bit of a reach at this stage.  It would have more credibility if the people presenting it, actually seemed to understand evolutionary theory.

    The most difficulty problem is that if evolutionary psychology is true, then it undermines modern psychology (i.e. the ability to treat patients).  The point being that natural selection requires that a trait be heritable and affect fitness in the next generation.  Therefore one of the criteria of a heritable trait, is that it must manifest in such a way that it affects the fitness of the organism.  Therefore whatever psychological evolution occurred, must be heritable and fixed enough to have been capable of selection.  Anything more nebulous than that might well be a heritable trait, but it would've had no selective benefit or liability and therefore not be an aspect of evolution.
    Mundus vult decipi
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIMReUsxTt4 Pinker and Dawkins: The Genius of Charles Darwin

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, in this video you provided the second problem of evolutionary psychology.  This occurs because it seems that evolutionary psychology wants to simply take work that has occurred for years in other areas and suddenly lay claim to it.

    In this case, within the first few minutes, it was clear that there is no good explanation for why we enjoy music and that there probably wouldn't be, but in the interim there was a several minute discussion on binocular vision as "an engineering problem".

    In case no one's noticed, this has been an area of study in neuroscience for decades and much of the subject matter being presented as if it were evolutionary psychology is actually neuroscience.  So once again, what does any of this have to do with psychology, evolutionary or otherwise?

    Like I asked before ... give me one instance of an evolutionary psychology explanation that has added any new information to the discussion.

    BTW ... that video also represented a really strained view of two scientists attempting to act casual in front of a camera.  Lots of speculation and little substance.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Thank you for participating in this discussion with me. I do see this as an unwillingness to consider the subject from the perspective of the people doing it, an unwillingness to first have a debate and clarify meanings due to some kind of personal problem with it. That this is also tied to a misunderstanding of what the modern Dawkins says about "selfish genes" is telling. It is the the same debate that has happened since E.O. wilson and perhaps a non-scientist pointing to the same flaws that have been pointed to by others for years isn't going to help. Toodleloo

    Gerhard Adam
    There's clearly nothing to debate since you don't want to hold up your end of the conversation.  You simply pointed to a couple of YouTube videos which I offered my comments on.  Instead of pointing to any evidence, you simply presume that your position is somehow supposed to be arbitrarily accepted. 

    There is no misunderstanding about Dawkins and "selfish genes".  It is an untenable position and has little relevance in understanding natural selection.  It is certainly an interesting perspective to counter the once common argument of "for the good of the species", but it serves little useful purpose beyond that point.  Unless you're prepared to actually put forth some argument, then you're right in there being nothing to discuss.
    Mundus vult decipi
    You said "So by ignoring epigenetics, behavioral influences, and culture, he has simply concluded that genes are the final arbiter of what constitutes human behavior." This is simply not an argument against dawkins if he says that "The 'transgenerational' effects now being described are mildly interesting, but they cast no doubt whatsoever on the theory of the selfish gene," he says. He suggests, though, that the word "gene" should be replaced with "replicator". This selfish replicator, acting as the unit of selection, does not have to be a gene, but it does have to be replicated accurately, the occasional mutation aside. "Whether [epigenetic marks] will eventually be deemed to qualify as 'selfish replicators' will depend upon whether they are genuinely high-fidelity replicators with the capacity to go on for ever. This is important because otherwise there will be no interesting differences between those that are successful in natural selection and those that are not."

    Like I've said before, I'm actually just trying to figure this stuff out for myself, and I'm honestly looking for the other side's point of view. I don't actually hold any firm positions, I'm just telling you why I don't currently agree with these criticisms. And because you've resorted to stuff like "really strained view of two scientists attempting to act casual in front of a camera. Lots of speculation and little substance" I really want to move on to a more serious conversation where the other side has really taken the time to see what these people have been rebutting against. Dig? Yeah.

    Gerhard Adam
    What I have now done is to define the gene in such a way that I cannot really help being right!
    Richard Dawkins, "The Selfish Gene", p. 32

    Using the term "replicators" doesn't tell us anything, because the whole notion of "selfishness" implies a level of competition between these "replicators" that simply doesn't exist.  In the instances where it does occur (segregator-distorter genes), the result is disastrous to the organism.  More specifically, there are few (if any) instances of where a trait is the result of a singular gene.  In most cases, traits require the interaction of multiple genes, so something as simplistic as a "replicator" has no meaning because it produces no result by itself.  Without a result, what is being selected?
    "Whether [epigenetic marks] will eventually be deemed to qualify as 'selfish replicators' will depend upon whether they are genuinely high-fidelity replicators with the capacity to go on for ever.
    That completely negates the meaning, since they are not genes.  By that definition, then the "selfish gene" becomes true because everything is included and anything which doesn't support the premise is discarded. 
    This is important because otherwise there will be no interesting differences between those that are successful in natural selection and those that are not."
    I'm not sure what that's supposed to me.  What is "selected" is dependent on whether it is a necessary trait in the environment in which the organism exists.  If it is not, then it cannot be selected for.  It may exist and even become distributed throughout the population, but it is not being selected for.

    As for the YouTube video, it was a contrived discussion between two scientists.  If you want to pursue more detailed discussions of the problems, then read Elliot Sober or Eva Jablonka or Martin Nowak for a different perspective on some of these points.

    There are certainly disputes regarding issues like cooperation, altruism, etc.  but the primary problem with the gene-centric view is that genes (or replicators) are incapable of "knowing" what they produce, and consequently they cannot compete.  In other words, regardless of the genetics of the organism, in a sexually reproducing species, it will be an external individual (i.e. the proposed mate) that establishes whether reproduction will occur (unless it is forced).  However, even successful mating will only transfer 50% of the genetic material over, so it appears that these purportedly "selfish genes" have opted for a deal where only half will be passed on to the future generation, with no guarantee that there will ever be a second chance.

    In fact, I would argue that this type of reproduction is the exact opposite of what is being suggested since it requires the highest degree of cooperation to ensure that a multi-celled organism remains viable and that each individual cell isn't striving to assert the genetic influence of its own nucleus.  In other words, multicellular organisms must specifically avoid competition among their constituent cells or they will fail as organisms.  In addition, it seems that one possible explanation for sexual reproduction is that the purpose is not to exploit genetic novelty but to dilute it so that the population remains relatively static regarding selection (as long as the environment is stable).

    After all, in a stable environment, any modifications to existing traits risk introducing problems, so it is in the best interest of the species to avoid unnecessary modifications simple to pursue some "directionality" suggested by competition.  In fact, until or unless the environment changes, the best action is to try and maintain the status quo as closely as possible to what has worked in the past.  This is precisely why many long-lived species do not significantly change if there are no environmental pressures to exert selection pressure. 

    On the other hand, with selfish gene theory, we would expect the opposite to occur where novel developments occur because of the competition between genes, rather than how they necessarily manifest in the environment.  Therefore instead of stability, we would expect to see a steady progression of changes occurring even though they aren't necessary.

    In other words, it isn't the environment of the organism that would set the selection pressure, but the environment of the cell and nucleus in which the genes would compete for replication "power".

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    A loose analogy may provide some insight here as well.  I'm not suggesting that this analogy is representative of genetics, so no one should be viewing it as some sort of representation.  Instead its the nature of selection that is being illustrated here.

    You're familiar with musicians and music, so we can use the idea of song-writing and performance of songs as a finished product which is ultimately selected by the fans and audience based on their specific tastes.  In this context, the audience serves as the "environment" exerting the selection pressure, while the song represents the "organism" under selection.

    The argument of the "selfish gene" would be similar to arguing that songs are selected by fans based on the notes they contain, so therefore each note behaves "selfishly" to ensure that it is propagated into future songs.  There's no question that no matter which song we look at, we find those same notes, so therefore we conclude that the songs produced are a direct result of competition among notes to ensure their representation.

    However, this isn't true.  It is the finished product which is being selected and the individual notes have no way of knowing whether they are part of a commercial jingle or a symphony.  Notes are simply the building blocks necessary to produce a result that is capable of selection, but they are not the units of selection.

    Similarly arguments could be made in a variety of scenarios, and the same thing applies to biology.  Genes can only produce proteins which in turn produce traits.  Traits are selected, and as a result of that selection, the corresponding genes will be represented in future generations.  The genes didn't direct the selection, they simply produced a result that was either successful or not.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    Congratulations Gerhard, you've overturned 35 years of propaganda. I hope Anonymous appreciates your efforts. Isn't it amazing how many nonsensical red herrings have been introduced by gene-centrics into the discussion of evolution. Undefined replicators, units of selection, kin selection, gene selection, it would be laughable if it was not so serious.