MBB Distinguished Lecture Series w/ John Tooby & Leda Cosmides


Wednesday, November 8, 2017, 5:00pm


Austin Hall 111 (Harvard Law School campus)

John Tooby
Distinguished Professor of Anthropology
Co-Director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology
University of California, Santa Barbara

Reception at 4:30; talk at 5:00pm, followed by commentary. See MBB website for more details.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the social and behavioral sciences made a foundational error that severely crippled their development ever since: We embraced a blank slate model of the human mind as the moralized centerpiece of our consensus social theory. We used this model as the rationale for institutionally separating the social sciences from the natural sciences, and treating biology as a sinister contaminant that needed to be excluded from the study of human mental content and social phenomena. In the last few decades, however, large bodies of data from neuroscience, psychology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and the developmental sciences have decisively falsified the blank slate viewpoint, and the theoretical superstructure built on it. Instead, starting from first principles in physics, information theory, and replicator dynamics, one can derive an alternative paradigm for the study of mind, brain, and behavior which has a robust, non-optional, predominantly deductive theoretical core. Over evolutionary time, recurrent adaptive problems in behavior regulation selected for neural programs whose computational architectures are specialized to solve them. Human nature is the species-typical set of these evolved programs. Insights into the structure of ancestral adaptive problems illuminate the likely design features of functional programs that evolved to solve them, supercharging their empirical mapping. Moreover, the functional circuit logics of our evolved programs even provide the building blocks out of which social interactions and cultural phenomena are built, provoking a reformulation of the foundations of the social sciences, including the recognition that the traditional conception of culture as an independent process of intergenerational transmission as inadequate and incomplete. Using kinship, anger, and shame as case studies, I will outline how one can start with physics and replicator dynamics, and proceed, step by logical step, to resulting models of the cognitive, emotional, and motivational programs involved, and finally to how the architectures of these programs predict and explain associated patterns of cross-cultural variation.