This node is an argument for a new way of organizing knowledge about evolutionary adaptations, emphasizing scope in thinking about adaptational accuracy.
A common condition seen in many areas of Evolutionary Psychology is the condition of scope in adaptational accuracy. In the moral realm this is addressed by Wright(1994) and Greene and Haidt (2002). The findings and discussion indicate that our moral sense, or more accurately the emotions that drive them, are less calibrated to define exact truths (killing is immoral) and more calibrated to account for situational differences (unsanctioned killing, or murder, is immoral). The inner structure of morality is subject to environmental (e.g. peer group, cultural and parental) influences but the overall boundaries of the moral senses have been calibrated to the conditions of the EEA (or Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness).
Other examples of scope in adaptational accuracy are recent movements away from complex, rich inner representations to more situationally embedded and
embodied kinds of cognition. I have tried, at the behest of some writings I was exposed to a few years ago, to imagine that within the brain of an outfielder there is a 3 dimentional representation of the baseball park and the fielder is automatically doing complex physics problems naturally and automatically in finding a place in the outfield at which the ball will land. But this counter-intuitive notion is easily challenged by the alternative to the rich, virtual inner representation theory, namely, that the fielder is instead watching the ball as it travels and is continually adjusting his path so that the ball appears not to move in his field of vision, thus insuring that where the ball lands, he will be. The outfielder is then using the bounds of a particular area of his field of vision and moving his body so as to keep the ball more or less centered on that part of the field of vision. This explanation seems to be much more like how I catch a fly and is another example of scope in adaptational accuracy.
Further, estimations of fitness and fertility in adaptations calibrated to sexual selection show signs of ‘in the ballpark’ kinds of estimations, based on historic inabilities to measure ‘under the skin’ fitness in potential mates. The inexactitude of knowledge on the part of the individual making a selection led to a solution in which ‘best guess’ methods came to rule the day.
Other affective and behavior patterns seem to reflect this as well, as in habits of reciprocal altruism. Bargaining is a prime example, in which two agents bargain with offers and counter-offers until a negotiated price is settled on which is somewhere in between. Of course, the serious nature of bargaining has led to complex strategies which can subvert a simplistic example as this, but most of those complex strategies seem to be based from this starting point. Emotions do not home in on absolute and specific truths, but define a boundary that we can live with. Anything outside the boundary, or the set of outside limits, generates negative affect, with the inner structure within the boundaries mediated, in part, by culture.
One more example is from the principle of homeostasis in biology. The body tends to try to stay within as set of norms defined not by exact values, but by functional ranges that are maintained by corrective action, such as chemical reactions, heart and respiration rates, as well as blood volume and nervous system activity.
This generalized function of scope in adaptational accuracy can then be seen reflected in many of the technological devices we use in everyday life.
Aircraft autopilots rarely hold a straight bearing but continually make adjustments to keep the signal of a guidance beacon within a predefined arc of the plane's nose. Automobile driving consists of making small corrections in to the car within your lane and at the desired speed. In fact, all feedback control systems share this basic design trait, namely, keeping a system within a set of functional norms.
Thus, I believe that it is important to allow any discussion of adaptedness be informed by the principle of scope in adaptational accuracy. This can apply to the moral senses, biological systems, object grasping schemas, language and other aspects of human behavior.