AS623 Evolution: Biological Continuity and Adaptation

Course Description

This course will provide the basis for a solid understanding of key principles of evolution, including natural selection, individual variation, and the nature of species, with a focus on the roles of genes, development and environmental factors in the evolution of brain and behavior (cognition, emotions, and other aspects of mind). We will expose the many misconceptions and fallacies in our historical and current ideas about evolution, gaining an appreciation for the fact that evolution is a dynamic ongoing process, is not goal-driven, nor does it always result in increasing complexity, intelligence, or perfection. In this course we will also explore cultural and political implications of evolution. Students will come to appreciate, deeply, that humans are a part of the animal kingdom and are subject to the same naturalistic processes as other animals, including evolution through selection and the potential for extinction. Furthermore, students will understand why the natural process of biological evolution does not provide any justification for the superiority of humans over other animals. 3 credits

Course Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Articulate the major philosophical and cultural viewpoints that have shaped our view of biology and other animals from prehistoric times to the present.
  • Understand the basic mechanisms behind biological evolution
  • Create a simple taxonomy and understand how it relates to phylogenetic relationships.
  • Obtain a basic understanding of how brain anatomy reflects a species’ evolutionary history
  • Define and analyze the concepts of sentience, self-awareness, metacognition, and theory of mind.
  • Discuss some of the ways evolutionary theory and Darwinism have been misused.
  • Describe how knowledge of evolution can play a role in animal advocacy.

Course Topics

(Subject to Change)

  • Pre-Darwinian ideas in the twenty-first century
  • Mechanisms of evolution
  • Evolution: the Big Picture
  • Evolution of brain and behavior
  • Continuity of mind
  • Cultural and political implications of biological evolution
  • Real-world applications of biological evolution for animal advocates

Course Materials

(Subject to Change)

  • Allman, J. 2000. Evolving Brains.W.H. Freeman.
  • Balcombe, J. 2010. Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals. Palgrave.