Natural Rationality | decision-making in the economy of nature


Why Evolutionary Psychology?

An undergrad recently contacted me and asked me how I got interested by evolutionary psychology. Here is my answer, if that can be of any use for anybody. The ideas my apply to academic research more generally.

As an undergrad philosophy student, my interest in evolutionary psychology was triggered by one of my teacher, a great scholar who was able to integrate biology, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, anthropology, etc, in his reflexion. That is really what drove me in the field: someome who showed me how any question about the cognition and rationality can be approached in a darwinian perspective. Reading Dennett's "Darwin's dangerous ideas" also had the same effect on me. Hence to be honest, at first, it's because it was just so cool see things this way, and exciting to know that research may involve knowledge in many different fields. If that is cause, that is not, however, the reason. The reason, I think, was a deep commitment to materialism (the world is made of matter, period), naturalism (all facts are natural fact, there is no other realm of fact) and experimentalism in general (we should back any claim with scientific, experimental data). All that naturally leads to an evolutionary approach of anything. At your age (god I sound old when I say that! ), I was determined to do philosophy; to do my BA, MA, PhD, postodoc, and everything that was necessary to, one day, have a job in a university (I am not quite there, as I am still postdoc, but I hope one day I'll get one). So evolutionary psychology and other related fields appeared to me as a great opportunity to develop my "academic niche", to have my own speciality, and to do something interdisciplinary. So if I can give you an advice, it will be a very simple one: do something you really like. If just thinking about evolutionary psychology evokes a lot of ideas of questions, if you are thrilled by every paper or book you read about it, go ! It's easy to go through a thesis and all the other academic stuff when you like it. My second advice is that if you really like it, then read everything about it, from the classics to ongoing research to popular books; explore the connections between evolutionary psychology and other field (how it's related to economics? neuroscience? sociology?). Browse, dowload, print everything you can. Use RSS to syndicate important journals. Find those journals (Evolution and Human Behavior, Human Nature, etc.). Don't forget the holy trilogy: Nature, Science and PNAS. Be up-to-date and aware of the field's common knowledge.

If you like it, it will be easy for you to master the field. Try to find a supervisor that knows evolutionary psychology, who already published in the field. Make contact with other people, or students, interested by these topics. Try organizing reading groups, attend to conferences, become a member of scientific societies, etc. Don't miss encyclopedia entries.

What I like best about theis field? everything. What I like least? Nothing. Except maybe people who will try to show you that evolution is "just a theory", that evolutionary psychology is an evil attempt to eliminate "meanings" in our lives, blah blah blah, all that stuff is sometimes anoying. Don't take it too seriously, but you may consider sometimes trying to argue with them, it is always useful to test the foundations of your scientific conviction.

hope this will help,