A Brief Tour of Consciousness on the Neuron Express

A video interview with V. S. Ramachandran, over at The Science Network:

RAMACHANDRAN:…I think the problem with Ev Psych, by the way, and I’ve said this before in print.

BINGHAM: By which you mean…

RAMACHANDRAN: By which I mean evolutionary psychology, by which I mean you take every conceivable trait, physical or mental propensity and say, why did this evolve, it must have something to do with the way our ancestors were walking around the savanna and all the selection pressures. Now, of course, it’s partly true, that some of our mental traits are because of that. But some of it has this banal ring to it. You say, you know, men like young women because they are more fertile. Ok, maybe. But a, it involves the cultural dimensions of the mind and I think what’s unique about the human brain especially is we are the cultured primate; and I’m not saying this to be politically correct, I have absolutely no interest in politics. But what I’m saying is what’s unique about the human brain is the fact that we have systems of neurons including mirror neurons that enable us to assimilate culture and knowledge through imitation, through emulation, through learning, much more rapidly than any other brain of any other animal. This is what makes us uniquely human.

Ok, so that’s one problem with evolutionary psychology. The other, more serious problem, I think, is you can come up with any ad hoc theory you want and it becomes very difficult to test. For example, I could say, people say, well because we were on the savanna, we like this, we like young women, you know, men. And there are dozens of examples, maybe you could think of some. But you could say, well men or women like going to the Scripps aquarium. Why? Why do we like to go to the aquarium? Well its because our Devonian ancestors were fish, up in the Devonian seas, enjoy mating with other fish, obviously, and found them attractive. And maybe there’s a residue of this in the brain and that’s why we enjoy going to the aquarium. Now immediately that strikes you as ludicrous and absurd.