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Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism — Empiricism meets Constructivism

Montag, 7. November 2011 0:31

Following some of the feminist blogosphere since some time now, I frequently come across criticisms of „Evolutionary Psychology“. Discussing some of that with a friend who works in the field revealed that there is a lot of discontent and a feeling of being misunderstood among scholars there. A reply from an evolutionary psychologist that he referred me to disappointed me (I want to respond in detail to that later), as well as a recent journal publication with a very promising title (David M. Buss & David P. Schmitt (2011). Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism [pdf]. Sex Roles. doi:10.1007/s11199-011‑9987-3). Both show that they are at least as ignorant of what the critique is all about as their critics are of Evolutionary Psychology. I’m going to try to fill in some of these gaps in both directions, and explain why I mostly side with „the feminists“ at the end. This is at the same time part of a thought process of mine concerning epistemology („what and how can we know about the world“) and the role of science in a much more general sense. I didn’t really feel ready to write about that yet, but I might not anytime soon, and this kind of discussion arises so often that I decided to share my preliminary thoughts. I’m aware there will be holes and inconsistencies and look forward to criticism.


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A scholarship application and the construction of self

Freitag, 2. September 2011 12:04

I just finished an application for a scholarship to do my Ph.D. in Freiburg starting next year. So yes, after some eight months out there in the world I clearly felt I like the thought of going back to science a lot. I’m actually really excited about it, because the project tackles some philosophical and practical questions at the same time, and is set up in a very multiple methods kind of way, ranging from physiological measurements to open („qualitative“) interviews, all of which suits me perfectly. The title still sounds quite technical though, in English it would be something like this: „Importance of Cognitive and Psychophysiological Processes for the Effectiveness of Exposure Therapy in Agoraphobia and Panic Disorder“.

But this just for background, what want I want to write about here is the experience I had writing the application, because I feel it illustrates and supports constructivist concepts of a „narrative self“ which I like a lot.


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What is Privilege? Not experiencing, and understanding with difficulty

Sonntag, 3. Juli 2011 17:32

What could have been a tweet is becoming a small post instead, because I found a discussion in the comment section so enlightening that I want to quote it here, along with some of the original content. The starting point is a story of sexual harassment at a (as far I understand) atheist or sceptic conference. Now, as some people said, the harassment was not „serious“: She was in the elevator back to her room after a party early in the morning, and a guy who got into the elevator with her asked her to have coffee in his room or something. She declined, end of story.

The case becomes interesting and even illustrative because it pits two camps against each other that I both subscribe to: open communication (and sexuality) advocates and feminists. And because the fascinating issue of „privilege“ (in this case the classic „male privilege“) comes in, which I’m starting to find a useful figure of thought in a number of social issues. To give my conclusion away: I’m siding with the feminist critique. And here’s why:


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Post-Modernisms Political Past and Future

Montag, 27. Juni 2011 14:09

In one of my probably last random internet excursions for the next months I came across the „World Socialist Web Site“ published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (trying to find out who that actually is on Wikipedia leads into the abyss of socialist splinter groups). While there is a lot of predictable nonsense on the website (you really don’t want to read what they write about the Western intervention in Lybia), I’ve come to find some modern Marxist thinking quite inspiring. This is especially true of a critique of Post-Modernism, a line of thought I also vaguely identify with (finding out more about what is really behind the term is somewhere near the top on my reading list for 2012). Let’s start with a definition of post-modern that maybe is (and certainly should be) commonplace, by Jean-François Lyotard, considered the founding father the philosophical Post-Modern:


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Capitalism vs. Free Market — what’s in a name, and is Fascism in the picture?

Sonntag, 5. Juni 2011 13:30

Despite my best efforts, this Sunday is on the best way to being a random-web-surfing day, reading (among many other things) critiques of Capitalism using an Indian company’s mobile network in remote Tanzania…

This randomness is of course the source of what we often deplore as procrastination, but I’m realizing it can also set free creativity, by presenting side by side concepts that seem only very loosely related at first. So here is my starting point, a very insightful remark on what difference it makes if we speak about Capitalism or Free Market Economy, from John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-American economist and author, published in the article Free Market Fraud in The Progressive magazine in 1999:


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What’s wrong with evolutionary explanations of human behavior (as commonly understood)

Mittwoch, 1. Juni 2011 18:10

The evolutionary side of human behavior is something which is always good for heated discussions, having strong implications for important social issues. And often enough, people criticizing the evolutionary perspective find themselves in the trap of being seemingly unscientific. This, I believe, is a symptom of how the prevailing positivist („objectivist“) understanding of science is narrowing the scientific discourse, and the public discourse about science. But „political correctness“ is not the only way to oppose these (pseudo)evolutionary arguments.

I liked watching the first few classes of Robert Sapolsky’s „Human Behavioral Evolution“ course at Stanford from 2010, which are available for free on iTunes U (yes, you need iTunes). Even though the pointedness and entertainment of his arguments can be a little too much for a European audience, I highly recommend it for everybody who wants to fill in gaps in his or her understanding of evolution. And for people who consider themselves solid on the basics, I recommend a 20-minute summary of the criticism of evolutionary biology, at least as it is perceived and used by the public. I’m talking about the last 20 minutes, starting at 1:14, of the lecture 3 — Behavioral Evolution II (April 2, 2010). Here is a brief summary:


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Reflexive Economics — Freak-Freakonomics

Dienstag, 24. Mai 2011 19:56

Special thanks to Matze for pointing me to the first ever (even though humorous) example of something I have been asking and looking for for a long time: In allusion to the „Reflexive Social Psychology“ I had the pleasure to attend with Heiner Keupp in Munich I’d like to call it „Reflexive Economics“.

The idea is to, as a social scientist, be aware of the impact of one’s theorizing in the „object“ studied, and also of the fact that you are subject and object of your theories at the same time, because as a social (and in our times also unavoidably economical) being you are always also explaining your own behavior. Let’s have more of that, and more serious!

But this is a good start. The topic chosen as a humorous exercise in the article by Ariel Rubinstein titled „Freak-Freakonomics“, published in Economists’ Voice in 2006, is the hugely popular 2005 book „Freakonomics“ by Levitt and Dubner, which I partly read and (I think like Rubinstein) both enjoyed and felt a little uneasy about.

Let’s start with his definition of the problem of lacking reflexivity:


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Jesus and Mary (not his mother…)

Samstag, 21. Mai 2011 10:17

In a Catholic environment like this one, sooner or later I had to remember the scandalous theories of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene, or at least fathering a child with her. While I have to admit that the claims to historical evidence for this marriage don’t really convince me, I found the spiritual-religious argument striking. And I think it does a pretty good job at explaining the shortcomings of institutionalized religion with the incompleteness of the Jesus it chooses to believe in:


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This I believe — my Constructivism explained

Donnerstag, 19. Mai 2011 21:32

It is a great pleasure to finally share publicly here parts of the book I loved most out of my final exams reading list (and, maybe surprisingly, I loved quite a few), and which I come back to over and over again, making it uncontestedly the most influential book for my thinking that I read during my whole studies. It is „Acts of Meaning“ by Jerome Bruner, published in 1990 as an elaboration of a series of lectures, and was assigned for the exam in Cultural Psychology (thank you, Gabriele!).

It has so many important things to say about science, culture, and psychology that I believe it should be on every psychologist’s and non-psychologist’s bookshelf, but one part I like to refer non-psychologists to most frequently is about „relativism“, or as I prefer to say: Constructivism.


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Explaining the World with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Astrology, Constructivism, Science and (In)Definite Articles

Donnerstag, 12. Mai 2011 20:29

I fear this is the longest title in the history of my blog, which in a way suits its topic well. I just finished the biggest book I have ever read, actually a collection of books under the title „The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“, by Douglas Adams. It comprises the original Guide and the other four books in the trilogy.

I bought it in Palo Alto before my real traveling started, and it has lasted me well into the second quarter of this year, of course as frequent visitors of my blog know with another big and some small readings in between.

Once again, my generally high esteem of artists‘ late work was reinforced — while the original book is funny, the later books are far better. I laughed my hardest reading the second last one, „So Long and Thanks for All the Fish“, and the last one, „Mostly Harmless“, apart from still being very funny, I found most insightful. That despite how I just read on Wikipedia the author himself describing this book as „bleak“, and saying he had a very bad year when he wrote it. I suppose that tells us something about the relationship between art and happiness…

Anyway, here are just some examples of important topics of life made understandable with the help of absurdity, Science-Fiction at its best.


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