summer/fall 2007 no. 9
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summer/fall 2007 no. 9
Not Just-So Stories: Reflections on an EP Conference Through an EP Lens
by Chester Dimsdull, Maryanne Fisher, Glenn Geher, Daniel J. Kruger, Rosemarie Sokol, and Sarah Strout
Genuinely altruistic hominids spotted in New York’s Hudson Valley!
When it comes to altruism, the party line in evolutionary psychology goes something like this: True altruism doesn’t really exist — it’s not an evolveable quality of organisms given how natural selection works her magic (which is by selecting features of organisms that have the effects of replicating their own particular genes). The two predominant kinds of altruism discussed by evolutionists both clearly represent “gene selfishness” when examined closely. On one hand, kin selection, the helping of genetic relatives, is essentially the helping of one’s genes as they exist in the bodies of others. On the other hand, reciprocal altruism, the helping of a non-relative with an implicit understanding of being helped in return by that individual at some future point, has an obvious selfishness as well.
Two important recent theoretical developments within evolutionary psychology give pause to evolutionists who stick by this orthodoxy. First, David Sloan Wilson, NEEPS’ esteemed inaugural keynote speaker, makes the case that natural selection can, in fact, work at the level of groups of organisms to the extent that competition between groups is a salient feature of the species. Under such conditions, altruistic behaviors that reduce one’s fitness within the group but that provide benefits to the group can actually evolve under some conditions. That sounds like a potential form of true altruism to me. Further, consider Geoffrey Miller’s treatise on all things mental as resulting from sexual selection forces. In a particularly provocative chapter of The Mating Mind, Geoffrey argues that altruism is downright sexy — and that genuine altruism could evolve to the extent that genuinely altruistic behaviors increase one’s ability to mate.
The inaugural meeting of NEEPS, held on the campus of SUNY New Paltz between April 12 and 14 of this year (2007), felt to me, the conference organizer, like a great success. I couldn’t have been happier with how it went. With more than 40 presentations couched between David Wilson’s provocative and powerful keynote address on the evolution of religion and Gordon Gallup’s all-too-compelling plenary address on the evolution of human sexual morphology and behavior, this conference made clear that evolutionary psychology is alive and well in the Northeast!
The success of this conference is in no small part due to the selfless efforts of so many. Neither Gordon Gallup nor David Wilson needed to support this society and the efforts of so many junior faculty and students as they did. Neither needed to attend the conference in its entirety — providing supportive comments and thoughts to so many up-and-comers.
Other conspicuous examples of selfless behavior on the part of the evolutionists at NEEPS are found in the following:
* The panel discussion about the academic job market through the eyes of four evolutionary psychologists — Becky Burch, Rob Deaner, Maryanne Fisher, and Dan Kruger — major up-and-comers in the landscape of evolutionary psychology, taking time to provide their thoughts and insights for the next generation of scholars in this field. (Okay, granted, they were paid with wine!)
* The business meeting. I was shocked by the attendance at this meeting. Who wants to go to a business meeting first thing on a Saturday morning? Especially if you were at the pub until 1AM. As it turns out, more than 20 people do! Additionally, more than half these folks agreed to take on an official role in serving this society.
* SUNY New Paltz President, Steven Poskanzer, took the time to provide introductory words to help launch our society. His comments weren’t generic — they were thoughtful, clearly demonstrating that he’d taken extra time to understand who we were and what we were about.
* And, of course, the students, Heather Mangione and Mike Camargo in particular — and all the other great SUNY New Paltz students who gave of themselves to ensure the success of the conference, specifically, and the society, more generally.
Sure, one can always point to alternative motives — perhaps Dan Kruger led the panel discussion because he got some free drinks out of the deal. Maybe Kilian Garvey agreed to serve as the inaugural secretary of NEEPS in an effort to attract mates. It might be the case that Jon Springer agreed to sketch out our initial by-laws as he just loves by-laws! Perhaps Mike Camargo set up Parker Theatre nearly single-handedly because he mistakenly thought that several NEEPS members were his second cousins. Perhaps Heather Mangione dedicated her senior year of college to helping create and organize NEEPS because she and I have the same hair color and she unconsciously thinks that we may be distant kin. Maybe Satoshi Kanazawa came to the inaugural meeting of NEEPS all the way from England – providing all kinds of support to our society — because he secretly wanted an excuse to shop at a Wal Mart. Perhaps Chris Lynn and Kelly Carrone spent hours making the conference program because they can now pad their vitas. Perhaps Krystle Hearns took more than 100 photographs at the conference because she just loves using digital cameras. Maybe Rosemarie Sokol and Sarah Strout worked so hard in launching NEEPS because they have nothing better to do. Maybe Glenn paid Jay Landolfi to be the one-man welcoming committee of NEEPS — perhaps Gordon Gallup and David Wilson were paid to attend the entire conference. Perhaps Alice Andrews produces this thoughtful and ever-so-unique journal Entelechy — giving poets, artists, scientists, and NEEPS a platform — because it’s a great courtship ornament and money-maker.
I prefer an alternative explanation. The success of NEEPS’ inaugural conference is the direct result of the genuinely selfless efforts of many. As the conference organizer and founding president of NEEPS, I want to express my genuine and deep appreciation to all the hominids who helped NEEPS get off to such a great start.
It was interesting to note, given the plenary address of Gordon Gallup and his slide show of giant penises (as they were projected to monumental proportions on a 6-foot screen), that after the plenary, a number of men in the audience were to be overheard blatantly proclaiming their heterosexuality and indicators of fitness ("I run every day"!) to the women around them, as if they were actually competing with a potential competitor in the form of a 6-foot human penis.
And interesting to see that men not only have their competitive drive raised by an entire other man, but are also thrown into mate competition just by a picture of one specific aspect of the man, without any reference to the entire body of the man. It makes me wonder, would a picture of a man's arm cause the same reaction?
An Unholy Cabal to Subvert Our Moral Values and Lead Astray the Minds of Young People in Our Region
Warning! There is a new threat to your virtuous community, and they call themselves "NEEPS." NEEPS (for North Eastern Evolutionary Psychology Society), well it sounds like "creeps!" And you know that creeps are perverts who prey on our children. These NEEPS creeps call themselves evolutionists. Now say that with me slowly- "evil-ooo-shun-ists." Start with evil, yesiree, and shun people who do not believe in the farfetched notion that the great-great-great-great-grandparents of you and I emerged from some oozing muck many years before the great flood.
As you know, I have warned you many times before about the dangers of government schools. These are the folks who have been pushing evil-ooo-shun for years. Apparently, the government colleges are no exception; they actually paid for this whole thing. Using your hard earned tax dollars corrupt youth, they are. Most of the people heeding the corrupting call of Charles–should have stayed in England to become a priest-Darwin were outside agitators, from far outside our community. Some of them are even foreigners. In fact, one was even from Darwin’s own England.
So dear friends, I decided that I must bear the burden of exposing myself to these evil-ooo-shun-ists so that I may better protect you from their wilily ways. I dressed myself up in my Sunday best and headed into town. I tried to wear Uncle Carl’s coat with the elbow patches to look like one of those college types, but it was two sizes too small. So, I just wore the suit coat I ordered out of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue for Abner’s fancy-pants wedding.
Now can you imagine what I heard when I first arrived? A man who said that religion was a circus! The man thinks that our God-given faith arose when our monkey ancestors, if you could believe in such a thing, wanted to gang up against other groups of monkeys! I am not surprised that he was hawking his book that attempts to convert everyone into an evil-ooo-shun-ist like himself. At least the next speaker allowed that our faith in the all-powerful, all-knowing God is what makes us moral beings. The rest of his talk was about not being seen, which I hope he heartily recommends to his newfound friends.
Then we have a young woman who was setting her unmarried students up on dates with each other! The audacity of her to encourage such promiscuity! She had some elaborate scheme of people watching videos of people watching videos, or something like that. Well let me tell you who is watching, GOD is watching! And HE knows what you are up to. Apparently this woman is not aware of this fact, because you know what she did after her talk? She started breastfeeding! A woman breastfeeding in broad view! Doesn’t she know what breasts are for? To create temptation and lust in men. They should be bundled up in many layers of bland cloth so as not to arouse our sinful thoughts.
Next we have a bearded man cheerfully telling us how women prefer to have sexual affairs, rather than submitting to the proud institution of marriage! Let me tell you, I have seen that same beard before. On the Lord of Darkness, no less. This was all getting to be too much, so I had to leave that den of iniquity and find myself some place to pray.
After a good few hours spent in prayer, I got a little lost trying to get back to the college. I guess I am not used to the big city and all its flashing lights. There were supposed to be more talks about religion, but I guess this was God’s way of saying- “listen Chester, you have been exposed to enough sinful thoughts for one day.”
The next day did not start off all that badly, there were a bunch of talks about the brain. As you know, I don’t think that the Lord God intended for us to understand all the intricacies of his divine plan, so I didn’t pay that much attention. I was pleased that a very sharply dressed gentleman let us know that not everyone was falling for this evil-ooo-shun business. The same gentleman said that we can be confident in creationism, which was nice to hear, but I certainly did not need to come allthe way here to find that out.
During the poster presentations, I overheard a young woman slyly saying that she goes to Kink-o's for five dollars a pop. My innocent mind cannot fathom just what kind of kinks this woman is popping. Five dollars is way too much to pay for a soda-pop. I must mention that several of the posters were quite obscene, all about breasts, nipples, and erections. The only erection that you should be concerned with is the res-erection.
Then it was back in the theatre for some more talks. However, it was also nice and warm and dark in there, so I took a little nap. I woke up just in time to hear people talking about going Mach-five. Now you know that I once considered joining the Army, as I have always had a fascination with airplanes and being a pilot- getting closer to God, you know. Only, they told me that not very many people fly planes in the Army. They didn’t tell me about the Air Force until I was too old to enlist. Well, then this man says something about people screwing their partners and I knew it was back to sin.
You may not believe, if I were not there to tell you myself, that the big event on Saturday night was a showing of pornography! At first, I thought that the speaker looked like an honest man who tills the soil, but then he started showing all these dirty pictures and movies, including ones showing the genitals of uncircumcised men! I had to avert my eyes, but the giggling of young girls in the audience burned in my ears.
I thought that it could not possibly get any worse than this, but then I heard that the official celebration after the meeting would be at an alcohol pushing establishment named in honor of Bacchus, the pagan god of debauchery! I have no doubt that they were going to make more of those little movies. Well, this was more than I could stomach. I wanted no part in their perverted rituals.
So, dear friends, take heed of my warning. Don’t let these NEEPS creeps come to your town. They are an unholy cabal who intend to subvert our moral values and lead astray the young people in our communities. Raise your guard against this threat to our region and religion.
— Rev. Chester John-boy "Buddy" Dimsdull
Fundamentalists United for Creationist Kids
The Evolution of NEEPS
After attending the first annual NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS) conference, I predict a concrete (not hypothetical) evolution of academe — that of true interdisciplinary scholarship. Not only did scholars from diverse disciplines attend, but they shared new viewpoints, and were listened to. As NEEPS continues to grow, interdisciplinary collaborations will likely be fostered, creating a deeper understanding of human psychology. The evolution of NEEPS is sure to prove a model for liberal education, and provide instances of interdisciplinary collaboration that will be selected for many generations to come.
Daniel J. Kruger:
Our (Professional) Bodies, Ourselves: Insights from NEEPS for NEEPS
The study of how human bodies and minds have evolved through natural and sexual selection was central to the inaugural conference of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS). The content of the conference may also provide insight on the emergence of the Society itself. How does the information presented between the beginning of the Keynote and the end of the Plenary help explain the attendance of several dozen students (at various levels) of evolutionary psychology, many traveling hundreds (or even thousands) of miles, and despite facing warnings of a belated winter blizzard? The real Nor’Easter during that second weekend of April was truly an intellectual storm, whose impact on the fertility of the field may last far beyond the flowers of Spring. The Keynote and Plenary talks respectively emphasized the advantages of higher-level organization and the importance of replacing competing creative energies. The NEEPS conference itself can be understood through a combination of these two themes.
First, a greater degree of organization may have benefits at multiple levels. The conference provides a forum to present and discuss research with colleagues. It is possible that some individuals attending were mainly interested in adding to their curriculum vitae. Although this may be one benefit of presenting, the benefit to cost ratio of a paper or poster at a fledgling small conference may not be competitive with alternative activities, especially for those traveling from outside of the area. Intellectual curiosity was probably a more powerful motivator. In fact, this was probably the sole motivator for some of the non-academic attendees.
Conferences are conducive to the cross-fertilization of intellects. Participants are exposed to a wide variety of ideas, and are exposed to more content than could be acquired by reading publications in the same amount of time. The interchanges among participants offer clarification and potentially more rapid enlightenment than with the gradual response cycle of academic publications. One can also learn valuable information that cannot be gained despite the widespread availability of books and articles in evolutionary psychology (e.g., her real friends call her “Becky”).
Smaller conferences are often an especially fostering environment, providing a greater degree of intimacy and informality. Undergraduate students may meet internationally recognized scholars who are often surrounded by a moat of enthusiasts at larger conferences. Faculty may spend more quality time with each other, rather that trying to ensure at least brief conversations with a much larger number of colleagues. Alliances and collaborations may emerge from formal and informal conference proceedings that advance both the careers of individuals and the field as a whole.
This connects with the second theme, the replacement of creative frameworks. Events at and emerging from the conference may accelerate theoretical progress. Just as with the more gradual progression of ideas in published works, theoretical refinements may be generated to resolve dilemmas and explain new patterns of results. The Society thus may be seen as a coalition to advance the field. If evolutionary psychology were a living cell, the affiliated societies would be organelles, integral to the evolution of a more complex and efficient whole.
As we were reminded, competition between groups is a salient feature of our species, and this extends into the intellectual domain. The battle quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) rages between the various intellectual camps purporting to explain human nature. As evolutionists, we find comfort in those who will listen without ideological prejudice to our arguments, and offer feedback based in evidence and reason. Thus, we can hone our theories in preparation for engagement with rather more hostile perspectives. The incubating environment we create enhances our abilities to successfully engage in wars of words with our academic colleagues.
Of course, we may be optimistic that the most powerful and most central theory in the life sciences will eventually underlie the core of psychology. It is ironic that the evolutionary framework is currently considered a branch or perspective within psychology, as it is the only foundation that can unite the quite disparate areas currently studied under the broad label of our academic field. To make this integration an eventuality, we would be wise to combine our energies and suppress tendencies for individual level competition in the service of common interests. Our vote to create a synergistic relationship between the Society and the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology should provide mutual benefits in the professional realm.
We may be heartened to know that we have successfully launched a new coalition that will help advance the careers and interests of individual evolutionists, as well as the evolutionary approach itself. Of course, we must sustain our efforts, ensuring the rebirth of the Society year after year. Thus, we can demonstrate the vitality and power of our unifying theory, and also serve as a model for others who might form their own coalitions in the many other regions of the world.
For bios, see this page. Of
course, there is no Chester Dimsdull.
Well, there are probably many Chester Dimsdulls, but this one is fictitious and parodical!
Copyright © 2007 Entelechy: Mind & Culture. New Paltz, NY. All rights reserved.