Imagination and Human Origins

Try to remember the first time in your life when you imagined something. It may have been imagining what was behind the door or under the bed, or a fantastic universe of wonders and exciting adventure. As children, our imaginations are furtive and encouraged as ways in which we develop our cognitive capabilities. As we grow older, we may not imagine in quite the same ways, but we continue to heavily use and depend on our imagination in our daily lives, imagining different situations that might occur in a few moments or in a few years. Thus, we actually spend a large amount of time in our own particular universe imagining many possible different ones.

Why do we do this and how did this capacity evolve in humans? Imagination probably helped our ancestors to be successful in making decisions and live in complex societies, and imagination is key to advancing technology. In this CARTA symposium, imagination is explored as a unique and enhanced human ability, and experts from all fields discuss its evolutionary origins, the fundamental genetic and neurological basis of human imagination, the impact of human imagination in science and art, and the consequences of imagination impairment.

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Why Did Humans Start Eating Meat?

Humans have been hunter-gatherers for most of our existence as a species and hunting has long been seen as a key human adaptation, thought to have influenced our anatomy, physiology, and behavior, indeed, a force in our evolution as a species. CARTA brings experts from across the globe to explore evidence pertaining to understanding the origins of hominin hunting and where this understanding can lead future research.

Browse more programs in CARTA: The Role of Hunting in Anthropogeny.

Bring Back Mammoths

Remember Dolly the sheep? How in 1996 she made international news as the first cloned mammal? Now, imagine using those techniques to bring back extinct animals, such as the mammoth or the passenger pigeon. While the concept may no longer be science fiction, the costs and consequences of this research are still unknown. MacArthur Award recipient and evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro of UC Santa Cruz discusses the scientific and ethical questions raised by what’s known as Ancient DNA research in this fascinating talk presented by the new Institute for Practical Ethics at UC San Diego.

Watch Can We, Should We, and Will We Bring Back Mammoths? with Beth Shapiro .

Origins of Genus Homo – CARTA

8232Despite discoveries of remarkable new fossils in recent years, the evolutionary events surrounding the origins of genus Homo are incompletely understood.

This fascinating CARTA symposium explores evidence bearing on the emergence of our genus. What forces caused the changes in diet and body form as our predecessors evolved toward Homo. Were there forces from within on the molecular scale? Or changes in environment and climate? How did an integrated suite of behaviors, collectively termed hunting and gathering, that emerged sometime between 3 and 2 million years ago affect changes that spurred evolution towards the characteristics which are all associated with our human lineage?

Watch as a diverse cadre of experts from around the world present their observations on the Origins of Genus Homo.

Browse all episodes in CARTA: Origins of Genus Homo

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.