Just-So Stories

I stumbled across this article:

Superstitions evolved to help us survive.

If the environment is one that favors the cautious, then the cautious have a better change to survive. If the environment favors the bold, then the bold have a better chance to survive. The idea with the article seems to be that superstition, assumed to be a kind of cautiousness, helped the human species survive. You can dress it up with all the math you like, but there doesn't seem to be much more to this message. It seems pretty obvious, frankly.

The article mentions Just-So Stories, e.g. Kipling's "How the Leopard Got Its Spots." Indeed, there is a pitfall to this sort of post-facto analysis, which you see quite often in popular articles about Evolution. "Leopards have spots so they blend into the African savanna." "Lions have no spots so they blend well into the African savanna." Yada yada yada. Unfortunately, application of the ideas of Evolution to predict the future is much harder.

As for the article sited above, I would point out that my baby seems to have no caution at all. She will put in her mouth whatever she gets her hands on. She has no fear of falling off the bed and would happily crawl right off the edge. Or right out a window, for that matter. She cries when she wants to, drawing attention to herself. Does this seem like it would be wise behaviour in the wild? Now if you brought this to the attention of an evolutionary biologist, he or she might well come up with an explanation, completely at odds with the conclusion of the article.

Color me skeptical about the utility of these exercises.