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Darwin Today

The Power of of Evolutionary Thinking

No scientific theory did influence our thinking about nature and ourselves so dramatically as Charles Darwin’s evolution theory. The publication of Darwin’s famous work The Origin of Species, 150 years ago, caused a conceptual landslide in the history of scientific thinking.

Not only had Darwin’s theory a strong hold on the field of biology and life sciences, it also affected our thinking on various topics, such as language, culture, religion, human consciousness and behaviour. The American philosopher Daniel Dennett describes Darwinism as an ‘universal acid’, that changed and is still changing our lives and the scientific world in a revolutionary way.

In the Darwin Year 2009 we explore how, in recent decades, the ‘acid’ of Darwinism did affect the way of thinking in various scientific areas, such as psychology, theology, linguistics, palaeontology, economics and political sciences. Was there a fruitful fertilization?

In this series, six internationally renowned scientists from various disciplines will talk about the influence of the evolution theory on their research and scientific thinking.

Darwinism & Psychology
Sex, Evolution and Consumer behavior
Geoffrey Miller
Date: Monday 7 September 2009
There are hidden instincts behind our working, shopping and spending. Hidden factors dictate our choices in everything, from lipstick to cars, from the magazines we read to the music we listen to. What do these decisions say about ourselves? Biology offers an answer. Humans evolved in small social groups in which image and status were all-important, not only for survival, but for attracting mates, impressing friends, and rearing children. The goods and services we buy unconsciously, advertise our biological  potential as mates and friends.
Geoffrey Miller illuminates the unseen logic behind the chaos of consumerism and suggests new ways to become happier consumers (and more responsible citizens.)

Geoffrey Miller is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico. Evolutionary social psychology is his main focus. Especially the study of human mental adaptions for judgement, decision-making, strategic behaviour and communication in social and sexual domains. He published the ambitious and provocative studies The Mating Mind. How Sexual Choice Shaped Human nature (De parende geest, 2001) and recently Spent: Sex Evolution and Human Behavior (Darwin en de Consument, 2009).

Interessante links
University of New Mexico Geoffrey Miller
Wikipedia Geoffrey Miller

Darwinism & the Divine
Evolutionary Thought and Religious Belief
Alister McGrath
Organised in cooperation with the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the Groningen University
Date: Wednesday 16 September 2009 
What are the implications of Darwin's ideas for religious beliefs? Many atheists hold that science in general, and Darwinism in particular, eliminates any grounds for belief in God. So what did Darwin himself think? How did he understand the scientific method and apply this to religious questions? How did his contemporaries react to his ideas? And what is the issue of the debate today? This lecture will explore these questions. We shall consider Darwin's understanding of his concept of natural selection and its religious implications; the reaction to Darwin's ideas in the decades following the publication of the Origin of Species; and contemporary atheist approaches to the question, as these are set out in Richard Dawkins' recent best-seller The God Delusion.

Alister McGrath is Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education, and Head of the Center for Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College, London. He is a Christian theologian with a PhD in molecular biophysics. In 2007, he published The Dawkin’s Delusion?, a critical response to Richard Dawkins atheism. His latest book is A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology (2009).

Interessante links
Website Alister McGrath
Wikipedia Alister McGrath

Darwinism & Linguistics
Seeds of Language in non-human Animals
Jim Hurford
Date: Tuesday 29 September 2009
All animals communicate, but human language is much more complex and versatile than any animal communication system.  The human capacity for language has evolved over the past 5 million years, since Homo split off from the other apes.  The most dramatic episode of this evolution happened very recently, about 200,000 years ago, when our modern species emerged and spread all over the world, giving rise to many thousands of new languages.  The human language capacity evolved by biological evolution, whereas the many different languages of the world have evolved by cultural evolution.

Jim Hurford is Professor emeritus of General Linguistics of the University of Edinburgh. In his research he emphasizes the interaction of evolution, learning and communication. His work is interdisciplinary, based in linguistics, but reaching out to, and taking insights and data from, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience, genetics, artificial intelligence and philosophy. Hurford produced some of the earliest computer simulations of aspects of the evolution of language. In 2007, he published The Origins of Meaning, volume 1 in the series Language in the Light of Evolution.

Interessante links
Website Jim Hurford
Recente artikelen Jim Hurforf

Darwinism & Palaeontology
Why the Evolution of Intelligent Life is Inevitable
Simon Conway Morris
Date: Tuesday 27 October 2009
Is evolution a random, open-ended process without inherent predictability? Rerun the tape of life, claimed Stephen J. Gould and the outcome will be entirely different: no humans, for example. Simon Conway Morris argues the exact reverse. Evolution is far more predictable than generally thought, whether we are talking about molecules or societies. This means human-like intelligence is very probable, perhaps inevitable. So this not only indicates a deep structure to evolution, but also reopens the question posed by the physician Enrico Fermi: where are the extraterrestrials?

Simon Conway Morris is Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Cambridge University. He is renowned for his insights into early evolution, and his studies of fossils, found in the famous Burgess Shale Formation. In his book, Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003) he gives a radical reinterpretation of life's history.

Interessante links
University of Cambridge Simon Conway Morris
Wikipedia Simon Conway Morris

Darwinism & Political Sciences
The Evolution of Institutions
Elinor Ostrom
Date: Thursday 5 November 2009
All human societies have characteristic social norms and political institutions that reflect these norms, thereby helping to prevent and resolve conflicts. There is a huge diversity of institutions, ranging from self-organized guards and tribunals in small communities to the centralized police and a formalized authority in modern societies. It is important to realize that such institutions are not static but continually evolving. Unravelling the dynamics of evolutionary change and its cause is crucial for understanding, both current institutions and political change. Elinor Ostrom argues that a general evolutionary theory of political change needs to be developed in order to adequately address the most pressing social and environmental challenges of our time.
Elinor Ostrom is Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and Director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, Bloomington. For her pathbreaking work on the evolution of political institutions she received numerous awards and 8 honorary doctorates. In her seminal 1990 book Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, she uses the compiled data from hundreds of common pool resource systems (fisheries, commons, irrigation systems) from all over the world to develop an evolutionary perspective on social norms and political institutions.

Interessante links
Indiana University, Bloomington Elinor Ostrom
Wikipedia Elinor Ostrom

Darwinism & Economics
A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and its Evolution
Herbert Gintis
Date: Tuesday 10 November 2009
There are two propositions that only recently have begun to be scientifically substantiated and incorporated into economic theory. First, people cooperate and punish those who exploit the cooperation of others. Not only for self-interested reasons but because they are genuinely concerned about the well being of others, care about social norms, and wish to act ethically. Contributing to the success of a joint project for the benefit of one's
group, even at a personal cost, evokes feelings of satisfaction, pride, even euphoria. Failing to do so is often a source of shame or guilt.  Second, we came to have these moral sentiments because of the complex societies humans build, in which social interactions are important and the establishment of social relations depends on cooperation with others. These societies would therefore favor pro-social individuals. The first proposition concerns our direct motivations for pro-social behavior, the second addresses the distant evolutionary origins and continuation of our cooperative nature.

Herbert Gintis is Professor of Economics At the Central European University in Budapest and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute (USA). He is notable for his foundational views on altruism, strong reciprocity, game theory and unification of the behavioural sciences. Professor Gintis works extensively with economist Samuel Bowles. Both economists were asked by Martin Luther King to write papers for the 1968 Poor People’s March. Gintis published among others: Game Theory Evolving (2000), and is co-editor of Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: On the Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life ( 2005). He is currently completing a book with Professor Bowles entitled A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and its Evolution.

Interessante links
Website Herbert Gintis
Wikipedia Herbert Gintis

Exposition Darwin’s World
Guided Tours in the University museum
Date: Thursday 10 September & Tuesday 15 September 2009
The exposition Darwin’s World. Man, Nature and Evolution’ in the University Museum gives an introduction on Darwin’s life, his voyage on HMS Beagle, his contribution to modern science, and his still controversial evolution theory.

Visit this exposition with an expert on Darwin and evolution theory from the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies. The tours are in Dutch or in English.

Organised in cooperation with the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies (CEES) of the University Groningen

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