LIFE

AMAZING BABIES

Topic: 

  • LIFE
http://vimeo.com/80904630

"We've known for a long time that human children are the best learning machines in the universe. But it has always been like the mystery of the humming birds. We know that they fly, but we don't know how they can possibly do it. We could say that babies learn, but we didn't know how."

AMAZING BABIES

[8.11.09]

We've known for a long time that human children are the best learning machines in the universe. But it has always been like the mystery of the humming birds. We know that they fly, but we don't know how they can possibly do it. We could say that babies learn, but we didn't know how.

AMAZING BABIES 
A Talk with Alison Gopnik

ALISON GOPNIK, a psychologist at UC-Berkeley, is coauthor of The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn, and author ofThe Philosophical Baby

Alison Gopnik's Edge Bio Page

THE EVOLUTION OF COOKING

Topic: 

  • LIFE
http://vimeo.com/80905678

"One of the great thrusts of behavioral biology for the last three or four decades has been that if you change the conditions that an animal is in, then you change the kind of behavior that is elicited. What the genetic control of behavior means is not that instincts inevitably pop out regardless of circumstances; instead, it is that we are created with a series of emotions that are appropriate for a range of circumstances.

THE EVOLUTION OF COOKING

[8.8.09]

[ED. NOTE: The following interview with Harvard biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham was originally published eight years ago on Edge, on February 28, 2001. Given the media interest attending the publication of Wrangham's related book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, we are bringing the piece back for an encore.]

One of the great thrusts of behavioral biology for the last three or four decades has been that if you change the conditions that an animal is in, then you change the kind of behavior that is elicited. What the genetic control of behavior means is not that instincts inevitably pop out regardless of circumstances; instead, it is that we are created with a series of emotions that are appropriate for a range of circumstances. The particular set of emotions that pop out will vary within species, but they will also vary with context, and once you know them better, then you can arrange the context.... It's much better to anticipate these things, recognize the problem, and design in advance to protect.

Introduction

 

According to Harvard biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham, almost two million years ago humans emerged from a stock of pre-human apes. Remarkably, our species is still evolving today, faster than ever. "Why we evolved then, and why we are still changing, are problems that shape our souls," he says.

Wrangham believes that humanity was launched by an ape learning to cook. In a burst of evolution around two million years ago, our species developed the family relations that make us such a peculiar kind of animal. Cooking made us women, men and lovers.

"We behave like our two closest relatives," Wrangham says. "Chimpanzees and bonobos, because in spite of first appearances, we face somewhat similar kinds of problems to each of those species. Cooking makes our behavior partly chimpanzee-like because it intensifies a chimpanzee-like division of labor. Self-domestication, on the other hand, makes us bonobo-like by selecting for a youthful psyche. In both cases human behavior echoes the biology of our cousins, though never exactly copying it."

One of Wrangham's central ideas is that we should cherish the parallels between humans and other great apes, because they help us to understand our own behavior. "For all our self consciousness, we humans continue to follow biological rules. Life is easier if we understand those rules. Recognition of the deep contradictions in humanity binds us to our past, and also lights our future."

Other themes to his thinking: "We still have much to learn; We should not be afraid of biology; Dichotomous thinking (e.g. biology vs. culture; women vs. men) is almost always unhelpful "Evolutionary anthropology has excessively neglected females."

JB

RICHARD WRANGHAM is a professor of biology and anthropology at Harvard University who studies chimpanzees, and their behavior, in Uganda. His main interest is in the question of human evolution from a behavioral perspective. He is the author, with Dale Peterson, of Demonic Males: Apes, and the Origins Of Human Violence, and Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.

Richard Wrangham's Edge Bio Page

OUT OF OUR MINDS: HOW DID HUMANS COME DOWN FROM THE TREES AND WHY DID NO ONE FOLLOW?

[7.16.09]

In the 6 million years since hominids split from the evolutionary ancestor we share with chimpanzees and bonobos, something happened to our brains that allowed us to become master cooperators, accumulate knowledge at a rapid rate, and manipulate tools to colonize almost every corner of the planet.

VANESSA WOODS, author of It's Every Monkey for Themselves, is an award-winning journalist who has a double degree in biology and English from the University of New South Wales. She is a researcher with the Hominoid Psychology Research Group and studies the psychology of bonobos and chimpanzees in Africa. 

Vanessa Woods's Edge Bio Page

BRIAN HARE is an anthropologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy at Duke University. His research centers on human cognitive evolution, and his experience in the field includes work in Siberia, the jungle of Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Brian Hare's Edge Bio Page


From WHAT'S NEXT?
Dispatches on the Future of Science
Edited By Max Brockman
 

MAPPING THE NEANDERTHAL GENOME

Topic: 

  • LIFE
http://vimeo.com/80906126

"When I started out in '84/'85, intent on studying the genomes of ancient civilizations, I was, as is often the case in this kind of situation, driven by delusions of grandeur. I thought that I would be able to easily study the ancient genomes. I dreamt of addressing questions in Egyptology. For example, how do historico-political events that we read about impact the population? When Alexander the Great comes to Egypt, what is the influence on the population? Is it just a political change? The Arab Conquest: does that mean that a large part of the population is replaced?

MAPPING THE NEANDERTHAL GENOME

[7.4.09]

 

When I started out in '84/'85, intent on studying the genomes of ancient civilizations, I was, as is often the case in this kind of situation, driven by delusions of grandeur. I thought that I would be able to easily study the ancient genomes. I dreamt of addressing questions in Egyptology. For example, how do historico-political events that we read about impact the population? When Alexander the Great comes to Egypt, what is the influence on the population? Is it just a political change? The Arab Conquest: does that mean that a large part of the population is replaced? Or is it mainly a cultural change? There's no way we can answer this question from historical records. But my dream was to address questions like this. Then, after some initial success, I realized the real limitations on what I wanted to do.

SVANTE PÄÄBO, the founder of the field of ancient DNA, is Director, Department of Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig. In 2007 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Svante Pääbo's Edge Bio Page


HOW TO PREVENT A PANDEMIC

[4.30.09]

My organization and its collaborators have recently set up virus monitoring stations in China, Laos, Madagascar, Malaysia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet this is just a beginning. To establish a worldwide safety net, we would need to monitor thousands of people exposed to animals in dozens of sites around the world — not only hunters but also people working on farms and in animal markets. It is important that the American government make pandemic prevention a priority and devote more resources to expanding disease surveillance in people and in wild and domestic animal populations throughout the world.

NATHAN WOLFE is the Lorry Lokey Visiting Professor of Human Biology at Stanford University and directs the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. His research combines methods from molecular virology, ecology, evolutionary biology, and anthropology to study the biology of viral emergence. Nathan Wolfe's Edge Bio Page

WAITING FOR "THE FINAL PLAGUE"

[1.30.09]

 

[ED. NOTE: In January 2009, I sat down in Los Angeles with virologist Nathan Wolfe for a wide-ranging discussion on his studies concerning the biology of viral emergence. Within a few months, the world was in a panic about the H1N1 swine flu epidemic that lasted most of 2009. Several months later in "How to Prevent a Pandemic," he wrote:

"The swine flu outbreak seems to have emerged without warning. Within a few days of being noticed, the flu had already spread to the point where containment was not possible. Yet the virus behind it had to have existed for some time before it was discovered. Couldn’t we have detected it and acted sooner, before it spread so widely? The answer is likely yes—if we had been paying closer attention to the human-animal interactions that enable new viruses to emerge.

"While much remains unknown about how pandemics are born, we are familiar with the kinds of microbes—like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), influenza and HIV—that present a risk of widespread disease. We know that they usually emerge from animals and most often in specific locations around the world, places like the Congo Basin and Southeast Asia.

"By monitoring people who are exposed to animals in such viral hotspots, we can capture viruses at the very moment they enter human populations, and thus develop the ability to predict and perhaps even prevent pandemics." 

Unfortunately, that eleven-year-old conversation, reprised below, is evermore relevant today. —JB]

NATHAN WOLFE is the Lorry Lokey Visiting Professor of Human Biology at Stanford University and directs the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. His research combines methods from molecular virology, ecology, evolutionary biology, and anthropology to study the biology of viral emergence. Nathan Wolfe's Edge Bio Page.


WAITING FOR "THE  FINAL PLAGUE"

In a general sense what I'm interested in is very much a biological universe parallel to our own, which is the universe comprised of microorganisms. Of particular interest to me are viruses, but also bacteria—fascinating organisms—and a range of parasites.

These exist in the same moment in history that we exist, in the same space that we occupy, but inhabit a very different world. Yet, they respond to many of the exact same pressures we do, but in a much shorter time span. Of course, they are subject to natural selection. They are incredibly important to our planet, to us as a species, and the reality is that we understand very little about them. We are actually in a very interesting space with respect to the technologies that we have now, and these are some of the things that have come about through molecular biology.

CHANGING LIFESTYLE CHANGES GENE EXPRESSION

Topic: 

  • LIFE
http://vimeo.com/80904248

"These findings may capture people's imagination—so often, people think there is not much they can do, what I call genetic nihilism. But even if your mother and your father and your sister and brother and aunts and uncles all died from heart disease, it doesn't mean that you need to. It just means that you are more likely to be genetically predisposed. If you are willing to make big enough changes, there is no reason you need ever develop heart disease, except in relatively rare cases."

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