Some great quotes from Steven Pinker on evolutionary psychology, from a chapter in Evolution, Literature, Film: A Reader (2010).

Steven Pinker (rightly) writes:

`Natural selection… has a positive function in psychological discovery, impelling psychologists to test new hypotheses about the possible functionality of aspects of the mind that previously seemed functionless.

For example, the social and moral emotions (sympathy, trust, guilt, anger, gratitude) appear to be adaptations for policing reciprocity in nonzero sum games; an eye for beauty appears to be an adaptation for detecting health and fertility in potential mates.’

(Pinker in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, p. 108)

In dumbass `film-dude’ terms, this also explains why there are so many smokin-hot babes in the Top 20 RoI films… (for more on that, see: Charles Darwin on sexual selection, i.e. Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871)).


  1. StoryAlity #78 – On `the war of nature’ (from Origin of Species) by Charles Darwin
  2. StoryAlity #79 – `These instincts are highly complex…’ (The Descent of Man) by Charles Darwin

And – here is the list of top 20 RoI movies. The highest `benefit/cost’ ratio for both the artists and the audiences movies… (see On The Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, Fiction, by Boyd 2009 for more on all of that.)

The Top 20 RoI Films - StoryAlity Theory (Velikovsky 2013)

The Top 20 RoI Films – StoryAlity Theory (Velikovsky 2013)

The Top 20 RoI (Return on Investment) Films

The Top 20 RoI (Return on Investment) Films. (But who’s counting?) Answer: I am…

Pinker also (rightly) states:

`The closer the empirical facts about our psychology are to the engineering specs for a well-designed system, the greater our confidence that we have explained the psychological faculty in functional terms.

A similar example comes from the wariness of snakes found in humans and many other primates. We know from herpetology that snakes were prevalent in Africa during the time of our evolution and that getting bitten by a snake is harmful because of the chemistry of snake venom. Crucially, these are not facts of psychology. But they help to establish that something that is a fact of psychology, namely the fear of snakes is a plausible adaptation.

In a similar manner, robotics can help explain motor control, game theory can explain aggression and appeasement, economics can explain punishment of free riders, and mammalian physiology (in combination with the evolutionary biology of parental investment) makes predictions about sex differences in sexuality.

In each case, a “theory of the computation” is provided by an optimality analysis using a set of laws outside the part of the mind we are trying to explain. This is what entitles us to feel that we have explained the operation of that part of the mind in a noncircular way.’

(Pinker in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, p. 109)

Pinker has also (rightly) stated the mind is a neural computer...

It (ie – the mind) has a whole bunch of `IF-THEN’ loops in it.

Here is a diagram, from the excellent book Evolutionary Psychology (Buss 2012).

Evolved Psychological Mechanisms - (Buss 2012, p.49)

Evolved Psychological Mechanisms – (Buss 2012, p.49)

e.g.: Here are some examples of IF-THEN loops, I prepared earlier.

IF: I see a snake near me –

THEN: I should get scared and run away. 


IF: `running away’ is not an option right now;


Maybe, whack the snake, until it is immobile, or dead, or both,

and preferably, with a very long stick.

i.e. Dear Mind, please RUN the: `Fight or Flight’ program. Now. Soon. Before I get bit, and die.)

Kerb-stomp that sucker

Kerb-stomp that sucker. Do not try this at home.

Actually, for more on IF>THEN loops in psychology, see also, this post: Gene Theory and Film Storytelling: G/T/C/A… (coincidence..?)

And – speaking of “the engineering specs of well-designed systems” — here is an agent-based model that I made of `the film system’ that uses Creative Practice Theory – to help explain: How the film system works (i.e. for much more, see this post on The Creative Practice Theory agent-based model.)

CPT ABM (Creative Practice Theory agent-based model)

CPT ABM (Creative Practice Theory, agent-based model)

I also made a game demo (mod) about Creative Practice Theory to demonstrate things like “the ten-year rule in Creativity”

CPT -The Game (Kudos mod)

CPT -The Game (Kudos mod)

I did it just because I like making things.

(Who knows – maybe I’m creative. – That’s for you guys to decide, not me.)

For more on all that (ie What is creativity – and How Does It Work?), see:

On Creativity:

  1. StoryAlity #6 – What is Creativity and How Does It Work?
  2. StoryAlity #6B – Flow Theory, Creativity and Happiness
  3. StoryAlity #7 – On “the 10-Year Rule” and Creativity
  4. StoryAlity #8 – More on the 10-Year Rule” and Creativity
  5. StoryAlity #9 – How To Be More Creative
  6. StoryAlity #9B – Creativity in Science (and – The Arts, and Film)
  7. StoryAlity #10 – About The Creative Personality
  8. StoryAlity #11 – Wallas and the Creative Process
  9. StoryAlity #12 – Combining Practice Theory – and the Systems Model of Creativity
  10. StoryAlity #13- Creativity and Solved Domain Problems
  11. StoryAlity #14 – On some Romantic myths of Creativity
  12. StoryAlity #14B – Creativity – the missing link between “The Two Cultures”
  13. StoryAlity #14C – Two Crucial American Psychological Association speeches: J P Guilford (1950) and D T Campbell (1975).

And – for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And for a great consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Comments, always welcome.


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



Steven Pinker, reprinted in Boyd, B., Carroll, J., & Gottschall, J. (2010). Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

One thought on “StoryAlity #82 – Pinker on `Evolution and Explanation’

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity#137 – Culturology & the CES (Cultural Evolution Society) | StoryAlity

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