All Videos

Language and Human Nature

Conversation:
[9.30.09]
Topic:

"Language is an adaptation to the "cognitive niche". It facilitates exchange of information, negotiating of cooperation. But indirect speech (polite requests, veiled threats & bribes, sexual overtures) are a puzzle for the theory that language is an adaptation for efficient communication. Language is an adaptation to the "cognitive niche". ..."

 

Beauty's Child: Sexual Selection, Nature Worship and the Love of God

Conversation:
[9.30.09]
Topic:

"...I want to engage you in a discussion of the deep history of beauty. By deep I mean as seen from an evolutionary perspective. I am an "evolutionary psychologist".  I believe that to understand and fully appreciate human mental traits, we need to know why they are there — which is to say what biological function they are serving.  Evolutionary psychology has been making pretty good progress. But, as we say, "there are still some  elephants in the living room" — big issues that no one wants to talk about. And human beings worship of the beautiful remains  one of the biggest."

 

DOES TECHNOLOGY EVOLVE?

Conversation:
[9.21.09]
Topic:

"The two legs of the Theory of Evolution that are in technology, are not at all Darwinian. They are quite different. They are that certain existing building blocks are combined and re-combined to form new building-block technologies; and every so often technologies get used to capture novel, newly discovered phenomena, and encapsulate those and get further building blocks. As with Darwin, most new technologies that come into being are only useful for their own purpose and don't form other building blocks, but occasionally some do."

 

Darwin's Intellectual Legacy to the 21st Century

Conversation:
[9.7.09]
Topic:

From the Program Notes: "Our intention is to illuminate and discuss how Darwinian thought influenced the disciplines that focus on the study the individuals (biology, neuroscience, psychology); the individual within their social interactions (anthropology, sociology, economy, political science); and how these concepts pertain, in general, to a moral philosophy.

We wish to explore how, from Darwinian thought, there emerges a vision of what it is to be a human being. And that this vision is fundamental and coherent with the entire body of accumulated scientific knowledge. With reverence for the details of their application, it is the impact of Darwin's ideas that is the reason we are celebrating Darwin's anniversary."

 

WE ARE AS GODS AND HAVE TO GET GOOD AT IT

Conversation:
[8.18.09]
Topic:

"What I'm saying now is we are as gods and have to get good at it. Necessity comes from climate change, potentially disastrous for civilization. The planet will be okay, life will be okay. We will lose vast quantities of species, probably lose the rain forests if the climate keeps heating up. So it's a global issue, a global phenomenon. It doesn't happen in just one area. The planetary perspective now is not just aesthetic. It's not just perspective. It's actually a world-sized problem that will take world sized solutions that involves forms of governance we don't have yet. It involves technologies we are just glimpsing. It involves what ecologists call ecosystem engineering. Beavers do it, earthworms do it. They don't usually do it at a planetary scale. We have to do it at a planetary scale. A lot of sentiments and aesthetics of the environmental movement stand in the way of that."

 

AMAZING BABIES

Conversation:
[8.11.09]
Topic:

"We've known for a long time that human children are the best learning machines in the universe. But it has always been like the mystery of the humming birds. We know that they fly, but we don't know how they can possibly do it. We could say that babies learn, but we didn't know how."

 

THE EVOLUTION OF COOKING

Conversation:
[8.8.09]
Topic:

"One of the great thrusts of behavioral biology for the last three or four decades has been that if you change the conditions that an animal is in, then you change the kind of behavior that is elicited. What the genetic control of behavior means is not that instincts inevitably pop out regardless of circumstances; instead, it is that we are created with a series of emotions that are appropriate for a range of circumstances. The particular set of emotions that pop out will vary within species, but they will also vary with context, and once you know them better, then you can arrange the context.... It's much better to anticipate these things, recognize the problem, and design in advance to protect."

 

MAPPING THE NEANDERTHAL GENOME

Conversation:
[7.4.09]
Topic:

"When I started out in '84/'85, intent on studying the genomes of ancient civilizations, I was, as is often the case in this kind of situation, driven by delusions of grandeur. I thought that I would be able to easily study the ancient genomes. I dreamt of addressing questions in Egyptology. For example, how do historico-political events that we read about impact the population? When Alexander the Great comes to Egypt, what is the influence on the population? Is it just a political change? The Arab Conquest: does that mean that a large part of the population is replaced? Or is it mainly a cultural change? There's no way we can answer this question from historical records. But my dream was to address questions like this. Then, after some initial success, I realized the real limitations on what I wanted to do."

 

THE PHYSICS THAT WE KNOW

Conversation:
[6.27.09]
Topic:

"We have decided, as a scientific endeavor, to extrapolate as much as we can from our knowledge of the individual processes that we can measure: evaporation from the ocean, the formation of a cloud, rainfall coming from a cloud, changes in wind patterns as a function of the pressure field, changes in the jet stream. What we have tried to do is encapsulate those small-scale processes, put them together, and see if we can predict the emerging properties of that fundamental complex system."

 

THE SIMPLIFIER

Conversation:
[6.15.09]
Topic:

"We discovered a new vein of research — the relation between physical and social or psychological concepts — that we came to by taking evolutionary principles seriously and applying them to psychology. We weren't using evolutionary psychology, which has largely been focused on mating and reproduction. Our focus, rather, was in terms of evolutionary biology and the basic principles of natural selection: and that field makes clear that humans must have had these kinds of mechanisms or these processes to guide our behavior prior to evolution or emergence of consciousness."

 

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