Conference: Evolution of Brain, Mind and Culture

Emory University’s Center for Brain, Mind and Culture is hosting a free conference that is open to the public, The Evolution of Brain, Mind and Culture, on November 12th and 13th, 2009.

The keynote address “Darwin in Genes and Culture” will open the conference at 1:00 PM on Thursday and will be given by Matt Ridley, author of books such as The Origins of Virtue and Nature via Nurture. That keynote will be followed a session on brain evolution. On Friday sessions on the evolution of mind and the evolution of culture will fill the morning and afternoon. You can see the entire schedule here. Prominent Emory scholars like Jim Rilling, Melvin Konner, and Frans de Waal will be joined by some great outside people like Pascal Boyer, Sally McBrearty, and Joe Henrich.

Last Day for Abstracts

Encultured Brain Photo
Today is the due date for abstracts for The Encultured Brain conference. I hope to see a bunch more come in!

ABSTRACT INSTRUCTIONS

Abstracts have a 200 word limit. Please follow the example below, and include the following information: name, contact info, title, abstract, and indication for a poster and/or speed presentation. We encourage people to indicate the “Format: Both” option, as this will help us accomodate more people. Note that co-authors are welcomed for posters.

LASTNAME Firstname (Affiliation; email). Title.
Body of abstract.
Format: Poster, Speed Presentation or Both

Here is an example:
LENDE Daniel (Notre Dame; dlende@nd.edu). Addiction and Neuroanthropology.
Approaches to addiction have been dominated by reductionist approaches in both the biological and social sciences…
Format: Both

Please email your complete abstract to: encultured.brain@gmail.com

If you want more information on the conference, here’s the main conference page.

Encultured Brain Keynotes and Opening and Closing Addresses: The Abstracts

First, a reminder that abstracts for The Encultured Brain are due this Friday, September 4th. Click here for the details on submission.

Below I’ve posted the titles and abstracts for our two keynote talks on October 8th, 2009, as well as the opening and closing addresses. Click here to see our preliminary schedule for what promises to be a great day.

KEYNOTE ADDRESSES

Patricia Greenfield (UCLA), Mirror Neurons: The Ontogeny and Phylogeny of Cultural Processes
The mirror neuron system enables both monkey and human to produce intentional motor acts and to respond when observing the same acts performed by another. This presentation will demonstrate the importance of these neurally grounded behavioral competencies for the evolution and ontogenetic development of two key aspects of human culture, tool use and language. The analysis of ontogeny draws upon observations and studies of the development of language and tool use in human children. The analysis of phylogeny draws on comparison of chimpanzees, bonobos and humans, in order to derive clues as to what foundations of human language may have been present in our common ancestor five to seven million years ago. Such foundations would then have served as the basis from which the ontogeny of human language and the ontogeny of complex tool use evolved in the following millions of years.

Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford), Explaining Religion
Much research in the cognitive science of religion emphasizes that some features of religious thinking and behaviour are universal, arising from our species’ evolutionary history. Examples include certain qualities attributed to supernatural agents (e.g. gods and ghosts), which humans everywhere appear to recognize with minimal need for instruction. But there is also growing evidence that many religious concepts require considerable cognitive, social, and technological resources to create, remember, and pass on. Cross-culturally variable aspects of religion arise in part from the evolution of cognitive systems devoted to connecting concepts (e.g. through the formation of novel analogies) and storing them (e.g. in semantic memory) and in part from the historically changing sociopolitical conditions in which such systems can be exploited. Only a coordinated, interdisciplinary effort that takes into account the role of both evolved cognition and human ecology in religious innovation and transmission will be sufficient to provide the broad empirical and theoretical base necessary for explaining religion.

OPENING AND CLOSING ADDRESSES

Daniel Lende (Notre Dame), Neuroscience and the Real World
In recent decades a new view of the brain has emerged that stresses plasticity over hard-wired approaches. At the same time, the social sciences have moved away from top-down concepts like “culture”, “social structure” and “ideology” to an emphasis on practices, cognition and embodiment. The time is ripe for a synthesis of these new views of neural function and social life. Using examples such as craving, stress, and neuroengineering, this talk outlines five ways to approach the encultured brain: (1) the examination of human behavior, experience and meaning; (2) the interaction of social inequality and the brain; (3) how ideas about and manipulation of the brain are used socially; (4) using neuroscience to inform social theory; and (5) using social theory to inform neuroscience. For all five, the study of people – examining the real world – is central. Real people help us avoid a return to brain- or culture-centered views of human life. Moreover, research on people, particularly ethnographic research, provides the data to examine the specifics of how brain function intersects with social life.

Greg Downey (Macquarie), A Brain-Shaped Culture: Ambitions, Acknowledgements and Opportunities
The human brain and nervous system are pre-eminently cultural organs, malleable and responsive to conditioning but also crucial in producing patterned behaviour. But what does culture look like from the perspective of the brain? That is, most anthropological models of culture derive from the study of sociological patterns, observable behaviour or conscious thought. Neuroanthropology offers an opportunity to work from the evidence of the encultured nervous system toward a better understanding of larger-scale patterns of induced human variation.
As a reflection on the first Neuroanthropology conference, this talk sketches out some of the resources for a brain-based account of culture, drawing on earlier cognitive and psychological anthropology, but also touching upon some of the areas yet to be explored. Understanding how the nervous system might be encultured highlights that a brain-shaped culture might be significantly broader and more complex than many contemporary anthropological accounts of cultural variation.

Encultured Brain: Preliminary Schedule and One Week Left for Abstract Submissions

Encultured Brain PhotoFirst, I wanted to remind everyone that abstracts are due Friday September 4th – one week from today. Abstracts can be emailed to encultured.brain@gmail.com

For more on the conference, here’s our basic information and our official announcement and description.

If you want to come, whether or not you’re going to present, PLEASE CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

ABSTRACT INSTRUCTIONS

Abstracts have a 200 word limit. Please follow the example below, and include the following information: name, contact info, title, abstract, and indication for a poster and/or speed presentation. We encourage people to indicate the “Format: Both” option, as this will help us accomodate more people. Note that co-authors are welcomed for posters.

LASTNAME Firstname (Affiliation; email). Title.
Body of abstract.
Format: Poster, Speed Presentation or Both

Here is an example:
LENDE Daniel (Notre Dame; dlende@nd.edu). Addiction and Neuroanthropology.
Approaches to addiction have been dominated by reductionist approaches in both the biological and social sciences…
Format: Both

Please email your complete abstract to: encultured.brain@gmail.com

PRELIMINARY SCHEDULE

9:00-9:30         Daniel Lende (Notre Dame), Opening Address: “Neuroscience and the Real World”

9:30-10:50       Speed Presentations

10:50-11:15     Refreshment Break      

11:15-12:30     Patricia Greenfield (UCLA), Keynote Address: “Mirror Neurons: The Ontogeny and Phylogeny of Cultural Processes.”

12:30-2:00       Lunch

2:00-3:00         Poster Session

3:00-4:15         Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford), Keynote Address: “Explaining Religion.”

4:15-4:30         Refreshment Break

4:30-5:30         Methods Roundtable: Joan Chiao (Northwestern), Karl Rosengren (Northwestern), and Claudia Strauss (Pitzer)

5:30-6:00         Greg Downey (Macquarie), Closing Address: “A Brain-Shaped Culture: Ambitions, Acknowledgements and Opportunities.”

6:00-7:15         Reception

You can see the abstracts for the keynotes and opening and closing addresses here.

Institute for General Semantics conference

‘Tis the season for conference announcements! This one was forwarded to me by Joan Jocson at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (thanks, Joan!).

The Institute of General Semantics is now taking registrations for the 57th Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture & Dinner and 3-Day International IGS Conference. Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson will be giving the keynote lecture: “The Changing Shapes of Lives: Making Meaning Across Time.’

Joan passed along the mission statement of the IGS, which I have to share with our readers:

The Institute of General Semantics (IGS) promotes a scientific approach to understanding human behavior, especially that related to symbol systems and language, and the application of proven principles that guide advancements in critical thinking, rational behavior, and general sanity.

Amen, people! Proven principles to promote GENERAL SANITY — that’s something I can certainly get behind. If only I could persuade all the administrators at my university to get on board with that one!

For more information on the conference and registration, just follow this link over to the IGS website. The jump over to their site is worth it just to check out the silent movie clips of the earlier conferences (gestures from other eras just seem so odd — the past is another country, eh?) and the great quotes on prejudice, communication and other semantic issues running down the left of the page. Personal favourite: ‘The trouble with people is not so much with their ignorance as it is with their knowing so many things that are not so’ (William Alanson White).

Conference: Brain Health Day

SharpBrains and the American Society on Aging are co-producing a Brain Health Day during ASA’s West Coast Conference on Aging. It will happen on Friday, Sept 11th, at the Oakland Marriot City Center, Oakland, California. SharpBrains has all the details on planned activities, talks, registration, and more. Registered participants will even get a complementary copy of the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness.

Here is the description:

Since 2006, healthy aging pioneers have been actively evaluating and implementing an expanding menu of stimulating brain health programs. The American Society on Aging and SharpBrains have partnered to introduce aging professionals to the best practices in a variety of community-based and residential settings, discuss emerging trends that will affect your work in years to come, and offer you resources to understand and navigate through the growing array of options.

Brain Health Day details and registration