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the adaptationist hypothesis, ..

The debate over adaptationism will continueto be important to philosophers of biology because much will be gainedby a more informed understanding of the use of hypotheses about naturalselection by biologists. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a generaltendency to misunderstand the conceptual commitments of users ofoptimality models. More recently, there has been a growingunderstanding of the variety of conceptual commitments held by users ofsuch models, especially that the use and development of an optimalitymodel need not bind the user to a blind acceptance of the claim thatnatural selection is all powerful.

Adaptationism: Hypothesis or Heuristic? | SpringerLink

If the traits of interest to evolutionary psychologists areuniversally distributed, then we should expect to find them in allhumans. This partly explains the stock that evolutionarypsychologists put in cross cultural psychological tests (see e.g. Buss1990). If we find evidence for the trait in a huge cross sectionof humans, then this supports our view that the trait is an adaptation—on the assumption that adaptations are organ-like traits that areproducts of natural selection but not subject to variation. Butgiven the wider scope view of evolution defended by philosophers ofbiology, this method of testing seems wrong-headed as a test of anevolutionary hypothesis. Certainly such testing can result in thevery interesting results that certain preference profiles are widelyshared cross culturally but the test does not speak to the evolutionaryhypothesis that the preferences are adaptations (cf. Lloyd 1999;Buller 2005).


Investigating major depressive disorder from anevolutionary adaptationist perspective: fitness hindrances and the socialnavigation hypothesis.

I have reviewed some of the recent literature that has incorporated adaptationist hypothesis testing as a way of investigating variation in spatial cognition. Although there are still relatively few studies to determine the extent to which natural selection has shaped spatial cognition, there are sufficient data to believe that the adaptationist framework continues to be useful for formulating hypotheses (and therefore for producing testable predictions) as to causes for variation in cognition. In this way, it adds substantially to our understanding of comparative spatial cognition.

Minor depression — low mood often accompanied by a loss of motivation — is almost certainly an adaptation to circumstances that, in ancestral environments, imposed a fitness cost. It is, in other words, the psychic equivalent of physical pain. Major depression is characterized by additional symptoms — such as loss of interest in virtually all activities and suicidality — that have no obvious utility. The frequent association of these severe and disabling symptoms with apparently functional symptoms, like sadness and low mood, challenges both dysfunctional and functional accounts of depression. Given that the principal cause of major unipolar depression is a significant negative life event, and that its characteristic symptom is a loss of interest in virtually all activities, it is possible that this syndrome functions somewhat like a labor strike. When powerful others are benefiting from an individual’s efforts, but the individual herself is not benefiting, she can, by reducing her productivity, put her value to them at risk to compel their consent and assistance in renegotiating the social contract so that it will yield net fitness benefits for her. In partial support of this hypothesis, depression is associated with the receipt of considerable social benefits despite the negative reaction it causes in others.

from the early adaptationist hypothesis.

The adaptationism debate has helped clarify the importance ofcomparative methods for testing adaptive hypotheses.

These developments are salutary inthat they show biologists how to better test adaptive hypotheses andhave clarified the phylogenetic assumptions that are necessary to testadaptive hypotheses (Sober and Orzack 2003). As such, they are amethodological improvement that has generally gained a positivereception among philosophers of biology (e.g., Sterelny and Griffiths1999). Many biologists agree, but controversy continues. Someacknowledge the potential importance of comparative methods but pointto limitations that may reduce their usefulness (Reeve and Sherman2001, Leroi et al. 1994). As such, these critiques are consistent withmethodological adaptationism. Others view any allusion to potentialnon-adaptive influences on trait evolution to be mistaken; in theirview, the importance of phylogenetic methods is that they help revealcomplete history of natural selection on the trait (Grafen 1989). Assuch, this is a critique consistent with the espousal of empiricaladaptationism.

Evidentiary relations depend on whathypotheses we compare, and so good testing methods should include allrival hypotheses. If we fail to include a relevant rival, say,one that emphasizes developmental constraint, then we may not havefound sufficient evidence for the adaptive hypothesis. Failing tocontrast adaptive and non-adaptive explanations weakens anyadaptationist analysis (Forber 2009).

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vastly strengthening the adaptationist hypothesis:

Empirical adaptationism is botha claim about the relative frequency of natural selection acrossevolutionary histories and about the power of natural selection toovercome constraints and contingency. Orzack and Sober's(1994a,b) ensemble test of the truth of empirical adaptationism isstructured in the following way for any given trait, T. In order tocontribute to the ensemble test, the analysis of the trait must allowthe investigator to confirm one of the following hypotheses about thepower of natural selection:

tested this adaptationist hypothesis

Buller's criticism that evolutionary psychologists assume thatevolution is finished for the traits that they are interested inconnects worries about the understanding of evolutionary theory withworries about the testing of evolutionary hypotheses. Here isTooby and Cosmides clear statement of the assumption that Buller isworried about: “evolutionary psychologists primarily explore thedesign of the universal, evolved psychological and neuralarchitecture that we all share by virtue of being human. Evolutionarypsychologists are usually less interested in human characteristics thatvary due to genetic differences because they recognize that thesedifferences are unlikely to be evolved adaptations central to humannature. Of the three kinds of characteristics that are found inthe design of organisms – adaptations, by-products, and noise– traits caused by genetic variants are predominantlyevolutionary noise, with little adaptive significance, while complexadaptations are likely to be universal in the species” (Tooby andCosmides 2005, 39). This line of thinking also capturesevolutionary psychologists' view of human nature: human nature isour collection of universally shared adaptations. (See Downes and Machery 2013 for more discussion of this and other, contrasting biologically based accounts of human nature.) The problemhere is that it is false to assume that adaptations cannot be subject tovariation. The underlying problem is the constrained notion ofadaptation. Adaptations are traits that arise as a result ofnatural selection and not traits that exhibit design and are universalin a given species (cf. Seger and Stubblefield 1996). As a result, it is quite consistent to argue,as Buller does, that many human traits may still be under selection andyet reasonably be called adaptations. Finally, philosophers of biologyhave articulated several different types of adaptationism (seee.g. Godfrey-Smith 2001; Lewens 2009; Sober 2000). While some of thesetypes of adaptationism can be reasonably seen placing constraints onhow evolutionary research is carried out, Godfrey-Smith's "explanatoryadaptationism" is different in character (Godfrey-Smith2001). Explanatory adaptationism is the view that apparent design isone of the big questions we face in explaining our natural world andnatural selection is the big (and only supportable) answer to such abig question. Explanatory adaptationism is often adopted by those whowant to distinguish evolutionary thinking from creationism orintelligent design and is the way evolutionary psychologists oftencouch their work to distinguish it from their colleagues in thebroader social sciences. While explanatory adaptationism does serve todistinguish evolutionary psychology from such markedly differentapproaches to accounting for design in nature, it does not place manyclear constraints on the way in which evolutionary explanations shouldbe sought (cf. Downes forthcoming). So far these are disagreementsthat are located in differing views about the nature and scope ofevolutionary explanation but they have ramifications in the discussionabout hypothesis testing.

Adaptationism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

We now discuss testing ofadaptationism itself and the associated implications for testingevolutionary hypotheses generally, and the sort of epistemicdifficulties that must be overcome. We highlight how the debatehas led to increased understanding of the importance of phylogeneticmethods, of the viability of optimality models as tools for testingadaptive hypotheses, and of whether constraint hypotheses are rivals toadaptive hypotheses or provide the backdrop against which we testhypotheses about the evolutionary process.

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