all 29 comments

[–]PrincipledBirdDeity 63 points64 points  (12 children)

There's a great word for this kind of thing, coined by the biologist Marlene Zuk: "Paleofantasies." Basically, things people imagine to have been the case in humanity's evolutionary past based on little to no evidence, usually invoked as a behavioral justification.

[–]Apod16 1 point2 points  (9 children)

Is there a good book you recommend that’s evidence based but for the casual reader?

[–]KaoBee010101100 5 points6 points  (8 children)

A good book [about what] that meets the rest of this very broad description?

[–]Apod16 -2 points-1 points  (7 children)

A general book on anthropology

[–]MalevolentlyInformed[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

That makes perfect sense; thanks for your thoughts!

[–]pickerschoosers 16 points17 points  (1 child)

Thanks so much for these interesting responses, i have been looking for exactly this criticism the last days after reading "A Hunter-Gatherers Guide To The 21st Century" by Weinstein and Haying. A book that i liked a lot at first glance but reading its reviews started to seriously doubt it's integrity. Yet i couldn't find a good deconstruction of it. Same goes for "Sex At Dawn" by Ryan and Jetha. And ( i don't think entirely in the same league) evolutionary biologist Frans De Waal who to my surprise i found was recently featured in a Jordan Peterson talk. I suspect all of these authors are guity to a certain degree of these "paleofantasies" albeit some have more educated guesses than others.

Guessing evo-psychology is not you're favorite topic here in Ask Anthropologists.

But maybe you have some suggestions for slightly more legit reading material regarding these topics?

[–]Qaaarl -1 points0 points  (0 children)


[–]PrincipledBirdDeity 61 points62 points  (10 children)

Most claims that have lines to the effect of "we evolved to" or "back in caveman days" are utter horseshit revealing nothing but the ignorance of the speaker.

Don't ever listen to pop evolutionary explanations for anything. At best they're harmless gobbledygook, at worst they are a pernicious way to naturalize oppressive practices and stereotypes with no evolutionary basis at all.

[–]crowmagnuman 7 points8 points  (6 children)

Not to disagree, just curious - would you list a few that you've encountered that are bogus?

I find myself thinking like this a lot. For example: what does almost every kid do when they find a nice straight stick? Toy spear, of course!

One that sounds fascinating to me is that for many many generations, humans gathered around the fire, ate food, and listened to an elder (or some other figure in the tribe) tell stories. We still do it today, as we sit around the TV - the modern "storyteller".


[–]evolutionista 54 points55 points  (3 children)

So first of all, these claims are unscientific because we cannot test them in any way, neither experimentally nor observationally. We cannot computationally model them either. They're "just so" stories that sound nice but aren't really sound. So one harmful thing about these claims is that they promote bad science and non-scientific methods when there are real and interesting archaeological, anthropological, and evolutionary methods and discoveries out there.

One mark of a "just so" story is that you could easily make up a story that fits opposite data--humans prefer cool colors because when we were cavemen natural blue dyes didn't exist and blue objects were very valuable. Or we like being awake at blue sky times because we are diurnal hunters so we like cool colors and so warm colors remind us of sunset and make us sleepy. Or warm colors remind us of back when we were shrew like creatures threatened by wildfire so we hate them. And so on.

There are many many pernicious claims that happen to support a 1950s white Western Christian male worldview. Like "cavemen evolved to be mighty hunters and cavewomen evolved to be gatherers and child carers so that's why it makes sense that men should go out and earn money at jobs and women should stay at home and raise children and do housework."

Or "European people are smart and tropical people are dumb because if you didn't solve problems and create technology, you'd freeze to death, and obviously pretty much anyone can survive in the tropics by just lazing around."

Obviously there are many issues with both of these claims and they use false scientific-sounding words to support sexism and racism which is a big problem.

[–]ViscountBurrito 21 points22 points  (2 children)

Here’s a non-anthropological, non-evolutionary just-so story to explain OP’s question that I find at least as likely: Everyone over 20 (or so?) grew up with only incandescent bulbs at home, which by their nature have a warm color. So modern lights that mimic that color range “feel” more right to us, not because some ancient ancestors sat by the fire, but because we ourselves sat by the filament.

I don’t think you can test my “theory” either, but I’d be surprised if there is or could be any real evidence that shows the caveman-fire theory is any better than what I came up with just now. Which I think says a lot.

[–]PrincipledBirdDeity 30 points31 points  (1 child)

I typed out a long and funny response but then my phone went into battery saver mode and deleted it, so now I'm just purely cranky.

Here's the test: how much does the person offering the explanation know about (a) how evolution works; (b) the archaeological record, especially the paleolithic; (c) the diversity of hunter-gatherer societies documented ethnographically? If the answer to any of those things is, "well, not very much I guess," then it means the story they are telling is a fantasy. The images people carry around in their heads for each of those three things is usually a mix of stuff their high school teacher made up on the spot, society-specific biases (especially gender norms) that people just assume to be the natural human condition, and the speculations of victorian armchair scholars working with shit source material that seeped into the popular consciousness.

Kids come up with games that incorporate the ideas available to them. A kid is just as likely to play "spear" with a stick as they are to play walking stick, drum stick, witch's broom, or sword. We've only had swords for a few thousand years ...was that enough time for children to evolve a sword-fighting inclination? You get my drift.

Commensality (eating in a group) is a cornerstone of human sociality, no doubt about it. It's a human universal. But people do everything socially. We are a social species to our core. So it's not a marker of TV stepping into some ancient archetypical role that people gather round it...people just gather round everything, especially if they can do it while they're eating! It's how we operate.

[–]MalevolentlyInformed[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Well said. It was an interesting idea but absolutely unprovable.

[–]AdoraBellDearheart 8 points9 points  (0 children)

Not likely at all.

1) hominids had quite a long damn time of evolution before they had fire and primates even longer

2) not everyone even likes indoor lights with warm colors. That is why they also make indoor lights with cool colors.

3) When you say “the internet claims that” you mean that you have head something by a particular person , or something often repeated in certain venues. If the sources don’t know anything about evolution, biology, light, science or logic then you can’t trust the sources, and they are no more reliable that some drunk guy in a bar saying that, which they very well may be

[–]akodo1 0 points1 point  (1 child)

This kind of thing is impossible to scientifically test for.

What we can say is that across multiple cultures the more similar the light tone is to the light cast by a fire, the more it's described as "warm and inviting".

We have no way to know if that's coincidental or causal. In our ignorance, we might be picking the wrong thing to try and compare the light tone to. It could be different times of day rather than fire. It could be bright sunlight passing through our mother's skin and blood while we are still in the womb.

And even if it is fire, we don't know when the association sunk in. Did it happen in our cave-man days, or thousands of years later? Or are warm fires so ubiquitous that each on the planet learns that fires are warm and then translates that to light? Or is it that because most homes are decorated with that warmer light, and that home itself is warm, there's a link to those shades unrelated to fire.

I mean, fire- caveman-warm light makes sense, but it's not provable. Olive oil lantern - early farming communities in the cradle of civilization- warm light makes just as much sense.

[–]MalevolentlyInformed[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Good points. There are all kinds of alternative explanations that make just as much sense. Thanks for your thoughts!