Akademisymposiet i humaniora og samfunnsvitenskap

Internasjonalt symposium: Evolusjon, kultur og samfunn

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Drammensveien 78

Den første Akademiforelesningen i humaniora og samfunnsvitenskap som ble holdt i mars, følges nå opp med et internasjonalt symposium  Evolution, Culture & Society i Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi 19. - 20. oktober. Symposiet vil handle om utviklingslærens betydning for samfunnsfag og humaniora.


Monday 19 October
09:30 Opening remarks by Professor Øyvind Østerud, President of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters
09:40 Professor John Dupré, University of Exeter, Great Britain: What does Darwinism tell us about human nature? Discussion

11:15 Professor Jane Mansbridge, Harvard University, USA: How the world works: Enclave variation and everyday selection in the generation of ideas Discussion

13:45 Professor Azar Gat, Tel Aviv University, Israel: Why war? Motivation for fighting in the human state of nature and after the onset of cultural evolution Discussion

15:30 Professor Peter Hammerstein, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany: Games, markets and the evolution of cooperation Discussion

Tuesday 20 October
10:00 Professor James R. Hurford, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland: From apes to language-using humans Discussion

11:35 Professor Nikolaus Ritt, Vienna University, Austria: Assuming that it is possible to approach cultural history in evolutionary terms, are there any good reasons for doing so? Discussion

14:05 Professor Harvey Whitehouse, Oxford University, Great Britain: Explaining religion Discussion

15:50 Professor Martha McClintock, The University of Chicago, USA:
Broken ties? Lessons learned from an evolutionary and transdisciplinary approach to social isolation and illness Discussion

Professor John Dupré, The Department of Sociology and Philosophy, The School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Exeter, Great Britain
What Does Darwinism Tell Us About Human Nature?
I refer to Darwinism in my title out of deference to this year's Darwin anniversary. However, the "Darwinism" widely touted in recent years as a source of insight into human nature is really the neo-Darwinism that developed in the mid-twentieth century from a merger of Darwin's natural selection and Mendel's particulate inheritance. More recently a version has become widely popularised in the context of Richard Dawkins's selfish gene. But recent biology has presented major objections to much of neo-Darwinism. And, or so I shall argue, the picture of evolution that is beginning to emerge offers much less support to the project of inferring ideas about human nature from reflections on evolution.

Professor Jane Mansbridge, Harvard Kennedy School, John F. Kennedy's School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge USA
How the world works: Enclave variation and everyday selection in the generation of ideas?
New ideas often develop in a hothouse of intense interaction among committed individuals in a space protected in some way from the dominance of currently hegemonic ideas. From this cornucopia of innovative and sometimes fantastic ideas, like mutations in the natural world, individuals in ordinary life select those that are viable in their less protected circumstances. This dynamic produces new music, literature, scientific invention, and – this lecture will stress -- political concepts. The process is often neither top-down nor consciously coordinated, but instead emergent in the complex adaptive systems sense of deriving from dynamic, interactive, unplanned, feedback-driven micro-level processes in which individuals respond to local cues and act on local information.

Professor Azar Gat, The Department of Political Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Why War? Motivation for fighting in the human state of nature and after the onset of cultural evolution
The paper addresses the causes of fighting among hunter-gatherers, whose way of life represents 99.5 percent of the history of the genus Homo and about 90-95 percent that of our species Homo sapiens sapiens. Based on anthropological observations on extant and recently extinct hunter-gatherer societies, compared with animal behavior, the paper begins with somatic and reproductive causes. It proceeds to demonstrate that other motives, such as dominance, revenge, the security dilemma and 'pugnacity', originally arose from the somatic and reproductive competition. Rather than being separate, all motives come together in an integrated motivational complex, shaped by the logic of evolution and natural selection. The second part of the paper examines the interaction of biological propensities and cultural development in shaping the causes of war in historical state societies.

Professor Peter Hammerstein, Institute for Theoretical Biology, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany: Games, markets and the evolution of cooperation

Professor James R Hurford, The University of Edinburgh, College of Humanities and Social Science, Scotland
From apes to language-using humans
I will sketchily review a range of evidence for three broad strands of the evolution of human language from ape communication and cognition. The three strands are the semantic, the pragmatic, and the syntactic.

Under semantics, I understand an organism's private mental representations of objects, events and situations in the world. The comparative psychology literature reveals animal characteristics that seem to prefigure aspects of human mental representations in some way. Topics touched upon will include object permanence, metacognition, episodic memory, competence with abstract relations, transitive inference, subitizing, `frame-of-reference' systems, the where/what-dorsal/ventral separation, and global and local attention.

Under pragmatics, I deal with the `person-to-person' interactions between organisms. Apes communicate with each other in a way similar to the speech acts of humans. But apes do not encode messages about the world in their communicative acts. Apes have the beginnings of a Theory of Mind, being able to assess and manipulate the behaviour of others. Evolutionary theory suggests that a crucial ingredient in human communicative behaviour is an altruistic attitude towards fellow group members.

The syntax of human languages has long been held to be the central puzzle in the evolution of language. Recent theories have shown a way of regarding human syntactic abilities as continuous with our ability to store vocabulary. This implies that there may have been no catastrophic evolutionary leap to a specific syntactic capacity in the recent evolution of humans.

Professor Nikolaus Ritt, Department of English at Vienna University, Austria
Assuming that it is possible to approach cultural history in evolutionary terms, are there any good reasons for doing so?
Historical linguistics provides an excellent testing ground for evolutionary models of cultural development: much empirical work has already been done, and for many languages there exist rich sets of well described and often digitally accessible data, as well as descriptions of major historical developments. At the same time, established explanations are often considered good enough, so that no real need is felt for the adoption of a new explanatory paradigm such as an evolutionary theory of culture. Indeed, evolutionary accounts of language change which construct speakers and societies as aspects of the environment in which hypothetical linguistic counterparts of genes get replicated and to which they come to adapt, often strike one as mere reformulations of functional accounts, where language change is seen as being driven by the communicative, social and cognitive needs of speakers. Looking at developments in the history of English, this contribution discusses how differences between the predictions made by evolutionary and functional models of language change can be identified, and how the two approaches compare in cases where they make similar predictions.

Professor Harvey Whitehouse, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, Oxford University, Great Britain: Explaining Religion
Much research in the cognitive science of religion emphasizes that some features of religious thinking and behaviour are universal, arising from our species’ evolutionary history. Examples include certain qualities attributed to supernatural agents (e.g. gods and ghosts), which humans everywhere appear to recognize with minimal need for instruction. But there is also growing evidence that many religious concepts require considerable cognitive, social, and technological resources to create, remember, and pass on. Cross-culturally variable aspects of religion arise in part from the evolution of cognitive systems devoted to connecting concepts (e.g. through the formation of novel analogies) and storing them (e.g. in semantic memory) and in part from the historically changing sociopolitical conditions in which such systems can be exploited. Only a coordinated, interdisciplinary effort that takes into account the role of both evolved cognition and human ecology in religious innovation and transmission will be sufficient to provide the broad empirical and theoretical base necessary for explaining religion.

Professor Martha McClintock, Departments of Psychology and Comparative Human Development, Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research, The University of Chicago, USA
Broken ties? Lessons learned from an evolutionary and transdisciplinary approach to social isolation and illness
A growing body of research suggests an intriguing association between low social support, chronic social isolation, and a variety of human illnesses.   What are the causal relationships underlying this association? Disease is typically conceptualized as having a genetic basis, particularly cancer. On the other hand, transmission of infectious disease is associated with having many, not few, social contacts. Perhaps it is the illness that leads to disrupted social networks and isolation? An evolutionary approach argues that natural selection has likely shaped a reciprocal interaction between social worlds and the biological mechanisms of survival, finely tuned to the environment. If this is correct, we can expect “downward causation”, in which the social environment shapes our emotional lives, which in turn becomes embodied in physiological systems that ultimately regulate genetic mechanisms of disease. In our transdisciplinary research group, we examine causal mechanisms that operate within nested time frames: moment-to-moment social interactions and physiological changes, nested within developmental effects lasting across the life span, and largest of all an transgenerational frame, within which evolution operates. Most importantly, we use a comparative approach to questions about human health, study other gregarious mammals to gain insights into what are fundamental, but not unique, human problems.