Evolution versus Metamorphosis

Thomas Jones in the London Review of Books:

As Ian Hacking said in the last issue of the LRB, quoting Steven Rose quoting Theodosius Dobzhansky, ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’ Since we use our brains to make up stories, and to make sense of the stories of others, it’s hard to disagree with the idea that the capacity for storytelling is the result of evolution. And it’s easy enough to concoct prehistoric situations in which making up stories would have been an aid to survival or reproduction, or both.

Once upon a time, there were two cavemen called Bill and Ben, who were rivals for the affections of a beautiful cavewoman called Beryl. (If you think this story is going to take a reactionary turn, you’re not wrong. But that’s because it belongs in the tradition of evolutionary psychology just-so stories, which have a tendency to provide a pseudoscientific – because unfalsifiable – justification for the status quo. As how could they not? Since the circular logic behind them goes something like this: things are how they are; they are this way because that’s how they evolved; here’s a plausible reason for them to have evolved this way; they couldn’t be any other way.) One day, Bill returned to the cave after a morning’s hunting and told an elaborate and plausible story about how he had killed the sabretooth tiger that had been terrorising the neighbourhood. Ben, delighted at the news, rushed out of the cave to enjoy the tiger-free sunshine and tell the neighbours. He was promptly eaten by the sabretooth, which Bill hadn’t killed after all. With Ben out of the picture, and Beryl suitably impressed by his tall tales of heroism, Bill was comfortably able to pass on his genes, which all lived happily ever after.

Well, maybe.

More here.