Are we "good" creatures?

8232Is the capacity for ethics—the proclivity to judge human actions as either right or wrong—determined by the biological nature of human beings? And, are the systems or codes of ethical norms accepted by human beings biologically determined?

In this fascinating and thought-provoking presentation, Templeton prize recipient and eminent evolutionary biologist and philosopher Francisco J. Ayala proposes that the moral evaluation of actions emerges from human rationality and thus it is a necessary implication of our biological make-up. But the norms according to which we decide which actions are good and which actions are evil are largely culturally determined, although conditioned by biological predispositions, such as parental care.

Watch CARTA: Francisco Ayala: Evolution of Ethical Behavior and Moral Values: Biology? Culture?.

If you enjoyed this program, browse more evolution programs in the extensive CARTA archives.

CARTA: Human-Climate Interactions and Evolution – Past and Future

8232The 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.

Watch Human-Climate Interactions and Evolution – Past and Future.

Why are we violent?

786As CARTA co-director Ajit Varki so aptly put it in his concluding remarks, “It was an intellectually stimulating and fascinating but deeply disturbing symposium.”

From interactions in lions and our hominid cousins the chimpanzees, to our Pleistocene ancestors and early human cultures to modern society, CARTA gathered scientists across the spectrum from neurophysiology to sociology to bring their respective microscopes to bear upon the question of aggression within the human species, its role in our development, its causes and its consequences.

While the data are at times grim, disturbing and depressing, it is an important look at an inescapable (or is it?) feature of human evolution, the use of aggression and violence.

Hopefully, if one can remain dispassionate, we are led to ask, can it evolve out of us?

Watch the latest programs from CARTA on Male Aggression and Violence in Human Evolution to learn more.

Behaviorally Modern Humans: Interbreeding with Archaic Humans

There are many theories as to how humans evolved to who we are today.

Fossils tell us that there once existed many human-like species, such as the Neanderthals, that had similar yet archaic skull shapes. Some people believe that there was just one ancestor of our modern species who evolved into the species we are today — but that straightforward trajectory seems too simple to be evolutionarily possible. Another theory suggests that there were many variations of our ancestors, but whose lineages did not persist as ours did. Eventually, modern humans replaced those sub-human species — but not before our ancestors interbred with them to create the variations of humans we have today.

In this episode of the latest CARTA series, Behaviorally Modern Humans: The Origins of Us, Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum of London takes us through his analysis of the fossil record to present his theory on how humans and our ancestors evolved and dominated the globe. Then, Michael Hammer from the University of Arizona discusses the possibility of interbreeding of human subspecies to create the species known as modern humans. Followed by Richard “Ed” Green of UC Santa Cruz who also talks about the possibility of interbreeding, but with species even outside of Africa.

Watch “Behaviorally Modern Humans: Interbreeding with Archaic Humans” to see what you really know about your family history.

Don’t miss other episodes in this new series!

New Series! Behaviorally Modern Humans: The Origin of Us

This latest CARTA series, Behaviorally Modern Humans, the Origin of Us, explores the questions of when, where and how humans evolved into the modern species we are today and what set us apart from the other human species on the planet that we replaced.

This first episode in the series, African Climate of the Last 400,000 Years, East African Archaeological Evidence, and South African Archaeological Evidence examines the latest evidence from multiple disciplines to answer these questions about our origins.

First, Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution introduces an analysis of the climate in which our ancient ancestors lived 400,000 years ago in Africa. His talk is followed by Alison S. Brooks of George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution, who discusses what archaeological evidence can tell us about our past in East Africa. Then, Lyn Wadley from University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg discusses what clues are hidden in the archaeological finds of South Africa.

See what you might learn about your history and stay tuned for more episodes in this series!

Discover more anthropology videos from UCSD-TV.