Fall 2017 Lecture Series

Finding Richard III | Turi King | November 14, 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
CHEM 360
4:00 PM

Finding Richard III

Dr. Turi King is a molecular geneticist in the Department of Genetics and Genome Biology at the University of Leicester whose work bridges fields including archaeology, history, and geography. Dr. King led the international research team’s discovery of the skeletal remains of King Richard III under a car park in Leicester, England more than 500 years after his death.  The research team included archeologists with expertise in historical ruins analysis to identify likely burial spots and bone experts to analyze the age, sex, and health of the remains and compare signs of battle injury with the historic record of his death. It also included geneticists to extract useable DNA from the available tissues and historians to conduct the genealogical analysis to identify surviving modern-day descendants to whom Richard’s DNA could be compared.  Dr. King’s confirmation of the remains of King Richard III closes what is probably the oldest forensic case to date. Her talk will narrate this process of discovery and the vast public interest that this discovery engendered.

Coevolution of Learning and Data-Acquisition Mechanisms: A Model for Cognitive Evolution | Arnon Lotem | November 15, 2017

Wednesday, November 15
PAIS 290
4:00 PM

Coevolution of Learning and Data-Acquisition Mechanisms: A Model for Cognitive Evolution

A fundamental and frequently overlooked aspect of animal learning is its reliance on compatibility between the learning rules used and the attentional and motivational mechanisms directing them to process the relevant data (called here data-acquisition mechanisms). We propose that this coordinated action, which may first appear fragile and error prone, is in fact extremely powerful, and critical for understanding cognitive evolution. Using basic examples from imprinting and associative learning, we argue that by coevolving to handle the natural distribution of data in the animal's environment, learning and data-acquisition mechanisms are tuned jointly so as to facilitate effective learning using relatively little memory and computation. We then suggest that this coevolutionary process offers a feasible path for the incremental evolution of complex cognitive systems, because it can greatly simplify learning. This is illustrated by considering how animals and humans can use these simple mechanisms to learn complex patterns and represent them in the brain.

The Transition to Foraging for Dense and Predictable Resources and Its Impact on the Evolution of Modern Humans | Curtis Marean | December 1, 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017
PAIS 290
3:00 PM

The Transition to Foraging for Dense and Predictable Resources and Its Impact on the Evolution of Modern Humans

Scientists have identified a series of milestones in the evolution of the human food quest that they anticipate had far-reaching impacts on biological, behavioral and cultural evolution: the inclusion of substantial portions of meat, the broad-spectrum revolution and the transition to food production.  The foraging shift to dense and predictable resources is another key milestone that had consequential impacts on the later part of human evolution. The theory of economic defendability predicts that this shift had an important consequence—elevated levels of intergroup territoriality and conflict. In this talk, I integrate this theory with a well-established general theory of hunter–gatherer adaptations and make predictions for the sequence of appearance of several evolved traits of modern humans. I review the distribution of dense and predictable resources in Africa and argue that they occur only in aquatic contexts (coasts, rivers and lakes). The paleoanthropological empirical record contains recurrent evidence for a shift to the exploitation of dense and predictable resources by 110 000 years ago, and the first known occurrence is in a marine coastal context in South Africa. Some theory predicts that this elevated conflict would have provided the conditions for selection for the hyperprosocial behaviors unique to modern humans.