Leading into the 2009 celebration of Darwin's birth and the separate anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, Stanford University held, in the final months of 2008, a 10 week lecture course on Darwin and his legacy.
These lectures, given by distinguished and notable experts in their respective fields, have now been uploaded to youtube, including the discussion panels that follow each lecture and the highly informative Q&A sessions.
It is no exaggeration to say this is a phenomenal opportunity to have access to instructive material from leading thinkers on evolution and the impact of evolutionary thought on a multitude of disciplines.
Now, a word of caution: each file, including the lecture, discussion and Q&A is up to 2 hours long. So set some time aside to give these videos the attention they deserve and enjoy them because they really are wonderful and absolutely worth the time spent to listen closely
On a personal note, I've been listening to them at night before bed and I've just completed Dan Dennet's quiet amazing lecture drawing out the links in philosophical discourse between the "strange inversion" of evolution and comparing this to similar events in computer technology and the parallels that are to be found between this and evolution in nature.
So I confess, I have not watched these all before-hand as I type this, but quite honestly if the next six are even half as good as the first four (especially Eugenie Scott's perfect explication of the three domains in the Q&A following her lecture) I shall be extremely pleased. And it is my simple pleasure to upload these to the Origins group so that you can share in this, and I hope that you can derive as much enjoyment and insight from it as I feel I have already so far.
Lecture 1: "Darwin's Own Evolution" with Robert Siegel and "Darwin's Data" with William Durham
Lecture 2: "Evolution vs. Creationism" with Eugenie Scott.
Lecture 3: "A biography on Charles Darwin" with Janet Browne
Lecture 4: "The philosophical importance of Darwin's theory of evolution." with Dan Dennett
Lecture 5: "How and why species multiply: speciation and hybridisation." with Peter and Rosemary Grant.
Lecture 6: "Darwin's life and work" with Niles Eldredge
Lecture 7: "The history and consequences of social Darwinism" with Melissa Brown
Lecture 8: "Darwin's legacy in medicine and infectious disease" with Paul Ewald.
Lecture 9: "Evolution, Brain and Behaviour" with Russell Fernald
Lecture 10: "Learning to see Darwinian ways of meaning" with George Levine
To Richard Healey
This is fantastic.
You have done a great service in raising the height of excellence in rational teaching by providing these 10 long video recordings of the Stanford lectures on modern Darwinism and evolutionary theory as given in recent months.
I shall of course seek to find the time to view them all.
Well done Richard. Well done Stanford University. Terry Meaden.
I watched 5 last night - all about the mechanism of gene /environment interaction and how environmental changes influence embryonic development and the possibilities of speciation and the occurrence of hybrids.
Of all the lectures I've watched so far this I thought was the most detailed in terms of scientific data (I suspect it went down better in in the hall: the slides are I thought a little difficult to make out on youtube) but it is incredible to see and listen to the results of modern research undertaken with the Galapagos finches' - and if I may invert your point - how much better we understand that which Darwin gave us insight into!
Darwin's perceptions and judgments were remarkable for his Beagle years and the post-Beagle study years of the nineteenth century.
He was one of the world's truly great men with his deep acumen and for overcoming the entrenched antics of the nineteenth-century church.
How does it happen that we live in what should be easy-going times and yet are surrounded by educationally ill-prepared monsters who are the religious fanatics of the present world and ignore the truths of the scientific world?
In the last 150 years millions of experiments have proved the correctness of neo-Darwininan evolution.
It's as if we've only progressed technologically, religion has kept so many from maturing past the middle ages mindset! Do you think this rigid thinking is a by-product of the fear of death, or are people just that ignorant? I wish I knew more about the world. Maybe then I would be more able to understand the stubborn desparation that keeps so many people's minds closed to reality. It saddens me to think how far the human race has come in some ways, and so little in others. We could be so much more.
Across several of the videos (two, three and four, if I recall correctly) the issue of memes / ideas / and self-replicating modules of culture are raised as part of the discussions of evolutionary thought.
The notion is that there is the analogous transmission, replication, and yes, evolution of ideas which piggy-back as part of our psychology much as eukaryotic cells are the hosts of mitochondria. Mitochondria are ancient bacteria that amongst other things do very useful and life-dependent things like release energy from metabolising food. To steal a line from The Patrician of Ankh Morpork: so useful that if it didn't already exist we'd have to invent it ourselves.)
Mitochondria crucially do not share the dna of the host cell, so the theory goes: they were absorbed by the cell in our evolutionary past. Memes take this as analogy and consider some absorbed ideas as the same kind of invader. Memes like genetic inheritance can be benign or like Dan Dennet's example of the fluke that take over the brain of the ant prompting suicidal behaviour in order to achieve the next step in the fluke's life-cycle - they can be entirely destructive.
I've no clue if this model is correct, but it's certainly got an appeal and an plausible attraction - for it would seem to account for the retarding effect of the 'mind virus' of religious belief, whilst allowing for technological progress to develop, to the point where you can legitimately ask, how can can we have come so far and yet kept so much of this nonsense? One plausible answer, is that like any good virus worth the name, the idea and memes of religion may be ruinious for the health / intelligence / wealth / personal or social health of the hosts it inhabits, but when it comes to surviving and reproducing it's a past master.
If, and it's a big if, but if culture works in this memetic way, analogous to genetic transmission, it provides a plausible answer to your question, Susan.
I should clarify what I mean by culture and offer a quick definition: Culture is the transmission and inheritance of shared values. (hence sub, and counter and mutli-cultures)
Culture in our society may be unfairly said to focuses on leisure and fashion as touch stone examples but think about it, what is really being said is 'this is good/popular' and that's a value - obesity is to be shunned, thin is "beautiful" (compare that to the 1920 post famine when a plump figure was a sign of wealth, and health but I digress)
And because we are here all good little evolutionary minded atheists and agnostics, who are well primed to recognise that humans are not the centre of all things, so it comes as no shock presumably to think that culture is transmitted in similar ways amongst animals: my favourite example of this is probably culture amongst killer whales, the adults will "teach" the young whales how to beach themselves in shallow waters and try to snatch seals in their jaws. This is the transmission of a shared value - not a moral value - but a practical one: This is where to come to hunt and this is how you do it. The evolutionary advantage of being able to transmit value between generations should be obvious: Whales, being mammals, give birth to live young which requires a massive biological investment of time and energy, so no mass spawning to beat the odds here. As prey always outnumber predators and competition is fierce, the ability to get whale young to be able to fend for themselves rather than abandoned to the viscitudes of fate confers an obvious advantage.
The complexity of hominid mammal brains to handle ever-more complex and social aspects of culture provides the fertile ground for a malignant but successful replicating unit of culture such as the religious value system and the religious comprehension of the world to thrive.
And that I think is where it is relevant to addressing your question Terence.
How do religious fanatics ignore the truths of the scientific world? Why doesn't 150 years of experiment and data convince them of the correctness of the neo-darwin understanding? Beucase in psychological terms the memes of rationalism and science are competing with a highly successful and resilient memetic opponent.
Hence why some people can and do reject the science of evolution but happily board and airplane or heat their coffee in the microwave. The diremption and compartmentalisation required may baffle us who don't have the 'viral software' to code our experiences this way and like any good virus: the religious one is especially infectious, in a "copy my address book, send to all with the following: 'I am a Nigerian prince with 100 million to give to you, email me your bank account and pin number and I will wire this money to you directly" sort of way...
Thank you Richard, that makes sense to me. Sometimes I feel out of my depth here, because so many of you are better educated and more articulate than I am. What keeps me here are all of the new ideas and information I'm being exposed to. I feel as though I'm auditing college courses from home!
I also think Chris Schoneveld's idea to share the series with others, via dvd, is a great idea. That way my husband and son can also watch them. As far as the Nigerian emails go, I get them all of the time. I see them as a cheap source of entertainment :)
Thanks for alerting us to this fantastic series of lectures. I have accessed them via the Stanford website and downloaded them on Itunes for subsequent burning on a DVD. This way I can watch them with friends and family on a big TV screen.