Richard Walker Lecture Series: Lecture 3 - Human evolution and human populations

Date: 
Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Everyone is cordially invited to attend a series of public lectures to be given by Richard Walker, staff scientist at in the Blue Brain Project – a large scale neuroscience project, hosted by EPFL Switzerland.

 
The series of lectures is on the following topic: What makes us human? Biology, cognition and population (please see details in the abstract below). The schedule of the lectures is as follows:
 
Lecture 1:  Human evolution and biology (Mar 285-6:30 pm, Faura AVR)
Lecture 2:  Human evolution, human cognition and human culture (Mar 305-6:30 pm, SEC-C-201)
Lecture 3: Human evolution and human populations (April 4, 5-630 pm , SEC-C-201)

 

The lectures are free and open to the public, but please register by sending an email to jcleofas@ateneo.edu if you're coming with a cohort of students.
 
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WHAT MAKES US HUMAN? BIOLOGY, COGNITION AND POPULATION
Richard Walker
 
Humans have existed for just 200,000 years – 0.005% of the history of life on earth. Yet in this short time they have colonized nearly every ecological niche on the planet. What is the secret of this extraordinary success? For decades, scientists traced it to allegedly unique capabilities of the human brain and of human cognition. But today we know those capabilities are not unique. In fact, the human brain looks like a scaled up version of the chimpanzee brain and there is practically no human capability that is not present in other animals, at least in elementary form. More recent theorists have explained humans’ success by a unique capacity for “cumulative cultural evolution”. Unlike other animals, it is claimed, humans can learn from each other and use each other’s ideas and inventions as building blocks for their own innovations. Humans, unlike other animals, can improve their skills without changing their biology. This is undoubtedly true, but there are aspects of human evolution it cannot explain. For example, if all humans have the same capability for culture, how is it, that some areas of the world have developed more complex cultures than others? In recent years, anthropologists have developed new theories suggesting that the emergence of human culture depends on the unique size and structure of human populations. Here, I explore these competing theories, and present my own research on the “epidemiology” of human culture, in three lectures entitled respectively

Lecture 1:  Human evolution and biology (Mar 285-6:30 pm, Faura AVR)
Lecture 2:  Human evolution, human cognition and human culture (Mar 305-6:30 pm, SEC-C-201)
Lecture 3: Human evolution and human populations (April 4, 5-630 pm , SEC-C-201)

 
About the Speaker:
 
Richard is a staff scientist in the Blue Brain Project – a large scale neuroscience project, hosted by EPFL Switzerland, whose goal is to build biologically detailed simulations of the rat brain and ultimately the human brain. Richard’s research focuses on computer models of the relationship between the brain, culture and human evolution. In previous work, he led the writing of the winning research proposal, which led to the creation of the Human Brain Project – a 1 billion euro FET Flagship Program in which the Blue Brain Project is a leading partner, and was for a long time the project's public spokesperson.
 
While Richard’s career in the period prior to 2010 was mainly in the commercial sector, he was simultaneously active in a broad range of scientific disciplines ranging from Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life to neuroscience. After initial work in international economics, he shifted his attention to Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life.