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Nijmegen Lectures 2014 (January 27-29) -

Program & Abstracts

No Miracles! A Darwinian view of the evolution
of cognition, language and culture

 by Russell Gray

 

Overview

In this lecture series Professor Gray will argue that the fields of animal cognition, language evolution and cultural evolution have all been blighted by special pleading and a tendency to invoke miraculous leaps. He will argue that a rigorous application of modern Darwinian evolutionary thinking and methods is all that is required to explain the evolution of language, culture and cognition.

To download the Nijmegen Lectures 2014 poster, please click here.

Monday, January  27, 2014

Lecture 1  The evolution of cognition without miracles

10:00-12:00 Radboud University Nijmegen, Aula, Comeniuslaan 2, Nijmegen

Debates in the study of animal cognition of often oscillate between over-hyped claims of "human-like" cognitive abilities and deflationary "killjoy" accounts. In this talk I will argue that studies of cognitive evolution should follow studies of morphological complexity and seek incremental Darwinian accounts rather than postulating miraculous cognitive leaps. Our focus should therefore be on studies of intermediate cognition rather than all-or-nothing claims about our pet species possessing some complex “human-like” ability. I will use our work on tool manufacture in New Caledonian crows to illustrate how quite complex behavioral traditions might have evolved in an incremental fashion “without miracles”.

Discussion 1  14:00-16:30 Room TvA 2.0013, Th. van Aquinostraat 2, Nijmegen
Invited discussants:
Cecilia Heyes,
University of Oxford, UK
Katherine Cronin, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Netherlands

 

Tuesday, January  28, 2014

Lecture 2  The evolution of language without miracles

10:00-12:00 Radboud University Nijmegen, Aula, Comeniuslaan 2, Nijmegen

Evolutionary scientists study variation. A key element of the Darwinian revolution was the insight that variation within species was not some superficial noise that should be stripped away to reveal the underlying species essence. Variation is the signal – over evolutionary time variation within species becomes variation between species. As a legacy of the 1950s Cognitive Science movement, cognitive scientists have often thought of language on a par with vision, olfaction or memory – a human faculty with a universal organization, subject only to minor variation. But compared to animal communication systems one of the most remarkable things about human language is that there are 7000 of them. In this talk I will argue that:
1. this variation is a vital resource for understanding the crucial capacity that makes us human.
2. that computational tools derived from evolutionary biology give us powerful new ways of analyzing this variation.
I will conclude the talk by contrasting two scenarios for the evolutionary origins of language. In the first scenario language miraculously evolves in a “big bang” as the consequence of a “chance mutation.” In the second scenario it evolves incrementally by co-opting systems used for gesture and tool manufacture – a double “hand-to-mouth” hypothesis. I will argue that only the second scenario is consistent with the way biologists explain evolutionary novelty today.

Discussion 2  14:00-16:30 Room TvA 2.0013, Th. van Aquinostraat 2, Nijmegen
Invited Discussants:
Bart de Boer, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Harald Hammarström, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Netherlands

The Poster session will take place on January 28th from 16:30-18:00 at the MPI.

 

Wednesday, January  29, 2014

Lecture 3  The evolution of culture without miracles

10:00-12:00 Radboud University Nijmegen, Aula, Comeniuslaan 2, Nijmegen

Many social theorists balk at explaining culture in Darwinian terms. Even some evolutionary biologists contend that cultural change is fundamentally different from biological evolution. They argue that there are no cultural equivalents of genes or species, and that cultural inheritance is too diffuse and reticulate for Darwinian evolution to take place. Culture cannot therefore be meaningfully analysed using tools from evolutionary biology. In this talk I will evaluate these claims. I will argue that although the processes of biological evolution and cultural change are far from identical, there are often sufficient similarities to warrant the careful application of evolutionary thinking and methods. I will show how computational methods derived from evolutionary biology can be used to analyse both vertical and horizontal inheritance, and shed insight on long standing questions ranging from the evolution of complex societies to beliefs in powerful gods. Once again, no miracles are required.

Discussion 3   14:00-16:30 Room TvA 2.0013, Th. van Aquinostraat 2, Nijmegen
Invited Discussants:
Mónica Tamariz, University of Edinburgh, UK
Asifa Majid, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands

 

 

 

Last checked 2017-04-07 by Martina Bernhard

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