This course provides an in-depth discussion about the possible prehistoric and evolutionary origins of human behaviour, brain and cognition. The course calls for intrinsically motivated students who enjoy looking deeper into possible functional and evolutionary mechanisms explaining human behaviour. As the course takes 'a capita selecta approach' it will also provide participants with an opportunity to further improve their presentation skills and scientific writing abilities.
Many human abilities and behaviours have a genetic basis that supported the survival of our ancient ancestors in prehistoric times. What are the evolutionary pressures that shaped human cognition and how do we see that reflected in modern behaviour? What exactly distinguishes the human species from primates and other animals? Why are we so successful? What makes us so unique?
The course centers on Michael Gazzaniga's recent book Human. The science behind what makes us unique. This fascinating book discusses the evolutionary foundations of uniquely human skills and behaviours, such as language, art, religion, self-awareness, and theory of mind. For each of these abilities the possible evolutionary importance (or functional irrelevance) will be discussed. The book contains recent scientific insights from a broad range of domains such as comparative psychology, social and cognitive neuroscience, genetics, neuropsychology, anthropology and evolutionary psychology.
Students from all backgrounds are welcome to participate. These individual differences in background and expertise are found to contribute to the quality and scope of the discussion. Arguments regarding the evolutionary origins of human behavior will typically be of a functional nature and therefore understandable to all.
- Together with a group of students you give a presentation on a topic of your choice and chair a consecutive discussion on the topic. To ensure lively and informed discussions, all students are required to study the relevant chapters in advance and to upload a discussion point of their interest.
- You are also asked to pick two topics of interest (in addition to the topic of your presentation) for writing two in-depth position papers, expressing your scientific stance towards a particular topic or outstanding question.
- Grading will reflect the weighted average of the discussion points (10%), the presentation (30%) and position papers (60%).
- Discussions, presentations and written assignments will all be in English.