Monday, February 06, 2012

The Evolution of a Career

My interest in the Theory of Evolution began when I was in college, first as a biology major and then a psychology major. As soon as I understood the nature of “Comparative Anatomy,” in which human physical structures are compared with those of animals, I had my very own eureka moment where evolution through Natural Selection is concerned. I was simply blown away by the theory’s elegance, simplicity, and its ability to explain things that no other competing theory has ever come close to explaining. Why, for example, the bones in the wing of a bat, the flipper of a whale, the paws of a cat, and the hand of a human are nearly identical except for size.

I specialized in biological psychology in graduate school and that’s what I was hired primarily to teach at Xavier University of Louisiana when I got my first job there in 1986. I had been continually reading about the subject of evolution for nearly a decade by then, and I knew that biological psychology could ultimately make no sense unless understood from an evolutionary perspective. I always spent several class periods in the first week or so on the topic.

In my third year at Xavier I got to offer a seminar on any topic I wanted and I chose “Ethology,” which is the study of animal behavior. Evolution as a necessary mainstay of that class. I eventually began teaching this class as a regular offering, but in regard for my students’ interest, made it more about “comparative” psychology (humans in comparison with animals) than about ethology alone. I kept the evolutionary component.

Since I started at Xavier, however, a new field has emerged in psychology called Evolutionary Psychology. This year, I began teaching a course I’m calling Comparative/Evolutionary psychology, and am using an evolutionary psych text, which is very exciting reading. I’ve increased the details on evolutionary theory to fill a full third of the class, with the rest being focused on specific applications of evolutionary psych to traditional psychological study areas such as psychopathologies, and Social Psych. I rather wish the field would have been around when I was going to graduate school.

What an exciting time to be a psychologist, when a new way of looking at things is starting to permeate the field, and when we may be in sight of a unified theory of psychology the likes of which we’ve never had before. Here’s to Charles Darwin, one of the greatest thinkers of any age.
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25 comments:

Snowbrush said...

Charles, I'm so impressed, the moreso since my own scientific interests are universally shallow. As I wrote recently, I love both plants and rocks, and I even read a good bit about both, but it's all undergrad stuff. I just don't have the whatever to go into science indepth, and I very much appreciate it that you do.

Charles Gramlich said...

Snowbrush, I'm working on a book on the subject but it's going to be a while. I never feel like I know enough

David J. West said...

Evolutionary Psychology? Is that similar to our hitting the Facebook "Like" button and our PRIMATEive nature picking the fleas off each others backs?

Deka Black said...

In science,to be honest, my main interest is communication technology

ivan said...

Well, up to about l936, Man was held to be a machine. Now it's an animal.

Er, we all knew that!

Erik Donald France said...

Cheers to all of that -- !
Fascinating, and cool "evolution" of career and possibility.

A tip o'the'mug to you and that other Charles, too~~

Steve Malley said...

Hear hear!!! This is an AMAZING time to be in the sciences....

The Golden Eagle said...

I was just reading something on Ethology. It sounds like a really interesting field.

Cloudia said...

Gave me that little ache that I
never got beyond my BA as I had intended. . .
DO share some juicy things with us as the semester goes along please, Charles.


Warm Aloha from Hawaii
Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >

jodi said...

Charles-Evolution has always intrigued me. My son has studied it extensively and we have great conversations on the subject! Love hearing about your personal evolution!

Ron Scheer said...

I guess your creationist fans have decided to keep silent on this one... Just read an interesting study which revealed that after pairs of rats had been kept in the same cage and then one was released, half of the released rats tried to figure out how to set the other rat free--even when offered chocolate as a distraction. That fascinates me.

Rick said...

So you're saying there is some hope that one day I will be able to understand my cell phone? Don't tease me on this, if evolution can help me on this, I'm all for it.

Charles Gramlich said...

David J., pretty much the same thing yeah! :)

Deka, an interesting topic. One I don't know a lot about.

Ivan, it doesn't take a lot of figuring on that one, though it takes some admitting for some folks.

Erik, thankee, man.

Steve Malley, you are so right, dude. Exciting times.

Golden eagle, I find animals endlessly fascinating.

Cloudia, At some point I'm gonna do a whole series on the topic.

Jodi, cool. It's endlessly fascinating for sure.

Ron, the book I'm reading goes into quite a bit of discussion about altruism in animals and what may guide it.

Rick, Some things are a reallllll long shot, my friend. But there's always hope. :)

Travis Cody said...

Call me a geek, but that sounds so cool. I just had a flyby introduction to psychology to fill 3 hours of undergrad course work.

There's so much fascinating stuff out there to learn.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Duh uh...what was that, Charles?! While on the Theory of Evolution, you might want to read about the Dashavatara, the ten principal avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, the supreme Hindu god, as contained in Hindu mythology known as the Puranas. It is closely linked to evolution from the Hindu standpoint. You will find an article on the subject at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashavatara

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis Cody, indeed, and the pace is increasing. I love my job; i just wish sometimes there wasn't so much to love.

Prashant, cool. I will have to check it out. Thanks for the heads up!

Oscar said...

I was astonished reading the Origin of Species years ago. I thought it was going to require at the least a college education in something, but I found it to be a fairly easy read and enjoyable. And I'm sure your classes are just as enjoyable as you delve into esoteric (to me)subjects.

Richard Godwin said...

Charles a great insight into a career that reflects your richness as a character. Darwin was a genius. I read and enjoyed The Origin Of Species, his theory of evolution is a great advance of knowledge. Do you think though the politicians could be devolving?

sage said...

Interesting field--i would have thought it would have been around longer--after all social darwinism is accepted even by those who don't like evolution and it predates Darwin, I think.

btw, I put my review of Days of Beer up.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oscar, I tell my students that but most don't believe me. Darwin was a very good writer and quite clear on most of his points.

Richard, I think the selection pressures on humanity aren't what they used to be. :)

Sage, some of the elements of evolutionary psychology have been around, in areas like sociobiology, but the real strong movement is pretty new.

laughingwolf said...

holy crap, charles... you're telling me, in the hotbed of creationism, you are not only allowed to teach evolutionary theory, but are actually encouraged to do so? WOW!

i mention darwin to some, and they back away as if i had just called upon all the devils and demons themselves, and HE was their master!

i used to was a psych major; had intentions of going into parapsychology after a master's from duke, then a phd from the uni of utrecht, in holland, top school for parapsychology at the time...

should not have allowed myself to be lead astray... could've been a 'somebody' in the field, perchance...

but hey, i did get in more'n 12 years post secondary education, all in unrelated disciplines...

makes me a jack in many areas, methinks, master of none! lol

keep opening up your mind [as if you needed my advice on that ;)]

ivan said...

...And yet above all this is the high-flying renegade comet!

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, fortunately the universities, at least most of them here, are still hotbeds of progressive and scientific thought. I have fun and the students are generally having it too.

Ivan, are you saying the comet giveth and the comet taketh away? :)

ivan said...

:)

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, indeed.