Adapting Minds

Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature is a book published by MIT Press written by philosopher of science David Buller, piecing together his criticism of evolutionary psychology. A large portion of the book is dedicated to a critique of empirical findings from three research groups in the field: that of David Buss, that of Cosmides and Tooby, and that of Daly and Wilson.[1] Buller argues that the evolutionary psychology paradigms are "mistaken in almost every detail."[2] The book got a strongly negative review from anthropologist Clark Barrett in the American Journal of Human Biology who wrote: "Buller’s book has many useful elements, but it is based on simplistic assumptions and fallacious arguments that lead to faulty conclusions. If taken seriously, Buller’s denial of human nature would invalidate not only evolutionary psychology but also any field that attempts to produce generalizable knowledge about humans, including behavioral ecology, biological anthropology, and most branches of psychology, not to mention medicine."[1]

In a book review for The American Journal of Psychology, Gregory Bryant wrote, "If this is the best critique to date of evolutionary psychology (as many have mused), then evolutionary psychology is in pretty good shape."[3] Edouard Machery gave similar negative reviews, arguing that Buller had failed to mount a successful challenge to evolutionary psychology.[4] Harmon Holcomb observes that Buller criticises evolutionary psychology's reliance on reverse engineering due to the limited information available to researchers. However, Holcomb argues that it is common practice in science for researchers to have work with only limited available, rather than perfect, information. Furthermore, Holcomb argues that if Buller really believes that it is impossible to make plausible assumptions about adaptive problems faced by humanity's ancestors, then his own alternative hypotheses to the empirical hypotheses he rejects would, by his own principles, have to be rejected as well. Thus Buller's efforts to construct simpler, alternate hypotheses to criticise existing evolutionary hypotheses falls afoul of his rejection of reverse engineering.[2]


  1. Barrett, H. C. (2006). "Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature". American Journal of Human Biology. 18 (2): 231–233. doi:10.1002/ajhb.20484.
  2. Holcomb, H. R. (2005). "Book Review: Buller Does to Evolutionary Psychology What Kitcher Did to Sociobiology" (PDF). Evolutionary Psychology. 3 (1). doi:10.1177/147470490500300127. ISSN 1474-7049.
  3. Bryant, Gregory A. (2006). "On Hasty Generalization about Evolutionary Psychology" (PDF). The American Journal of Psychology. 119 (3): 481. doi:10.2307/20445354. ISSN 0002-9556.
  4. Machery, Edouard, and H. Clark Barrett. "Essay review: Debunking adapting minds." Philosophy of Science 73, no. 2 (2006): 232-246.

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