The Origins of Human Cognition

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Marriott Balcony B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Yonatan Sahle, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Title: The Origins of Complex Cognition

Fossil and genetic evidence supports the African origin of our species, ~200 thousand years ago. However, what defines the human species is still hotly debated. The uniqueness of our species is perhaps most vividly depicted by its capacity for complex cognition. Today, this universal uniqueness is easily recognizable in the form of grammatical language, complex technologies, belief systems, innovative cultures, and abstract thinking, to name few. But when did we start to think and act differently? When did our ancestors become like us? 

Ever since our hominin ancestors made and used the first tools 2.5 million years ago, Stone Age innovations have improved their lifeways. The pace of such innovations exponentially increases in our species. By the time modern humans successfully spread within and out of Africa, 60 to 80 thousand years ago, they had already left behind spectacular manifestations of complex behavior, and perhaps of language. They had an incredible ability of planning ahead, solving problems, inhibiting instinctive responses, and exploiting resources on the ancient landscape. Complex cognition would soon not only make humans the only surviving hominin spices, but also allow them inhabit every known territory on the planet. In only a matter of ~200 thousand years, humans become the first and only species to build great civilizations and explore the outer space.

This talk highlights the human odyssey by elucidating early technological innovations and manifestations of complex cognition quintessential to our species.