Boyd: 'How culture transformed human evolution'
Biological anthropologist links culture with human behavior
Robert Boyd, co-author of the Staley Prize-winning book “Culture and the Evolutionary Process” with Peter J. Richerson, will discuss how culture transformed human evolution during a public lecture at 7 p.m., Sept. 21, at Arizona State University.
“Robert Boyd is perhaps the world’s leading thinker on the fascinating question: Where is human evolution heading? His work on the influence of culture on evolution has been truly transformative,” said Lawrence Krauss, director of the ASU Origins Project, which is co-sponsoring the event. “Boyd’s work has changed the way we think about our origins and what it means to be human.”
Boyd, a professor of anthropology at UCLA and co-director of the MacArthur Research Network on the Nature and Origin of Preferences, will address how human adaptability and propensity for folly stem from the fact that humans, unlike any other animal, acquire important components of their behavior by observing the behavior of others.
“Part of the fascination with origins is our desire to understand what it truly means to be human, to have a better understanding of ourselves, our place in the universe, and our own future,” said Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at ASU. “Exploring the factors that are governing human evolution is a central piece of solving the puzzle that is us, and in so doing, will help us be better positioned to face the challenges of the future.”
“Unlike other organisms, humans acquire a rich body of information from others by teaching, imitation, and other forms of social learning, and this culturally transmitted information strongly influences human behavior,” wrote Boyd. “Culture is an essential part of the human adaptation, and as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion or thick enamel on our molars.”
Boyd’s research, much of which is done in collaboration with Richerson, a Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Davis, is focused on the evolutionary psychology of the mechanisms that give rise to and influence human culture, and how these mechanisms interact with population dynamic processes to shape human cultural variation.
“As humans, it is natural to be fascinated with our own origins and evolution,” Krauss said. “We are a unique species and we are just beginning to understand precisely those things that make our species such an outlier on planet Earth.
“The fact that humans possess cultural legacies and that these legacies have dramatically affected and are continuing to dramatically affect human evolution, is profoundly important and exciting,” Krauss said. “Boyd dispels the ‘nature versus nurture’ dichotomy that often frames discussions of human development. His work focuses on placing human culture alongside genetics as fundamental tools for understanding the evolutionary process.”
In addition to the book “Culture and the Evolutionary Process,” Boyd has co-authored with Richerson “Not by Genes Alone” and “The Origins and Evolution of Cultures.”
Boyd, who has a doctorate in ecology from the University of California, Davis, also co-authored “How Humans Evolved” with Joan B. Silk.
He is an associate editor for Evolution and Human Behavior and the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.
The Sept. 21 lecture is free and open to the public. It will be held in Design North (CDN), Room 60, on ASU’s Tempe campus. Free parking is available in Lot 16. A map is online at http://iho.asu.edu/Boydlecture and additional information is available at 480-965-0053. Other co-sponsors of the event include the Institute of Human Origins and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.