International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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FRIDAY, JULY 10  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-M260
Individual papers
Human Nature: Language, Music, Technology, and Wittgenstein

Life and language through the lens of Wittgenstein

Juan Guevara-Aristizabal (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico)

Within the life sciences language has been studied by using two main approaches: the genetic-molecular and the psycho-social. The first one acquired a significant place after the discovery of gene FOXP3 and the myriad of studies that have shown its relation to human language development and other sort of behaviors in non-human animals that appear to be linked to conditions that would favor the rise of language. The second one, although with a longer history, has gained a prominent place in biology after the advent of the social understanding of life: the importance of sociality for the development of a great deal of animal species. Although the two seem to have different aims and methods, they both share a common presupposition: evolution, regardless of the specific evolutionary mechanism. This means that they both deal with a question concerning the origins of language. However, this question is biased by another presupposition: that language is a unique feature of humankind. My main objective is to look at the problem from a different perspective, using the late Wittgenstein’s thoughts on language and open the question on the possibility of language beyond the human (even beyond the animal). There are two concepts that I would particularly like to stress: language-games and forms of life. How these terms are intertwined in Wittgenstein’s philosophy and how we understand the game wherein language and life appear could lead us to open them up and face a different way of regarding language, even in an evolutionary context, that is not founded on the idea that the evolution of language has to necessarily culminate (or find its best exemplary) in us humans.

"Technologies of life": Darwin, biology, and the demographic transition

Giuliano Pancaldi (Università di Bologna, Italy)

This will be an exercise in the history of the life sciences in a long-term perspective. It will combine the history of science and technology with data from human population dynamics. I will examine briefly three episodes referring to the period from 1859 to the 1970s. The episodes, it will be claimed, suggest some little-explored connections among otherwise well-known trends in the history of the life sciences and the history of human populations. The first episode will focus on Charles Darwin, his views on the ‘technology of life’, and his attitudes towards birth control. The second, some fifty years later, will consider J. B. S. Haldane and his pamphlet 'Daedalus', which advocated the biologists’ control over human reproduction in an age marked by ambitious plans for political reform. Another half century later, the third episode will consider the social background of some of the biologists who were at the origin of recombinant DNA technologies. I will use the episodes to suggest that historians should try to address together a few issues that so far have been treated separately: the spread of a ‘technology of life’ approach in biology, secularization, fertility decline, and the expansion of the middle classes.

Music and human evolution: Philosophical aspects

Anton Killin (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

Music is a truly ancient aspect of human social life. The archaeological record boasts sophisticated Upper Palaeolithic musical technologies that betray even more ancient musical practices. Considering music's role in the context of human evolution raises a number of questions. Why did our ancestors spend time, energy and resources on music? Are music's origins intertwined with the evolution of language, or mother-infant communication, or group socio-psychological grooming, or sexual selection? Are there musical universals? Is music an adaptation? This paper will review philosophical implications of the (interdisciplinary) research on music, cognition, and human evolution. I will discuss methodological issues for the building of evolutionary models of music, critique the ever-increasing dispute over music's status as an adaptation or otherwise, and begin to integrate some recent scientific and theoretic work.