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Major Transitions in Evolution: When’s the Next One?

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Two evolutionary biologists, John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary, identified eight major evolutionary transitions in the way information is stored and transmitted since life on Earth began, nearly 4 billion years ago. From the common features of these transitions, the last of which was the evolution of human society and language, they argue that two human inventions rank as major transitions too. Writing, invented five thousand years ago, brought about large scale human societies. Computer technology is driving the current transition and the changes that it is bringing are every bit as transformative as the previous ones. Their work raises a number of questions. First, does the Major Transitions framework stand up after 20 years of further research? Second, if so, can we test the applicability of the common features of the transitions to the invention of writing and its impact on human societies? Third, is it possible to use the transition features to start to make some predictions about the impact that computer technology may now be having on human society, culture and cognition? If these questions receive positive answers, the transition features, derived from evolutionary biology, could begin to make sense of the political upheavals of recent times, but mre importantly, could act as a guide to the changes in human society and culture we can expect over the decades to come.

This talk is part of the Biological Anthropology Seminar Series series.

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