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Renowned primatologist to speak at ASU

April 07, 2009

“Each year 1.6 billion passengers fly to destinations around the world…what if I was traveling with a planeload of chimpanzees? Anyone of us would be lucky to disembark with all 10 fingers and toes attached…” starts the newest book by Sarah Hrdy, author and visitor to Arizona State University.

Hrdy comes to ASU as part of Darwinfest’s Darwin Distinguished Lecture Series on April 30, at 6 p.m., in room 170 of Coor Hall on ASU’s Tempe campus, with a book signing to follow.

Just as Darwin’s scientific pursuits revolutionized the perception of humans and animals, through the lens of natural selection and evolution, so has Hrdy’s novel perspective shifted understanding about motherhood and forged new insight into the evolutionary origins of mutual understanding that underpin all human relationships – on an airplane and off.

Hrdy, a member of the California Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as an esteemed anthropologist and professor emerita of the University of California-Davis, comes to ASU to speak about “Darwin and the Ascent of Man: Why humans are such hypersocial apes?” and conduct her first North American book signing of “Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding.”

How did human societies evolve? Intriguingly, Hrdy argues that our origins were due in no small measure to the transformation that shared care, starting with infants, wrought in the evolution of the emotional landscapes of the human condition in what she says “cognition-oriented psychologists refer to as a ‘theory of the mind.’” The capacity for cooperation put “in motion by human’s peculiarly empathic aptitudes for theorizing about the mental states and intention of other people,” Hrdy argues, set our ancestors apart from other primates; giving "the first push on the path toward becoming emotionally modern human beings.”

Hrdy is the author of four books, including “The Langurs of Abu: Female and Male Strategies of Reproduction,” “The Woman that Never Evolved,” selected by the New York Times as one of the Notable Books of the Year, and “Mother Nature: A history of mothers, infants and natural selection,” which won the Howells Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Biological Anthropology and was chosen by both Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 1999. She also is co-editor of “Infanticide: Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives,” and “Attachment and Bonding: A new Synthesis.

The ASU Darwinfest talk and book signing is free and open to the public, on a first-come, first-serve basis. Books can be purchased at a 20 percent discount at the event or reserved in advance by contacting the ASU Bookstore at (480) 965-4165. For more information about Hrdy or to access audio recordings of previous Darwinfest speakers, visit the Web site or contact Margaret Coulombe at or by calling (480)727-8934.