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On Human Nature

By: , Posted on: April 11, 2017

on human nature

In the ’80s, a long and fruitful collaboration dealing with the evolution of pathogenic agents and its medical consequences began. Biologists, but with very different backgrounds (MT MD, biomedical researcher interested in evolution, FJA an evolutionist and philosopher of biology), both Dr. Tibayrenc and Dr. Ayala are deeply interested in the human sciences.  The basic notion of On Human Nature is that biological reductionism, although apt to shed light on certain features of human nature, is a dead end if one wants to achieve an adequate view of the subject.

It is said that, according to the late Nobel Prize Jacques Monod (author of the hallmark book “Chance and Necessity”), exploring human nature should be the ultimate goal of science. However, embracing the whole of this immense topic is a challenge. The risk is high to appear pretentious. The recipe used in this book is to get diversified contributions from “hard” and “soft” sciences, with much intentional overlap and redundancy among chapters. The rule was that authors were free to express their own view of their topic, with minimal interference from the editors. Clashing opinions, between authors from different chapters were welcome. Science is debate.

The sample chapter selected by the editors (see below) deals with the birth of human technology and therefore focuses on the very question: “what is a human”? The chapter contains many perspectives dealing with this question, related to biology as well as to the human sciences. Among others: the difference between simple use of tools (chimpanzees and even some birds are able to use tools) and making tools; which hominin species developed the first human technology? And, by the way, how are hominin “species” defined? When did religious and abstract thinking first appear? With Homo erectus? Neandertal? Anatomically modern humans? Why is it that there is a clear difference between west and east (the so-called “Movius line”) in the development of Paleolithic industries?

In the coming years, many of the questions raised will be revolutionized, not only by the exploration of new archeological sites (consider the recent discovery of the Chauvet cave in France and of Homo floresiensis, the “hobbit”, in Indonesia), but also by the impressive advances of biology. We are now able to sequence entire Neandertal genomes, and to compare the genetic make-up of our ancestors with that of present human populations by the survey of these populations through millions of genetic markers.

Click below to download this chapter or access the entire book on ScienceDirect:

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About the Authors

michel tibayrencMichel Tibayrenc, MD, PhD, is a director of research emeritus at the French Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). The IRD is the French governmental organization devoted to scientific cooperation and technology transfer with Southern countries. This gave Michel the opportunity of long-term stays in many different countries (Algeria, French Guiana, Bolivia, USA, Thailand; a total of 17 years outside continental France), allowing close contact with different cultures (fluent in English, Spanish, Thailandese, married to a Thai woman). Michel is the author of more than 200 international publications.

He is the founder and chairman of the MEEGID congresses (Molecular Epidemiology and Evolutionary Genetics of Infectious Diseases), the founder and editor-in-chief of the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution (Elsevier), and the founder and scientific advisor of the Bolivian Society of Human Genetics with his collaborator Dr Jenny Telleria.

Dr. Francisco AyalaFrancisco J. Ayala, Ph.D. is University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Ayala is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and of numerous academies of science, medicine, pharmacy, philosophy and the humanities throughout the world.

He is a recipient of the 2001 National Medal of Science, and the 2010 Templeton Prize for “exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” He has received 25 honorary degrees from universities in ten countries. Dr. Ayala is the author of more than eleven hundred publications, including 60 books, dedicated to genetics, evolution, and the philosophy of biology. He also has written several books and numerous articles about the intersection of science and religion, including Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion (Joseph Henry Press, 2007), Am I a Monkey? (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), The Big Questions. Evolution (Quercus, 2012), and Evolution, Explanation, Ethics, and Aesthetics (Academic Press, 2016). He teaches classes in evolution, genetics and the philosophy of biology, which are also the subjects of his research.

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