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KLI Brown Bag
Reaching Beyond the Athena-Like Accounts of Human Evolution
Albert F. H. NACCACHE (Beirut, Lebanon)
2005-09-29 13:15 - 2005-09-29 13:15
KLI for Evolution and Cognition Research, Altenberg, Austria
Organized by KLI

Topic description:
The study of human evolution is saddled with a heavy heritage. “Darwinian Evolution” might grudgingly be accepted as having somehow produced humans, but anthropology and the social sciences still operate under the assumption that culture and evolution are antagonistic realms, that evolution is turned off when human culture appears, and that the analytical tools of evolution (biology, sciences) are incompatible with those of history (humanities). This situation is epitomized in the “sudden and recent origin” paradigm of human evolution, and its corollary, the conception that “modern human behavior” sprung to life “Athena-like,” flashing into existence fully fledged with the sudden apparition of Homo sapiens sapiens some 40,000 years ago. During the last decade I have been developing the “framework of Modes of Evolution,” an analytical tool aimed at integrating human history within natural history. This framework is epistemologically anchored on the two foundational concepts that it is life cycles — not organisms — that evolve, and that there are different kinds of (Darwinian) evolution. It provides a perspective linking Precambrian bacteria to Holocene human societies, and this by identifying six hierarchically nested additions, each representing a qualitative change in the life cycle setup of the species possessing it, and each correlating with the emergence and establishment of qualitatively new mechanisms of parent-offspring interactions. Looking at life through the prism of seven hierarchically nested Darwinian modes of evolution, rather than through the lens of one general-purpose mechanism, allows us to classify in a systematic, coherent and cohesive way the myriad factors at play in the reproduction of the life cycles of the organisms with progressively more extended phenotypes that make up the human lineage. Lately, I have been trying to implement this framework into a model of the emergence and accretion of the linguistic part of the human communication system, or human language, from the stage of our last common ancestor with the chimpanzees till today. Though not yet published, this model has been well received at conferences and symposia. In this talk I will highlight this model and some of its results, because it does give a fair idea of the directions in which might develop a fuller implementation of the framework of Modes of Evolution, one intended to model the emergence and accretion of not only language but of the whole human cultural package.


Biographical note:
Albert Naccache graduated in 1969 from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. He completed a Master’s degree in Neurophysiology at the American University of Beirut in 1972, enjoying 3 years of tutoring by J. Burchard, a student of K. Lorenz. In 1985, he completed his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley (dissertation title: “The Representation of the Long-time-span Structures of Human History: The case of the Mashriq).” Since 1986 he has been teaching at the Lebanese University, Archaeology Department, were he became Full Professor in 1994. There he developed a basic curriculum for teaching in Arabic the Ancient Semitic languages. Between 1992 and '96 he championed the preservation of Beirut’s archaeological site. During the last decade he has focused his efforts in pursuit of his life-dream of finding ways of integrating human history within natural history. He has been invited to teach graduate courses at the AUB, Wesleyan University, and Université Lyon Lumière.