Exploring The Human-Ape Paradox

CARTA’s Fall 2020 symposium, Comparative Anthropogeny: Exploring the Human Ape-Paradox, examines humans as a uniquely evolved, “biologically enculturated,” species as juxtaposed with our closest living relatives, the “great apes” (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans). By definition, each species is unique as it represents the outcome of independent evolution. Yet, humans appear to be a remarkable outlier as we have numerous characteristics so far un-described in any other primate. Why should this be? Unlike other species, the evident animal nature of humans is interwoven with a distinctly human cultural fabric, forming the paradox of “biological enculturation”: a species that is both “biologically cultural” and “culturally biological.” In humans, “biological enculturation” is so pervasive that disentangling the cultural and biological components is impossible.

This symposium brings together experts in various disciplines from around the globe to address several important distinctly human “biologically enculturated” characteristics, both in relation to each other and in contrast to our evolutionary cousins. They explore transdisciplinary interactions and generate new, potentially unexplored, insights into uniquely-human specializations.

Given the interest in understanding our evolution, this symposium also helps organize how and in what sequence distinctly human physical, mental, social, and cultural features evolved. Such understanding may help explain the origin of our species and how it came to now directly shape the planet, giving rise to the Anthropocene, the epoch of human influence on climate and the environment.

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Impact of Early Life Deprivation

Unlike most other animals, much of human brain development and maturation occurs after birth, a process that continues into early adulthood. This unusual pattern allows for greater influences of environment and culture on the emergence of the adult mind.

This series of programs from the recent CARTA symposium addresses the interactive contributions of nature and nurture in this process, ranging from experiments by ancient monarchs and lessons from “feral” children of various kinds, to the follow-up on Romanian orphans.

Distinguished speakers address comparative and neurobiological issues which likely played a key role in the origins of the human species and in the evolution of distinct features of our minds.

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We Are All Africans

Svante Pääbo once said, “We are all Africans, either living in Africa or in recent exile from Africa.”

It is now abundantly clear that Africa was the “cradle of humanity,” with multiple waves of hominins arising on that continent and spreading across the old world, eventually being effectively displaced by our own species, which also arose in Africa.

Given these facts, it is not surprising that the strong emphasis of anthropogeny is on the continent of Africa with wide-ranging studies including genetic, paleontological, archeological, primatological, climatological, sociocultural and more.

This CARTA symposium focuses on the contributions of scientists and scholars of anthropogeny who live and work in Africa.

Browse more programs in Anthropogeny: The Perspective from Africa.

CARTA at 10

More than 20 years ago, a small group of La Jolla academics began periodic meetings for transdisciplinary discussions on explaining the origin of humans – anthropogeny – an effort which has blossomed into an international intellectual collaborative organized by UC San Diego and the Salk Institute as the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny – CARTA.

At the formal opening of CARTA just over 10 years ago a group of CARTA leaders and advisors attempted to “define the agenda.” Since then, much additional relevant information has emerged, and an expanded group of experts now revisits the agenda by addressing the following questions on a broad array of selected topics: What do we know for certain? What do we think we know? What do we need to know? How do we proceed?

Effectively, this is a whirlwind tour of many, but not all, approaches to anthropogeny.

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Tool Use, Technology and the Evolution of the Human Mind

We “behaviorally modern humans” likely emerged more than 100,000 years ago in Africa, spread across that continent and eventually all over the planet, effectively replacing all closely related potentially competitive species. Among many possible explanations, was the co-evolution of the human mind with tool use and technology – ranging all the way from simple stone tools millions of years ago, to computers today.

Speakers in this series addresses this important process at all levels, from molecules to brain imaging, beginning with the potential link between early stone tool use and the parallel expansion of the human brain, to the control of fire and the invention of projectile weapons, all the way through reading and writing to current day technologies such as computers and 3D reality–perhaps with a look to the potential future of the human mind.

Browse more programs in CARTA: Impact of Tool Use and Technology on the Evolution of the Human Mind