Persuasion teaches you more about science than you’d expect. Just consider the tension between Falling and Fallen Apples, my metaphors for science and persuasion, respectively. You can’t persuade a Falling Apple and when you try, you say more about Fallen Apples, the original persuasion plays from the Serpent, Adam, and Eve. Normally we use the tension to reveal how Tooth Fairies tell their Tales in health and safety, but today we’ll see sophistical science in Evolutionary Psychology. Begin.
Using evolutionary psychology to back up these assumptions about men and women is nothing new. In “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,” Charles Darwin gathered evidence for the notion that, through competition for mates and sustenance, natural selection had encouraged man’s “more inventive genius” while nurturing woman’s “greater tenderness.” In this way, he suggested that the gender differences he saw around him — men sought power and made money; women stayed at home — weren’t simply the way things were in Victorian England. They were the way things had always been.
Men and women are what and how they are through evolution. But, see the science problem.
Of course, no fossilized record can really tell us how people behaved or thought back then, much less why they behaved or thought as they did. Nonetheless, something funny happens when social scientists claim that a behavior is rooted in our evolutionary past. Assumptions about that behavior take on the immutability of a physical trait — they come to seem as biologically rooted as opposable thumbs or ejaculation.
So, there’s no physical evidence of any of this. How do you do the science then?
Evolutionary psychologists who study mating behavior often begin with a hypothesis about how modern humans mate: say, that men think about sex more than women do. Then they gather evidence — from studies, statistics and surveys — to support that assumption. Finally, and here’s where the leap occurs, they construct an evolutionary theory to explain why men think about sex more than women, where that gender difference came from, what adaptive purpose it served in antiquity, and why we’re stuck with the consequences today.
Reconsider that description of the activity. Make a hypothesis, that statement that says X -> Y or even X <-> Y. Then gather evidence that supports the hypothesis. Now, think about how that fits with evolution theory and research.
You can call that the science evolutionary psychology or just plain science or you could call Constructing Fairy Tales. You just start with an idea of how two things are related, gather up plausible data that supports the relationship, then put it in a larger framework – a theory, if you are doing science, a narrative if you are writing a novel, a cabal if you are doing conspiracy theories. Or as Don Hewitt, the inventor of 60 Minutes, the most successful news program in TV history, put it: Tell me a story.
In fairness, the fellow writing this is not what most people would call a scientist. He’s just a guy trying to make a living writing books for the pop press, and, amazingly enough, he’s got one coming out on love and dating in the digital age. Presumably he studied evolutionary psychologists while writing the book and reported what he found. And his description of how evolutionary psychologists operate is pretty good by my lights. That’s what most of them do. Find data that helps them tell a Fairy Tale.
And these particular kind of Fairy Tales tend to fall in the category of Just So Stories. The source of the Just So Story is the writer, Rudyard Kipling, who coined up the phrase to describe how he had to tell bedtime stories to his daughter. He had to get the details right to put her to sleep otherwise she’d alert over a surprising inconsistency and not fall asleep.
If you don’t leap on the persuasion in the story of the Just So Story, you need to reread the Rules and the Primer with an emphasis upon those Dual Process Models. A Just So Story is a story that Cues the Other Guys along the Peripheral Route, skipping smooth stones over a Low WATT ocean of calm, glassy seas. But, when something surprising sticks up in the water, the Other Guys go High WATT, start thinking for themselves, scrutinizing your Arguments, seeking other Arguments, and engaging now that Long Conversation in the Head and your lovely Just So Story is now The Tempest and not a Lullaby.
See how you construct a Just So Story. Begin with a relationship that will fit in a larger framework – theory, meme, narrative, schema, sonnet, haiku, whatever – then gather only data that supports and never questions the relationship or the framework. Make it, Just So.
Even if you don’t do science yourself, you might ask if scientists tell you a Just So Story, then how is science different from 60 Minutes? Of course, it isn’t. The word, Science, is not the thing, Science, and this is just a General Semantics trick, where you eat the menu and the story teller sells a book or gets a grant or better still earns lifetime tenure. Everyone is happy, but there is no science.
The simple distinction between science and these Fairy Tales is what kind of information you seek. If you go after only things that are Just So and you avoid disconfirming information, you are telling Fairy Tales. Science, by contrast, never wants a good story and in fact always tries to keep the little girl awake with inconsistent and troubling details. Science loves the sore thumb, the pimple on the nose, the only one with closed eyes in the group picture. Sciences always seeks all the details and not just the ones the permit a Just So Story because science is not about Fairy Tales.
Fairy Tales, Lullabies, and little girls at bedtime. Just So, my dear, Just So.
Persuasion reveals more about science than science reveals about persuasion!