Speaker Series

Fall 2017

  • Rob Boyd
  • 09-18-17
  • Rob Boyd
  • School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University
  • Beyond kith and kin: Culture, Norms and human cooperation
  • Humans are a highly cooperative species. People in the simplest foraging societies depend on specialization and exchange and cooperate to produce essential public goods. There are many other highly cooperative species, but in every case cooperation in these species is based on kinship. Humans are different because we cooperate with unrelated individuals, sometimes in large groups. Many evolutionary thinkers believe that human cooperation is based on reciprocity. In this talk I will argue that reciprocity cannot explain human cooperation. Instead, human cooperation is regulated by culturally transmitted moral norms, and that rapid cultural adaptation is necessary for the evolution of such norms.

  • Aimee Dunlap
  • 10-02-17
  • Aimee Dunlap
  • Department of Biology, University of Missouri St. Louis
  • Change and reliability in the evolution of animal information use: experiments with flies and bees
  • Animals must deal with uncertainty in a changing world and learning allows animals to reduce this uncertainty through acquiring information and tracking change. Though theory suggests that the adaptive function of learning and cognition is closely tied to patterns of change in the environment, empirical evidence has traditionally been lacking. By partitioning change into different components and manipulating their statistical properties, we can predict when and what kind of learning should evolve, which cues or signals animals should attend to, and when innate bias should evolve instead of learning. Both learning and innate bias should interact to influence how animals track changing environments, across evolutionary time and also within individual lifetimes. I will describe two experimental systems testing these predictions: experimental evolution using fruit flies and decision making in foraging bumble bees.

  • Peter Todd
  • 10-16-17
  • Peter Todd
  • Department of Cognitive Science, Psychology, and Informatics, Indiana University
  • How people forage in social and cultural spaces
  • How do we decide when to search for something better and when to stick with what we’ve got? People and other organisms must adaptively trade off between exploring and exploiting their environment to obtain the resources they need. This applies to whatever space they are searching: whether the external spatial environment, looking for patches of food; the social environment, looking for mates or friends; or the cultural artefact environment, looking for goods or entertainment. Similar evolved underlying mechanisms may be used to address the explore/exploit tradeoff in each domain. We have been studying whether people use related heuristic strategies to decide when to keep looking and when to stay with a current resource patch in physical space (e.g., searching for fish in ponds) and in cultural space (e.g., searching for music to listen to), as predicted by optimal foraging theory. In this talk, I will describe how we are uncovering connections between spatial search and cognitive search in other spaces.

  • Chris Stephens
  • 11-06-17
  • Chris Stephens
  • Department of Philosophy, University of British Columbia
  • The evolution of rationality
  • Many philosophers have thought it obvious that reason evolved to help individuals make better inferences and draw more accurate conclusions about the world. However, humans seem in many ways quite irrational---we have trouble with logical reasoning in the Wason selection task, and are subject to all kinds of cognitive biases. Psychologists such as Gigerenzer argue that we use “fast and frugal” heuristics that are often better than more complex reasoning strategies---even when the goal is truth. Recently, the cognitive scientists Mercier and Sperber argue that the evolutionary function of reason is primarily social; rather than evolving to get at the truth, our reasoning capacities have evolved to produce reasons for justifying oneself and to produce arguments to convince others. Here I develop a framework to analyze the evolutionary aspects of their arguments.

  • Elizabeth King
  • 12-04-17
  • Elizabeth King
  • Biological Sciences, University of Missouri
  • How to get the most bang for your buck: the evolution and physiology of nutrition-dependent resource allocation strategies
  • The amount of resources available to organisms, whether the source is sunlight, plant matter, or prey animals, is inherently variable over the landscape and across time. This variability presents a fundamental challenge to all organisms, from the smallest microorganisms to the largest plants and animals, all of which must coordinate the acquisition of resources from the environment with allocation of those resources among the many competing functions and structures that contribute to the organisms' fitness. I will discuss how I’ve used insect model systems to better understand both what conditions select for different allocation strategies and what the underlying mechanisms of those strategies are.