Stony Brook University                             Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology

Professor Paul M. Bingham / Professor Joanne Souza
























Why can humans walk on the moon, compose symphonies, invent literature, use calculus
while our closest living relatives, chimps, can barely count to ten?
Also see

The Biology of Being Human will explore a powerful new theory of the origin of human uniqueness and the evidence supporting this theory. The course will also engage students in the process of science – the ways we define theories, collect evidence and use that evidence to test theories.

Students will be asked to fully understand the claims of the specific theory and the evidence presented. You will be asked to reinterpret some insights and evidence you have learned previously from other perspectives and in other courses. This exploration and reinterpretation will enrich and expand your understanding of human origins, properties and history while enhancing your understanding of how science works.

The Biology of Being Human surveys all of human evolution, behavior and history. By investigating all the elements of the human story through the framework of a ‘parsimonious’ theory (a theory that is both simple and powerful), the course reveals points of the long-sought-after unity among the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. Exploring the broad scope of this theory will entail a tour of diverse elements of the entire knowledge enterprise - from physics and molecular biology to psychology, archaeology, hominid paleontology, history, economics, religious studies, political science and more.

Such an ambitious tour of the knowledge enterprise becomes possible because of the simplification provided by strong theory. As the global academic enterprise continues to grow and evolve, having an aggressive exposure to authentic interdisciplinary investigation will serve every student well.

The overall format of the course is to explore biological theories of human origins and human uniqueness. We will ask whether each of these theories is a viable, biologically-based hypothesis that can credibly explain how humans came to be so different than all other animals. We will ask whether we can “explain why humans walk on the moon, compose symphonies, invent literature and the calculus while our closest living relatives, chimps, can barely count to 10.”

We will argue that some biological theories of human uniqueness are, in fact, credible. Such theories give us deep new insight into our behavior and our history.

In this context, we explore topics as diverse as the evolution of language, human cognitive virtuosity, uniquely human patterns of sexual and child-rearing behavior and the evolution of the uniquely human ethical sense. Moreover, we explore the two million years of human history as empirical evidence against which we can test biological theories of human social behavior.

The course will provide a much deeper insight into the ethical and existential questions that confront all people as members of an increasingly pan-global human society.

As the course explores theories of human uniqueness by testing them against the vast body of empirical evidence from the study of human evolution, behavior, and history, the student repeatedly is exposed to (and asked to use) the fundamental scientific method—how it works as an intellectual discipline, what its specific tactics and strategies are, and how to evaluate its outcomes.

© P.M. Bingham & J. Souza, 2008
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