Certain warm-blooded social animals and birds appear to react selectively and specifically to the death of other members of their group. Humans seem to be very unusual in the quality and extent of our responses – and in our ability to translate these experiences into an understanding of our personal mortality. When during childhood do these levels of understanding emerge? What is the underlying neurobiological basis for fears of death and mortality? When during human evolution did these fears emerge, and how did our ancestors tolerate them without sinking into an evolutionary dead end of depression or hopelessness? Assuming we found a solution to this dilemma, why are we still the only mammals that commit suicide? What does the archaeological, historical and cross-cultural record tell us about these matters? And what are the consequences for our current human condition, ranging from self-esteem to social organization, to political leanings? This symposium brings together expert speakers from a wide range of different disciplines that are relevant to seeking answers to these questions. In the process, we will gain a better understanding of how increasing awareness of death and personal mortality shaped the origin of humans.
The existence of Beringia had a great impact on the spread of the human species only 16,000 years ago – and not long after, climatic periods like the Medieval megadroughts extending into the second millennium moved Vikings to Greenland, vineyards to England and played a role in the collapse of the Inca and Anasazi cultures.
And all this before humans took a role in shaping climate.
Now, according to earth scientists, paleontologists, and scholars in other fields, the planet has entered a new geological phase – the Anthropocene, the age of humans. How did this transition of our species from an apelike ancestor in Africa to the current planetary force occur? What are the prospects for the future of world climate, ecosystems, and our species?
In May, CARTA (The Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny) gathered the world’s foremost earth scientists, ecologists, and paleoanthropologists to address these questions – and with mostly dreadfully sobering evidence, they place the future of the planet squarely, and irretrievably, in our hands.
There’s plenty that goes on in these heads of ours — sometimes more than we want or understand. But just how much does the way our minds work distinguish us from other species?
In the latest series from UC San Diego’s CARTA, scientists from different fields discuss the cognitive abilities that are often regarded as unique to humans, including humor, morality, symbolism, creativity and preoccupation with the minds of others. They assess the functional uniqueness of these attributes, as opposed to the anatomical uniqueness, and whether they are indeed quantitatively or qualitatively unique to humans.