Inaugural Cultural Evolution Society Conference

Jena 2017
13-15 September

Plenary Speakers

Keynote speakers:

Christine A. Caldwell, Professor of Psychology at the University of Stirling (Scotland), is a pioneer in the field of experimental cultural evolution. A psychologist by training, Caldwell pursued an interdisciplinary PhD under the supervision of the primatologist Andrew Whiten. Her current work incorporates methods from comparative, cross-cultural, developmental, and cognitive psychology. She is best known for her laboratory simulations of cultural evolution, obtained by building transmission chains in which participants are asked to complete simple tasks, typically improving upon the techniques of previous participants. She has argued that such work can be used to shed light on the mechanisms underlying distinctively human cultural traditions. Her own work has led her to challenge the widely held view that high-fidelity action copying would be an indispensable pre-requisite for the cumulative evolution of technology.

Miriam N. Haidle is scientific coordinator of the research center „The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans“ (ROCEEH) of the Heidelberg Acacademy of Sciences and Humanities at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt and Tübingen University. A leading researcher in cognitive archeology, she studies the material culture of early hominins as a reflection of our species' cognitive development. Her contributions to this field include the idea of complementing the work-piece approach of chaînes opératoires traditionally used in archaeological descriptions of tool-use, with an activity-based approach represented in cognigrams that take into account attentional processes and effects of different agents. Cognigram-based comparisons of chimpanzee nut-crackers and Oldowan percussion tools reveal deep differences that fail to show in standard chaînes. She also explores the evolution of cultural performances and capacities characterised by three developmental dimensions (evolutionary-biological, historical-social, ontogenetic-individual) in interrelation with the specific material, social, and notional environment.

Cecilia M. Heyes, Senior Research Fellow in Theoretical Life Sciences at All Souls College, University of Oxford, is an experimental and theoretical psychologist. Heyes has had a distinguished impact on the field of social cognition with her work on imitation, which stresses the role of domain-general, associative mechanisms, rather than specific genetic adaptations. This work has led to fruitful and vigorous debates in the field, be it with evolutionary psychologists or with students of so-called "mirror" neurons. Recently, she has applied this point of view to other aspects of social cognition, including theory of mind. Her forthcoming book Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking argues that genetic evolution has merely tweaked human cognition; the big engines of human thought are products of cultural evolution.

Inaugural address:

Peter J. Richerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California (Davis) is one of the founders of the discipline of cultural evolution. His work, produced for the most part in collaboration with Robert Boyd (and synthesised for a broad audience in Not By Genes Alone, 2005), has proven foundational for researchers attempting to model large-scale cultural change and its consequences on biological evolution. An ecologist by training, Richerson soon turned to the study of human behavioral ecology, using culture as a key to behaviours that refuse to yield to straightforward sociobiological explanations. His contributions to the field of cultural evolution include the theory of cultural group selection, and a widely influential body of work investigating the cumulative growth of subsistence technologies.
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