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How We Became Unique Animals | Lecture by geneticist Adam Rutherford

Monday 14 January 2019 | 19.30 – 21.15 hrs | De Lindenberg, Ridderstraat 23, Nijmegen Radboud Reflects and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Many animals learn. Only humans teach. In his writings on what it means to be human, British geneticist Adam Rutherford argues that our intense social bonding and the desire to share ideas are key. Come and learn from Adam Rutherford how cultural accumulation and transmission sets us apart from other species.    

How have we become the humans we are today? We think we are special, but are we any more special than other animals? After all, life is a family tree that is four billion years old, with enough branches to contain a billion species. One tree, one origin, with a common code that underwrites all existence, including our own. This paradox – that our biology is indistinct from other animate life, yet we consider ourselves unique – is the central question of the human condition.

Unique Animals
Adam Rutherford explores the many things once considered to be exclusively human. We think we are special, but we are not the only species to communicate, to make tools, art or fashion, to utilize fire or to enjoy sex. None are exclusive human attributes. Crows make and use tools; apes can be taught rudimentary sign language; dolphins and birds have been observed adopting habits through cultural transmission; chimps have been seen using styles of headwear. What is left for us?

Spreading Knowledge

Evolution has, however, allowed us to develop our culture to a level of complexity that outstrips any other observed in nature. Adam Rutherford describes how we became the creatures we are today, bestowed with the unique ability to investigate what makes us who we are. Illuminated by the latest scientific discoveries, he gives a lecture on what unequivocally fixes us as animals, but at the same time reveals how we are extraordinary among them. It is not speech, tools, art or sex that sets us apart. Humanity lies in all of these things and more, but quintessentially in our teaching. We are a species defined by expertise, and the desire to spread that knowledge.

After his lecture, Rutherford discusses the matter in further detail with a scientist from Radboud University. What makes us human?

Adam Rutherford is a geneticist at UCL, broadcaster for the BBC and author of critically-acclaimed popular science books. His recent books include A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived and The Book of Humans: A Brief History of Culture, Sex, War and the Evolution of Us. Rutherford presents the BBC program Inside Science and presented the award-winning series Playing God, The Gene Code and The Cell. He was scientific advisor to Björk’s movie Biophilia Live, and worked on World War Z, The Secret Service and Ex Machina.


After his lecture, Rutherford discusses the matter - What makes us human? - in further detail with Maïté Tjon A Hie, philosopher and communication expert at  ARTez.


Participation costs € 7,50 | RU employees, Alumni Benefits Card-subholders pay € 5,-  | MPI employees, students and pupils and Radboud Reflects-subscribers have free admittance.

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Where and when:
19:30-21:15 Jan 14, 2019
Lindenberg, Ridderstraat 13, Nijmegen

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Wundtlaan 1
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The Netherlands

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The Netherlands

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