Speaker Series

Spring 2020

When:
One Monday each month (during the academic year), 12:00-1:30 pm (see below for specific dates)


Where:
See below for details


Directions

The ESS Speaker Series hosts presentations by scholars exploring evolutionary perspectives from an interdisciplinary framework. Our speakers span the full spectrum of the sciences and the humanities, including biology, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, economics, history, philosophy, and literature.

While presentations are aimed at a professional audience of faculty and graduate students, interested undergraduates and members of the public are welcome too.

Speakers

  • Pete Richerson
  • 02-10-2020
  • Pete Richerson
  • UC Davis
  • Why Humans Evolve in the Pleistocene and Our Complex Economies in the Holocene?
  • 171 Bond Life Sciences Center
  • Human evolution presents two major macro-evolutionary puzzles. The first is why our basic adaptation evolved in the Pleistocene (2.6 million years ago until 10,700 years ago). The human big brain-culture-technology-large societies adaptive complex turned out to be a stunning success by the end of the Pleistocene. Other major adaptive breakthroughs like camera style eyes, internal skeletons, terrestrial locomotion, powered flight, and many others, evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. Why haven’t human like adaptations been common for a long time? The second is why the evolution of immense societies resting on sophisticated economies with intricate divisions of labor and extensive trade arose only in the last 10.7 millennia (the Holocene). Macro-evolutionary explanations come in two flavors, ones that appeal to processes internal to the evolutionary process and ones that appeal to exogenous environmental forces. In the case of human evolution, the main internal factor seems to be that we inherited largish brains, manipulative hands, and a high degree of sociality from our ape ancestors. At any rate, unlike many other major adaptations, no other lineage has (yet) converged on our adaptation. On the other hand, many other lineages have evolved somewhat larger brains in during the Pleistocene, indicating a common external factor. The climate of the Pleistocene was cold, dry, and highly variable. Some high resolution core data suggest that variation on the scale of centuries and millennia increased in intensity as the Pleistocene unfolded. Theoretical models suggest that it is variation on this time scale that can support a costly capacity for culture (social learning) sufficiently sophisticated to lead to complex tools and complex, cooperative, social systems. Human brain size and cultural sophistication seem to have tracked the increasing millennial and sub-millennial scale variation, though data from more and longer high resolution paleoclimate and paleoecology data will test this conjecture more rigorously. Holocene climates have been comparatively low in millennial and sub-millennial scale variation as well as being warmer and wetter than glacial ones. This led to the evolution of a myriad locally specialized subsistence systems, a great many of which are based on plant and animal domesticates. Agriculture’s increase in production per unit land area led to higher population densities, which in turn favored a finer division of labor, larger scale trade, and more political complexity. Humans by now have come to be a major biogeochemical force on the global ecosystem, leading to an uncertain future despite our current spectacular success.

  • Jim Sidanius
  • 03-16-2020
  • Jim Sidanius
  • Harvard University
  • Social Dominance Theory and the Dynamics of Gendered Prejudice
  • 171 Bond Life Sciences Center
  • Using Social Dominance and evolutionary theory as theoretical frameworks, we argue for a model entitled the Theory of Gendered Prejudice (TGP), which in broad terms, suggests that arbitrary-set discrimination must be understood as an inherently gendered phenomenon. Employing multiple methodologies, I argue that: 1) In general, males will display higher levels of xenophobia, discrimination, social predation, and social dominance orientation than will females, everything else being equal. 2) Males will tend to be both the primary perpetrators, and the primary victims of arbitrary-set discrimination. 3) The motives for outgroup discrimination are somewhat different for males and females.

  • Roger Cook
  • 03-30-2020
  • Roger Cook
  • University of Missouri
  • The Coevolution of the Human and Media: The Convergence of the Biological and Technological
  • 572 Bond Life Science Center
  • Over the last few decades new trends in evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) have challenged the genocentric view of evolution and argued that the organism’s (and species’s) interaction with the environment is a codetermining factor guiding the course of all biological evolution. During this same period scholars in a number of different fields (paleoanthropology, media theory, philosophy, cybernetics, among others) have argued that human evolution must be seen as a coevolutionary process (technogenesis) encompassing both biological evolution and the advance of technology. In this paper I will explore how the theory of technogenesis might be brought into a productive alignment with some of the recent developments in evolutionary theory to provide insight into two contested areas of human evolution: language and cognition.

  • Stefani Engelstein
  • 05-04-2020
  • Stefani Engelstein
  • Duke University
  • Nature’s Uncanny: Thinking through the 19th-century World Organism
  • 572 Bond Life Science Center
  • Theories from Locke to Kant and Fichte emphasize human use of, and superiority to, a physical world envisioned as a resource without ethical standing. But there is another legacy from the 19th century which can be found in Schelling’s theory of the World Organism, in Alexander von Humboldt’s Cosmos, and in the entanglement of humans and world illuminated by the British Romantics. The talk will explore why such entanglement is perceived as uncanny and how else it can be imagined.