Humans and Other Animals: Cultural Evolution and Social Learning



so I'm delighted to be chairing tonight's event which is entitled yes humans and other animals the tangled web of culture yes does anyone actually know what what that means because I I'm not sure I do but thankfully we have three very distinguished speakers tonight who I I think are going to help so Andy white and his professor of psychology at University of st. Andrews and he is going to help us navigate this territory by introducing chimpanzees to us and taking us into chimp culture the culture of our closest living relative and professor Ruth mace is an evolutionary anthropologist at UCL and she is going to take a look at human cultures and in particular explore the ways in which environment and genes may influence culture and the ways in which that is possible to detect and we have guy events who's a science journalist and broadcaster and author of this terrific book adventures in the Anthropocene and she is going to tell us about her travels around the world exploring the ways in which humans have influenced or are influencing planet Earth and the very ingenious ways in which ordinary people are coping and finding ways to navigate the difficult consequences of this human changed planet now over the last 50 years we've come an extrordinary long way in in all our attitudes towards animals have changed a huge amount and so that space that I was talking about between the animal kingdom and then humans has become blurred and is constantly changing and it's never very easy to study animals and particularly if you're trying to find out about how they're feeling about something all their emotions or their culture but with sensitivity and patience and some imagination it is possible to frame certain questions that allow us to get an insight into the culture of non-human animals now first speaker tonight is a renowned expert in this field and so I'm without further ado hand over to Andy white and round of applause please Thank You Henry and good evening yes my brief was to talk about the cultures of apes and other animals but we've each only got 15 or 20 minutes so I've decided really to focus on our closest living relative chimpanzees because I think they illustrate many of the ways in which we think we can talk about culture and animals and in fact in several ways really their culture is the most complex among non-human animals so I thought I should start off with a question which we all need to address what is culture well if you go out and buy a Sunday newspapers one in particular I think you'll get a whole section one of many which is called culture and what's that about well it that tends to be about the arts about the cinema about what we might call high culture ballet and opera and so on but when anthropologists I think like like Ruth mace here or psychologists like myself talk about culture we're meaning something much broader than that the definition I'm offering today I think it covers what we think of it as characteristics of human culture like this that Ruth's going to talk about more that vary around the globe so the ways in which we dress the kind of customs we indulge in like this procession here the kind of things we eat and the way we eat them the way we cook them and so on our languages and our material culture are tools and weapons and so on like the bow and arrow up there and of course all the the digital technology that surrounding us and operating in our culture right now so what ties those together I think is something like this that these are all the things that we learn from others we call this social learning learning from others but that endure for long enough to create socially transmitted traditions so these are behaviors that spread by some process of social learning from others they may spread across the population indeed across populations and then we start to call these traditions or perhaps multiple traditions we call those cultures so I hope Ruth would sign up to this definition we'll see this is one I going to use so I've Illustrated it so far with humans when we turn to chimpanzees well 15 years ago now I was privileged to be the first author of this paper which collated all we knew at that stage about chimpanzee behavior across Africa and it's an amazing fact to think that Henry just mentioned 50 a timeframe of 50 years and how much her notions of animals have changed in that time well just 50 years ago certainly 60 years ago we knew next and nothing still about our closest living relative and how those relative lived in the wild and that's a very short time since then when you think of casting that against the whole of human history or the indeed the millions of years in which the two species have been evolving together on the planet well that all began to change when Jane Goodall went to to Gombe and started studying chimpanzees they're Japanese soon followed so by the time we were putting this story together in 1999 we had a total across all these different sites about a hundred and fifty years of observations of chimpanzees and what had begun to emerge was that chimpanzees behave in different ways across Africa as of course do people though circumstantial evidence suggesting well this is because for the same reason really because these are traditions and cultures the way we approach this was to collect all the information from all the long-term study sites and the authors that I've put up here are the authors of the paper were all the leaders of these long term research study sites Jane Goodall and others what we did was a two-phase systematic study putting together all the information then we first of all asked each research group to suggest what they thought might be cultural variations putative cultures if you like behaviors that were very common at the site they worked and they'd heard well they don't happen elsewhere or the other way around you know that common elsewhere in 30 years of studying these chimpanzees I've never seen them and that gave us a list of 65 candidate behavior patterns that we thought might be cultural and then we gave that list with back to each of the research groups and asked them to code them for each of the longest term study sites the six longest term ones I'm summarizing here were these customary that's pretty much everybody did them at your site or at least what we called habitual done repeatedly by several chimpanzees with circumstantial evidence that these might therefore be socially learned and passed on or at the other end of the scale are they in fact absent and they're of course it's really critical to think well is that some with some obvious environmental explanation for that which wouldn't be very interesting or not so if we're looking at a behavior like you see at the top right there those are chimpanzees using large stones to crack nuts open which happens in West Africa when we find it doesn't happen in East Africa well if there aren't the nuts there or the raw materials well that's not very interesting but we find that in fact there are the materials elsewhere in Africa and no chimpanzee seems to have discovered it is just a behavior that is found across about 700 kilometres of Far West Africa so that allows us then to isolate from this 65 39 behaviors that met our criteria they were very common at one site customary or habitual and yet they were absent at at least one other site without any environmental or genetic explanation so far as we can see and this picture here shows six panels it's the same 39 possibilities there and they're lit up as it where they're colored if they're common at a local site so those patchwork quilts express the local array of traditions one important thing is that they cover the whole range of chimpanzee behavior really so things like food processing how you actually peel complicated foods and get into the middle all kinds of tool use for foraging for dealing with food but also for hygiene for comfort and so on and various aspects of social behavior even grooming techniques so if you're a chimpanzee in West Africa and you groom a nectar parasite off the the chimpanzee you're grooming how do you dispatch it you put it on your floor and you squash it and that's it but if you're in East Africa you'll probably take that parasite and you'll pick a leaf and you put it on the leaf and inspect it on the leaf and then you'll use the leaf to squash it so differences even at that level and other aspects of courtship gambits well as I say I don't have time to illustrate all of these I'm just going to have time to illustrate one I'm just going to pick out one or two really the first one is top left there it's called pestle pounding and it's only found in bhasu in Guinea and what happens here is the chimpanzee climbs into the top of the palm tree quite a tricky thing to do and then when it's there it picks up one of the large fronds that the last chimps have probably left and having got what it can from the growing point of the palm tree manually it then uses that tool to beat in to that and and create a kind of mush or soup that's what it's doing on the left here and then it reaches down and picks it out so here's a chimpanzee you see a better view here now extraordinary behavior standing bipedal a like this and with a lot of directed force beating into that central point and this is very strange behavior we don't see it elsewhere in Africa and yet here so everybody does it that's the local custom to get your food and that takes you through the dry season here's another behavior also seen here nut-cracking using wooden hammers oh the one on the left here is a stone hammer used for a very hard fruit and this illustrates how it's quite tricky and you shouldn't have to try it in a tree and in fact it takes several years to perfect youngsters will take up to eight nine or even ten years to really get this right you can't just smash a nut and knock it into smithereens because then you end up with a powder you've got to crack the shell and then be able to get the nut out now that is slightly more widespread across West Africa it happens that both those two places Basu and the Thai forest now they say it's spread about 700 kilometres but it stops at a large River cutting through West Africa it goes up to one side and then over the other side it's not happening all those scientists have been there and checked the raw materials are there the nuts are there I can track nuts no chimpanzee is thought of doing it apparently so this leads us to is a picture which I can summarize as illustrating multiple and very diverse traditions as said the whole range of chimpanzee behavior let's just put up that list to remind ourselves there but also a second conclusion if you look at these panels and think of them as long as a patchwork quilt you can probably see that each one is is is distinct it's unique what that means is that if I watch a chimpanzee for long enough and tick off sometimes just two or three behaviors I can tell you where this chimpanzee comes from on the basis of its cultural profile alone so that's a bit like with the human you know you see well I don't know if they're eating eating food with chopsticks they speak in a certain way dress in a certain way and so on well you can perhaps identify limit you know where they're likely to have come from because of that array of local traditions so for chimpanzees happy to you raise of traditions at least that's what we're concluding on the basis of this really observational circumstantial evidence that we can gather by watching Jim posies across Africa now scientists what we'd really do to like to do to kind of clinch this and really test this idea is to perhaps do an experiment why well because perhaps although we're saying let's take that example of pestle pounding we can't see any environmental or genetic explanation why it's happening in one place very commonly and not elsewhere that's just something about those palm trees we've not been able to detect doing an experiment is very scientifically a powerful way of proceeding so if we took a chimpanzee from there and as it were parachuted into East Africa and then asked well does the behavior spread and he did well then we'd know for sure but there's obviously ethical reasons why we can't do that in indeed practical reasons why it's very difficult to do some migration experiment like that so what we've done is a whole series of experiments with captive chimpanzees in large enclosures to deal with this question are these really socially learned traditions can chimpanzees sustain traditions by this process of social learning well here's how we we did this we took two groups of chimpanzees there are the circles here and we presented them both with the same kind of naturalistic problem like they get in the wild where they can't get a piece of food like this great let's look at the one on the right here there's this this great peer stuck behind a blockage and they can't get it out well they can with a stick tool we take one chimpanzee out for a little while and show that high-ranking adult female that you can use your stick to lift the blockage up out the way and then the grate will roll down and she'll get it so we teach her that way of doing it but there's a second way which is to open a little up a hatch here poke the stick in not the blockage back and keep the grape off the back and then it will roll down under the bottom pipe of the panpipes and the chimp as he gets it so we ended there with two experts who can solve this problem but in two very different ways and then we reunite that chimpanzee with the rest of her group and this is what we call an open diffusion experiment so we're asking well will others come and watch will they learn will the behavior spread differently or differentially in the two groups these two methods and what we found was the did but before I actually show you the results of that are going to having introduced that idea show you just one more experiment which takes this to a new level and as well check good chimpanzee behaviors actually spread by this process from group to group which is what it would have to have done if say that nut-cracking can spread across so much of West Africa so here again we have two ways of solving the same problem getting food out out of that box there by opening a hatch at the top and stabbing the stick in and pulling the food out or instead opening little lifts in lifting a little hatch at the sides sliding a different tool and pushing the food out of that tunnel and we introduce 10.1 there's Group B one just to one chimpanzees same idea as before and we introduced the other technique just to one chimpanzee at position one in Group B four and these three groups at the top can see each other through big windows at the side and the two the three at the bottom can also see their neighbors through big windows but each triplet can't see the other triplet so what happened well here's a graph illustrating what happened here's color-coded one chimpanzee doing one method that method there and here's color coding showing that one chimpanzee doing the other method the lift method so what happens as that might spread across the group yes these behaviors spread differently and that's already a showing that yes these chimpanzees can can transmit this behavior across the group like they did with the panpipes but you'll notice there's one chimp here who's the black sheep as it were– who realized well you can you could do this the other way once they've seen all the others doing it one way to get the idea we can solve this and they work it out the other way and that's this stabbing way which you might think if you know anything about chimpanzees it may be in more natural kind of thing for chimpanzees to do so by the time we've seen well what happens as chimpanzees across these three groups manage to solve this problem they'll all end up doing it that way but in fact that wasn't what's happened if we played the whole sequence and we find that what spread across this Triplette of our groups here it's that same behavior that we introduced right at the start that we seeded it's spread right across the three groups and in fact that's all that these are doing so they've even kind of risen Oh risen over you might say the little corruptions that happened along the way with some chimpanzees working out you could do it a different way there something strong enough about their cultural processes so there's the same information shown in a different way and I put that graph up just to show that we did it with other devices like that and we've got the same kind of pattern if you look at the blue compared to the green and in another place call the Yerkes Center we're doing it with several other devices and the second one down there called panpipes that's the experiment Illustrated earlier on so what have we got there we've got one chimpanzee who was trained to do the poke behavior that spread right across the whole group and here we introduce the different behavior lifts and that spread across that group with a few corruptions here again with the poking behave you'd be being perhaps the more Chimpy thing that that surface is anyway so the point of this is that here we're showing that for sure these chimpanzees are socially learning these behaviors they are traditions and they're spreading multiple traditions spreading across these groups which as it were is consistent with our interpretation of what's happening in Africa so that's the story about chimpanzee cultures per se and the question I'd like to just spend a few minutes finally talking about is the question well how is that culture transmitted how are these behaviors passed on well as we see there others come and watch very carefully what the experts doing if you watch youngsters they watch very carefully what adults do what are the experiments we did which is avoiding that problem of the ethical and practical problems of moving one chimpanzee from one part of Africa to another was to go to East Africa where there happens to be a community of chimpanzees on an island and these are chimpanzees who are as it were casualties of the bush meat trade they were orphaned and there end up in a refuge on an island in Lake Victoria because they don't know how to nut crack but we thought there it was a safe and ethical thing to do to get one chimpanzee nut cracking and then say well would the others learn from it and what we found was that they did rather show you rather than show you lots of graphs about that I'm just going to show you one video clip which illustrates I think something really important about the details of what happens here when this process is going on because well I tend to introduce this little interlude by talking about my father-in-law he used to watch boxing on the TV and he got really quite involved in it and so he'd be watching watching and then he'd start kind of doing this and sort of going with the flow with such a cultural species I think we just we just tend automatically to identify with others in that way and can't help out ourselves as it wearing as behavior kind of spills over and a little to the copy of what we're watching because we have this amazing imitative tendency and I think that's exactly what you're going to see here for just a few minutes so if we run this we'll see the one on the right who knows how to nut crack start to do it but watch the little guy on the left so I mean he's just really identifying with what's happening there and I can't help himself but but sort of start to mimic that I think that's illustrating quite important capacity in these chips a second experiment I'll talk about this is my last little bit is again with those chimpanzees actually on that in that sanctuary in Gambhir Island and now here chimpanzees and we did the same thing with children were often comparing the two species in that cultural capacities here we had a chimp as he was faced with this kind of problem it's a big what we called an artificial fruit it's got food in the middle of it the question is how do you get it out well you can use a stick tool again what the chimp seized top right there is a familiar caretaker come and take a stick tool get rid of some sort of Defense's on the top open a hole up and then stab that stick in several times bang bang bang like that take it out then bottom left there open up another door there up another hole and then poke the stick in and pull out some food and share it with the chimp chimpanzee see that several times bit like they would watching an adult using a tool in the wild and then it's their turn well what what would you do what we would predict you would do is go through that whole routine you don't quite understand it's in a Paik kind of artificial fruit thing you don't quite understand it works but you're seeing well that that all works so I'll do all that we predict you would run through all that we prickly the same thing for children of course but there's a second condition of our experiment that some chimpanzees and some children were in when the box was just the same except it was totally transparent now here when that tool goes in the top you can see that it just beats on an artificial panel here it can't actually be doing anything relevant to what later happens when the tool goes in here and pulls out the food so what we thought is if you're watching an intelligent imitator they'll miss that out if that's the condition you're in you see the transparent box whereas if you see their paint one you probably run through the whole lot and we were interested in the question of well we assume that we're the intelligent species that's what children will do then make that discrimination will the chimps or other chimps just kind of dumb a dude they just kind of mindlessly ape to the extent they ever do well so what we're predicting here is we give them three goes there's first three there and what we're predicting is they'll do the irrelevant action in the top okay but then as soon as they see the transparent one what's labeled the clear box there they'd switch to just doing the relevant one they'd miss out the irrelevant one so that's what we're predicting here's what we found with children this is that this is a good illustration this is science in action you make a prediction you collect the data the data throw your hypotheses straight out the window you were wrong the children copied everything including with the transparent box we were quite bold when we saw this you can it seems so obvious it's staring you in the face that you don't need to do all that stuff in the top but children it seems they can't help themselves they just copy the whole lot whereas the chimpanzees did what we predicted an intelligent copy oh we do for the first three they didn't copy as much as the children but they mostly copied the whole sequence with the paint box and then once they get the transparent one let's see well we probably don't need to do that I understand the causality here well enough to miss that out so you can start to ask well we began to ask yourself which is the intelligent speech is here but I think the answer is that no it does make sense actually it must make sense and perhaps the answer is basically we are such a cultural species that it's a good rule of thumb for children to simply copy almost willy-nilly in a kind of blanket fashion everything an intelligent adult is intentionally doing at least which is what they saw here and if experimenters sometimes play tricks on them as we were doing here in a sense well you can always correct that later on you live for several years and you've got time to correct things that you over copy other researchers have come on behind as cognitive developmentalists sand child development experts and they've started to call this over imitation and you can see in the sense in which is over imitation but perhaps it's a useful technique that our species has and chimpanzees avoid it so I think that's my last as it were proper slide just to remind you I asked what is culture here with my definition which I hope is going to be acceptable to the speakers who follow me and my answer to the question is well do other species have this at least if we look at chimpanzees I think there's a resounding yes to that question but of course there's a gulf chimpanzees don't have human culture they don't have all this they don't have meetings like this they're still running around in Africa with no clothes on and our speed is indeed is pretty much obliterating theirs is one of the sad result of this contrast between the cultural capacities of the two species here's some of the things I talked about just to remind you and with that I'm done I think we're gonna move straight on that's perfect introduction for Ruth mace to take us on and find out all about humans and human culture so moving swiftly on we shall go straight on to look at how human culture to start with might be a bit different from animal culture and in particular I'm going to look at the ecological basis of culture as well so can we kind of understand it in the same terms that we understand the evolution of Pat's animal behavior or is it different well so humans are an unusual species because we actually live absolutely everywhere in the world and there's no other species that does that apart from our parasites and our pets and all this sort of thing and it is our cultural capacity that's made us able to do this and as I already explained animals can do culture when you define it as socially transmitted behavior but humans do something really clever which is called cumulative cultural evolution so and what this actually means is that not only can we learn from others but we can sort of accumulate the knowledge and build on the shoulders of giants if you like so when I'm sitting here I don't need to know how this little gizmo works or anything like that because somebody else figured out all the millions of years of ancestors and the rest of it have come up with various sorts of behaviors and humans are beginning to the the chimps can learn things but they more or less have to go back to the beginning with each sort of new chimpanzee as it were and learn from scratch whereas I I don't have to do that you don't have to do that so we can actually accumulate knowledge over generations and that's extremely clever if you like way of doing culture so Anna gave you some examples of animal culture I'll just give you some slightly more from a possibly useful cultural traits here are some not very useful cultural traits these cabouchins spend a lot of time sitting around sticking their fingers in each other's eyes and there's lots of cultural variation and how you do that you feel a bit sorry for a species that invents a culture and wasted it on that perhaps my favorite are the dolphins I don't know if you watch spying the pardon on the BBC in this kind of thing but they are there they are I've got some really super almost human-like things so the his if dolphins find puffer fish they get very exciting cause if he harassed the puffer fish it releases toxins and the Dolphins harass the puffer fish and then they all sit around and puff in the toxin so and which sounds probably familiar or they wear they wear sponges on their noses and again culturally transmitted certain match lines we'll pick this up and others won't but dolphins nonetheless they're sort of stuck so there might sort of candidate for taking over the world except for the fact that you know they live in the sea they don't really have any arms or anything like that so there's not much they can do whereas humans do have this very clever trick whereby so here's you know someone invented rock art and you know we've built on from that to have text and writings someone invented how to make a stone tool and we've built on from that to make motorized vehicles or whatever and this is why we have basically spread all over the world one of the things you need to do that is a high population density so if you actually look at when something like rock art popped up in the archaeological record it coincides very it you know it's press in some places 100 but let's say 40,000 years ago and not in others and that matches pretty well with where human population density was high so this is why we think it's culturally transmitted because if you have sparse population density low population density you simply can't maintain these elaborate exotic traditions where we're learning from each other and if you want some evidence of that sort of working in the other direction so the Tasmanians which is an island south of Australia we know that when the Tasmanians arrived in Tasmania they had all the all the sorts of things that the mainland Aboriginal Australians hadn't I've listed some of them they're bone tools cold-weather gear fishing Spears all boo meringues lots of kind of quite familiar technology found by in Australian Aborigines but because they became isolated by being on this island when they were sort of encountered by seafaring I guess it was 17th century explorers as it were they found them living in a Stone Age culture where they'd basically lost all those things because they they just didn't have a large enough population to sustain it and if you if you want to test it experimentally in the lab it's also been done where if you give groups of people tasks which have to be transmitted culturally small groups of people can't do it they loot nearly as well as large groups of people so high population density is one of those things that sort of shows how important cultural transmission is in developing all these kind of rather exotic behaviors so actually humans have gone through a lot you know major major transitions which I would describe is essentially cultural in our social life so hunter-gatherers came up with tools arts expanded all over the world when we invented farming all sorts of think the population massively grew and we started having all this diversity and like our kinship systems our political systems all these kind of social arrangements all became extremely diverse all over the world and then since then we've had urbanization education and all sorts of sort of slightly weird things which are harder to explain in evolutionary terms like the demographic transition to low fertility and I don't have time at all to talk about any of these I'm just quickly going to give some examples about can we understand the sort of cultural diversity to some extent in an evolutionary sense as an adaptation to the environment in which we live so I'm going to start with some examples just sort of classics from anthropology to do with marriage and kinship systems and then I'm also going to talk not just about how ecology influences our culture but also how our own culture is influencing our genes so in other words genes and culture are Co evolving so gene-culture co-evolution and I'll just quickly give you some examples and we can maybe discuss more later on so marriage says I said we talked about marry systems so humans in some parts of the world there's monogamous couples other parts of the world a man might be allowed to marry several women and there's even a few parts of the world where several women might marry one man and it's been this graph actually relates that to sort of male labor and environment so let me just give you some examples so in Africa for example African pastoralists you keep big herds of livestock there polygyny is quite common these are three wives and a grandmother from one family of Ethiopian herders and the only way that can be sustained is in an environment where men don't really have to do too much work and the women are almost self-sufficient because they only have one man there between the three of them whereas if you look at something like the Arctic there aren't really any cultural rules forbidding polygyny but it's just impossible because it's it's so difficult to live there that one man the women in children often have to stay indoors throughout winter it's too cold to go out with a young baby and therefore the man has to supply most of the food and they just cannot they wouldn't be able to feed to family so ecological reasons you get monogamy and polyandry this is probably this is one of the rarest marriage system so that picture is of two brothers married to the same woman and if you it's found in era so this is actually pictures from Tibet where if you notice that little green patch that's the only farmable bit of land the rest of that River Valley is too steep to dry and so there's a severe severe shortage of land so there's just not the option so you in order to keep the farms together all the brothers have to marry the same woman and the only real alternative there is to possibly as we know Tibet is associated with these huge monasteries and that picture on the right there's the monastery at the top there all those other houses are where all the monks and are living so these are very large institutions something like one-child in seven is meant to go to the monastery so but you know maybe they're living in somewhere where they just really couldn't sustain high rates of marriage for everybody else so in fact the younger brothers don't get a very good look in really in these polyandrous marriages because they're often many many years younger than their elder brother's wife that turns out to be also their wife and if you actually inject new economies into their system they do leave it's not that they particularly want to be in this polyamorous marriage but they just the environment can't sustain anything else or who do you live with so some families you live with your male relatives yours or your husband's relatives some families some societies you live with your wife's relatives and these are called patrilineal and matrilineal households so what what much loonies always been thought of as a bit of a puzzle because men can't really pass wealth on to their sons they have to pass on to their sisters sons which everyone sort of thought it's a little bit odd and it is rare it's only about 17% of societies but enough pops up enough places around the world that it probably requires some kind of explanation and some of us have been using some statistical techniques to try and work out you know if you look at evolutionary change through time when do you find match linea when do you find patrilineal things and it we're using statistics because you can't really see those kind of social organization in the archaeological record so actually by looking in this case at language similarity languages as populations spread out their languages become slightly different so we can use data on words to make these phylogenetic trees which is what this picture is here and they we can use these to map historical migrations of people so this is a historical migration of Bantu going through Africa so all these languages are related we can see which ones are more related to others and we can use statistics that I obviously don't have time to explain in much detail now not only to to try and work out you know not just the tips of the trees but what what were most likely to be going on sort of in the tree so we can get a sort of little historical look at what's going on and we did that with some African data here I don't know if you can see it's basically the red dots are patrilineal cultures and the purple dots are matrilineal cultures and we've put them on both the tree and a map there and the bands who started off in West Africa and expanded through Africa and as they sort of basically as they moved in and out of the forest they sort of switched between matrilineal and patrilineal social structure and that's which occurred several times you can see and one of the explanations for that actually goes right down for the humble tet see fly in that in in much of southwestern Africa the tetsu fly prevents people keeping cattle if you look at weathers cattle and where there's naturally knee they don't really overlap and so we actually can show statistically if we map all the combinations of cattle naturally no cattle patrilineage is four different cases on to the tree and do some statistics on it we can actually look at estimated roots of cultural change in the past and we can actually show that when matrilineal societies acquire cattle it's not very long before they become patrilineal societies because patrilineal wealth is often associated with polygynous marriage as I said right at the beginning so we've got something ecological totally changing the work the sort of social structure of human society and something as sort of as I say unexpected as at Etsy fly influencing how you know our culture actually looks in this case I felt I'd also give some examples going the other way where cultures influencing our sort of genetic makeup and perhaps one of the most famous examples of that is lactose tolerance so most of us in Europe can drink milk without any digestive problems but actually most people in the rest of the world can't digest milk over the age of five because we never had any reason to but the only populations that can have a history of keeping cattle so that this cultural innovation of keeping cattle is actually changing our own genetic makeup so a few years ago the gene was actually identified this is a map of the gene with the boring name of – one 3.90 that actually gives you the ability to digest lactose as an adult which is very prevalent in Europe but not very prevalent in Africa and in fact if you look at populations in Africa that keep livestock and compare them with populations very nearby who don't keep livestock so in this graph the yellow bars are the ones that keep livestock and drink milk and the purple bars are the ones that don't and they just that they just don't have the ability to digest lactose so here's a cultural trait that came in probably no more than 6,000 years ago and in Africa probably only about 2,000 years ago so this is really fast evolution so it's gene-culture co-evolution changing our genes it's one of the fastest ones so here we are you know this is just a picture of showing sort of very recently in our evolutionary history did we start milking cows which is when we think this gene started to be selected for other examples cannibalism Papua New Guinea there's a habit of eating puttin possibly your enemies in mortuary feasts which gives you kuru which is a disease a bit like beer seeing cows and it puzzled epidemiologist because mainly women and children seem to be getting this disease not men but it turns out that the only the way the men didn't really like eating people they preferred to eat pigs but there's a shortage of pigs so they weren't and children had other people and ended up giving themselves this disease so when it was finally I mean and now if this graph actually just shows some of the area of parts of an area where this cannibalism was common and the pink shaded area shows where cannibalism is common and the red dots show individuals that have this gene variant so we've got cannibalism here selecting for a gene variant that protects you against caruso another cultural trait that's changing genetic makeup and this is just this is another example from China the gray bars are showing the spread of Agriculture which is agriculture is associated with drinking alcohol because once you keep grain it ferments and you start realizing that you can drink the products of it and the dots are showing alcohol dehydrogenase evolving there so these are really recent cultural adaptations long since we were hunter-gatherers which are influencing our genetic makeup so just think everything these are just ones we know about this and there's others and just going back to the Tibetans where I started so Tibetans live very very high highest long living population in the world you know long lived year round over 4000 meters which doesn't really happen anywhere else but Tibetans have got a gene that enables them to breathe much faster than you or I was it you know if you go out there and you try and run you'll just fall over because you'll you'll run out of oxygen and Tibetans just don't have that problem so you could almost and there's some argument that they've only been up there really quite recently so that's also a candidate for the fastest ever case of a genetic through a sort of cultural tradition of living up in the mountains so we've mainly talked about useful things I just want to draw to your attention the possibility that cultural transmission I think it's you know it's this powerful weapon that as I said as enabled us to take over the world and you know it it's it's so useful it you know it is kind of what's enabling us which there's no doubt what's going to be taught to learn more about to you know wipe out as it were most other species but there was also another literature that there's a quite a lot of aspects of behavior that don't seem to make too much sense in terms of natural selection that we think might be something to do with cultural transmission as well and I've just given a few examples here so religion well you might think it's not particular jackal behavior but actually from the point of view of natural selection it is probably being path of a strong cohesive group is probably quite good actually for your reproductive success so I don't see it as too much of an evolutionary puzzle even if it doesn't really sort of be very not a particularly logical thing to do contraception might be another example that's kind of the other way around it might be quite a logical thing to use because it makes your life easier you don't have to be having babies although now if you're worrying about all that and you can get on with all sorts of other things but it's probably not very good for your reproductive success at all so we're not really very sure about what's going on there and then you've got other things like alternative medicine which I would contest is both not logical and not good for your adductors success because it doesn't actually work and there have been some models which kind of show that the less well if you if you assume that we're copying others in terms of our medicinal choices there are some scenarios where alternative medicine can actually spread more the less well it works because if it doesn't work people carry on taking it for longer so they're there as a model in the population for everyone else to copy and therefore these traditions get spread around around so whilst most of my talk has been about culture being a sort of very useful way of adapting to the world around us I think we also to keep our mind open to the possibility that because the process of cultural evolution or transmission whatever you want to call it it's not exactly the same as the transmission of genes who know necessarily expect it to always take us to an end point we're not just useful behaviors but also perhaps some of these behaviors that are slightly more eccentric and harder to explain in evolutionary terms and on the basis of that I shall pass on to the next speaker okay great thank you very much Ruth that was marvelous and yes leading perfectly into guys talk guy will be telling about her adventures in the Anthropocene this term most of you I'm sure will know but is used by geologists to describe the times that we live in now which are so dominated by our influence of one species on the rest of the planet and Gaia describes it as well humanity has become a geophysical force on a par with the earth shattering asteroids and planet cloaking volcanoes that defined past eras and a couple of years ago guy a couple years ago go under took a huge journey around the world to go and explore some of the places that are being affected very much by us and the many ways in which we're influencing the planet and then the ways in which people are responding to those challenges going thanks Henry so I'll just talk a little bit about about what I mean by the Anthropocene and then I'll explain with examples of what I've seen so so so ever since humans first emerged onto the wild savanna we have been modifying our environment as roots that's explained burning our way through forests grasslands cutting necklaces of rice into mountains taming animals hunting many others to extinction digging rock mug to grow to grow magnificent towns even cities but the changes that humans have made in recent decades have been on such a scale that they have altered our world beyond anything that it has ever known in its four and a half billion year history our influence is no longer confined just to a local area just to a region even its global and so profound it's pushing the planet into a new age that geologists are calling the Anthropocene the age of humans millions of years from now a stripe in the accumulated layers of rock will show our human fingerprint just as dinosaur footprints reveal the age of the Jurassic or or the explosion of life that marked the Cambrian our influence will show up as changes in the chemistry of the oceans the loss of forests the growth of deserts damming of rivers retreat of glaciers in the fossil record we'll see evidence of a mass extinction the sixth perhaps mass extinction will see the abundance of domestic hurts the chemical fingerprint of artificial materials such as aluminium drinks cans plastic bags and and the footprint of projects huge projects like a single mine in the Canadian Northeast that every year moves more than twice as much sediment as all the rivers in the world combined so earth is now a human planet we decide whether a forest stands or is raised where the pandas survived will go extinct how and where a river flows even the temperature of the atmosphere we are now the most numerous species on earth and coming up behind us are the animals that we have created through breeding to feed and serve us four tenths of the planet's land surface is now used to grow our food three-quarters of the world's freshwater is controlled by us it's an extraordinary time in the in the tropics coral reefs are disappearing at the poles glaciers are melting the oceans are emptying of fish because of us islands are vanishing under rising seas in the Arctic new islands are appearing as the snow melts and they're revealed no part of this planet is untouched by human influence we have transcended natural cycles alter the physical chemical and biological processes of the planet humans have the power to heat the planet further or cool it right down we can eliminate species or engineer entirely new ones we've invented robots to be our slaves computers to extend our minds we have an ecosystem of networks with which to communicate we've shifted our own evolutionary pathway in some of the ways that Ruth has described but but but also with medical advances that now extend our lives and save those who would naturally die in infancy we've surmounted the limitations that restrict other species by creating artificial environments and external sources of energy a 72 year old man now has the same chance of dying as a 30 year old caveman with supernatural we can fly without wings dive without gills we can survive killer diseases be resuscitated after death we have even escaped our planet and visited our moon the realization that we wield such planetary power requires a quite extraordinary shift in perception fundamentally toppling the scientific cultural and religious philosophies that define our place in the world up until the Middle Ages man was considered the center of the universe then came Copernicus who put our planet in its place as just another one revolving around the Sun then by the 19th century Charles Darwin came along and said humans are just another species we're just a twig on the giant tree of life but now the paradigm has shifted again we're no longer just another species humans have become masters of our planet and integral to the destiny of life on Earth what about the impacts of our changed planet on us after all we've evolved and adapted to life in Holocene conditions new changes have occurred very rapidly in changing the earth we've been able to live longer and healthier and greater numbers than before however so now at least humans are still of nature we rely on the natural world for food water all our materials – we eat protein we're made of cells we rely on the planet to provide everything our growing population on the way we live in this new human world are making us more demanding than ever on the planet's resources and processes reducing its ability to meet our needs how will we deal with the consequences of the Anthropocene that we've created so we've always altered ecosystems to serve our needs and presumably we'll continue to do so we've improved the planet for our own survival in a number of ways not least that we've staved off indefinitely the next ice age but we've also made it considerably worse in many ways some of these negative consequences we can overcome through technological advances through adaptations migrations that sort of thing others we will need to reverse and try and get us back to Holocene conditions still others we're going to need to learn to live with and while science may be able to under to identify biophysical issues it cannot tell us how to react that is for society to decide humans are no longer just another animal we have specifically human rights and these are expected to be achieved through development including access to sanitation access to electricity even access to the Internet delivering social justice and protecting the environment are closely linked how poor people get rich will strongly shape the Anthropocene the enormous impacts that we're having on our living planet are a direct consequence of the immense social changes we're undergoing changes to how we live as a species now we support now a massive global population but we haven't simply multiplied the number of small hunter-gatherer communities more than half of the world's population now lives in cities which are artificial environments densely packed and that's as giant factories consuming the world's water energy protein mineral resources humanity operates on an industrial scale and has needs 18 terawatts of energy at any time nine trillion cubic meters of water every year humanity's become a superorganism the intelligence creativity and sociability of the super super organism is is down to cumulative culture it's the accumulation of all the brains and the past brains the legacy the cultural and intellectual legacy of those from the past the artificial minds of our technological creations the computers the online libraries Wikipedia humanity is a global network of civilization with a stream of knowledge already being channeled for our protection and the self-awareness that comes with recognizing our planetary power also demands we question our new role are we just another part of nature doing what nature always does reproducing to the limits of environmental capacity after which we'll suffer a population crash the famous bacterial experiment or are we the first species capable of self determination able to modulate on actual urges impacts in our environment such that we can maintain habitability on this planet into the future what of our relationship to the rest of the natural world should we treat it as every other species does is an exploitable resource to be plundered or does our new global power imbue us with a sense of responsibility over the natural world so a few years ago as Henry said I I set off I left London and went to explore the globe at the beginning of this new human age meeting the pioneers who are negotiating a development path through the complexity of our shared biosphere and I found remarkable people living in extraordinary times and as a species were incredibly diverse and the Anthropocene is affecting us all in different ways so here are the heads RB people are people living a hunter-gatherer community very much as we may have lived at the beginning of the Holocene it as a species so then nearby this is a toga family and this community is different from the HUD Xabi in obviously many ways but one of them is that they do farming and farming as Ruth has already said is is allows us to be settled so we it means we intensely use our environment it means that we have already introduced new bred species of plant grain that didn't exist naturally in the wild it made a big impact on the globe this is a container ship going through the Panama Canal and it's a reminder of our extraordinary power so the only other way to split two continents has been through tectonic movement and yet we've done that and it's quite interesting that it's a container ship because containers themselves the invention of containers allowed for the first time very cheap transportation globally of goods and that's one of the big Spurs over this great acceleration that's occurred in the last four sixty years another way we've altered the planet we are altering the planet is through extinction these are the two of the last remaining Asian lions of a species that used to extend from sri lanka up to turkey now it's restricted to a tiny weenie little natural pot National Park in India this is an African baby lion and I think this picture is symbolic actually of our relationship now with with wild animals with the Pleistocene environment that Lions trophy is is a Jeep numberplate and that's how we see wild animals now as in on a safari as as a as a show we we have a very different relationship generally to wild animals so one of the one of the pressures that we run during that we've always been under is freshwater this is in the top desert and this is traditionally how people have kept how people have stored and got access to fresh water there and now we've stepped it up a gear so this is canal which is shipping water to one of the driest regions on Earth to the thar desert these are Rajasthani women so so we have we've essentially moved a river by creating an artificial one and we are watering the desert and of course you can see that in lots of other places this is this is an example of how I think the Anthropocene is is going to accelerate the speed of the Anthropocene speed of the change in the next few decades it's going to accelerate because of the communications revolution which is which is taking off this is this is a Masai man with a smartphone I mean it's it's incredible it's completely transforming lives and here this is a very remote village in northern Turkana on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya by Sudan and those are solar panels tiny little solar panels on the roof of this straw heart and they are useful because they're powering the mobile phone which is which is great however one of the biggest challenges we face is food it's always been food and this is how a large proportion of the worth world still forms this is a working plow in India one of the solutions to the farming crisis is going backwards now instead of so over the last thousands of years we've we've modeled in the crops the grains that we've bred – just a few different varieties most of the world just now uses relatively few different varieties is that these are indigenous corn varieties and now there is this big move to to explore some of the indigenous varieties of crops that we have and see whether they're suitable for different environments this is a geneticist a plant geneticist working in northern Uganda and he's working with peanuts because they are they've got a very high protein content and they and they work really well in semi-arid conditions and it's it's a variety of tools like this of getting water to people through different ways of looking at different types of but this is Bangladesh this is people trying to grow crops on floating gardens it's a research facility but actually people that people are using this around the world so we are endlessly adaptable and we're going to need that this is the this is Tibet well it's it's Ladakh actually in I mean it's part on the borders of Tibet it's big Tibetan population and there's the monastery there and as Ruth already explained this is a it's a high-altitude desert they don't get enough water they've got very little land and now they have the added pressure of global warming which is melting the glaciers the few glazes that did provide water during irrigation time so this incredible guy that I met he's a local retired railway worker who's actually built created artificial glaciers in the shadows of the mountains to to provide irrigation water during the sowing season and this is his glacier once it's formed and this is the result of the glacier crops and it's what its stopping is this massive migration to Mumbai and to other big cities of the indigenous population and perhaps allowing their culture to survive a little bit longer they're Ladakhi culture there's a woman with her cattle yak mixture and this is the man himself very clever man with his crops and then equally desperate situation in the Peruvian Andes another high-altitude desert another global warming inflicted disaster no glaciers and these two alpaca farmers are painting their mountain white this is how much they've done so far that used to be a big glacier they're painting it hoping to bring back the river which fed the pasture that their alpaca lives on so they don't have to move and migrate to Lima on the outskirts of Lima this guy is trying to harvest fog water using these huge Nets and it's actually very successful it gets a lot of water off that and it's his planting trees which will hopefully eventually do the job of the nets naturally and that's how rainforests work so yeah are we going to look for completely different foods this is a Southeast Asia very common delicacy delicious crickets locusts deep-fried insect protein much much more efficient environmentally than cows link cattle very likely that's that's where we're going to look but food is not the only problem everything we use now in the developed world relies on minerals materials this is this is the appalling mind that this guy is working at this is a silver mine in potosi where zinc and other minerals come from but what's the future of this well Bolivia also has the world's biggest seller thought flat and that's a great resource for lithium so lithium's are useful for light batteries especially in electric cars so that's a different type of mining as you can see it's just on the surface being dried there no need to borrow so what we're seeing now is is options different ways of using the environment different changes that we can make but the biggest change that is happening across the globe and which will accelerate all these things so Routh's already talked about the importance of densely dense populations for accelerating cultural I don't know cultural growth or color cultural traditions so so if we if we want to come up with solutions faster perhaps this is a very hopeful thing by 2050 three-quarters of the world's population is going to live in cities but are they're going to live in a city like this is a Dhaka in Bangladesh it's a pretty horrible place actually because it's it's growing so fast this is a guy in another Bangladeshi town I'm showing in a slum showing how high up the water comes when it floods when because of sea level rise so we're at a transition we are urbanizing which which could be a solution to a lot of our problems but we're not doing it in a very well-planned way for for millions billions even of people this is a favela RIA Racine a favela one of the biggest favelas in Rio which has recently undergone quite a few really really good changes where where people's standard of living and their comfort of living has accelerated massively in just the last 10 years and it might not look like much it's very dense low low living not not not not the high-rise living that you see in parts of say Southeast Asia but actually this is I think one of the most hopeful signs of of our changing planet because because people are starting to reclaim their their dignity and their hope in life that's it that's that was my journey thank you we say you are um giving everything you've seen and your book we spoke about would you say you're optimistic for the future or not




Comments
  1. You probably need to split up the lectures. Because they are very different from each other. I loved the first lecture but learned nothing new from the two next ones.

  2. I have 28 dead people whispering to me the techniques they used to survive my current situation when they were alive, or else what they now know 'they should have done'. So I have learned to pay close attention to voices nobody else can hear. As soon as I lose my body, I plan to pestle pound all these spirits for refusing to tell me the next day's winning lottery ticket #s.

  3. Don't underrate what Ms. Vince (3rd speaker) has to offer. I research and teach this stuff, and her book is the most effective, balanced, original, readable treatment of the "Anthropocene" that I have read. It is really quite excellent: Adventures in the Anthropocene, by Gaia Vince.

  4. The correlation between population density and culture is very interesting in relation to our specie. We are everywhere on the planet and the internet is linking us together and shaping our culture like never before in history, and it's just the early beginning.
    Millions upon millions of brains are connect and exchange information everyday. We are truly living in the golden age of civilisation, and there's still so much potential. Let's just hope nuclear deterrence works in the long term.

  5. Like +crakedcookies I didn't find the third speaker very engaging, and I found most of her facts to range from wrong to vague. It shows in her slides too, no interesting experiments, no maps showing correlation, just a lot of opinions. Then it hit me in the face "Social Justice" 53:37. Okay then, forget about facts and science.

  6. Enjoyed the first two presenters, but the third speaker really didn't bring any value to the lecture at all. Her introduction was a bit too long and her fumble-y content didn't really bring anything new to the table – it was a bit like stating the obvious. I would have liked to hear a bit more about the future implications of culture, since ecology is not going to be the only influential factor with the rise in social media.

  7. Humans, animals and others. Others are much more interesting, than "do animals have culture". I'm about AI, not aliens..
    And when I was writing "do animals HAVE.." I've missed the button and typed GAVE, which is form of GIVE, and that last one, I think, it is a main sign of any real Culture – to give, spread, share. And we don't see it in animal's world. Though, some kind of information they spread, but strictly between its own species. Humans do the same. Hum…

  8. 49:06 To the last speaker: we are the most numerous mammal species on earth. We are far from the most numerous species on earth.

  9. A very interesting video. I really enjoyed the fisrt two presenters, but I guess I missed the point of the third one, there was nothing specific other than already known things (at least to me).
    However I was distracted all the time by the seven damaged pixels of the lefthand camera.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoLR2LzHO-M&feature=player_detailpage#t=356
    Is there by accident any connection to this?

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