The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

The Bonobo and the Atheist: Morality, Religion, and Prosocial Primates

Frans B M de Waal (Emory University)

When: Thursday, October 25, 2012 - 4:00pm - 5:00 pm
Where: 100 Life Sciences, Berg Auditorium
Name: Suchismita Sen
Phone: 814-863-8940

Frans de Waal, Living Links, Yerkes Primate Center, Emory University, Atlanta, USA

Homo homini lupus - "man is wolf to man "- is an old Roman proverb popularized by Thomas Hobbes. Even though it permeates large parts of law, economics, and political science, the proverb fails to do justice to our species thoroughly social nature as well as to canids, which are among the most gregarious and cooperative animals. For the past quarter century, this cynical view has also been promoted by an influential school of biology, but Darwin himself saw things differently. Modern psychology and neuroscience support his view pointing at the role of the emotions. In this lecture, I will show how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans. In our work with monkeys, apes, and elephants, we have found many cases of one individual coming to another's rescue in a fight, putting an arm around a previous victim of attack, or other emotional responses to the distress of others. By studying social behaviors in animals, such as bonding and trusting alliances, expressions of consolation, and conflict resolution, I will demonstrate that animals _and humans _are preprogrammed to reach out, questioning the assumption that humans are inherently selfish. Understanding empathy's survival value in evolution can help to build a more just society based on a more accurate view of human nature.

Prof. Frans B. M. de Waal is a Dutch/American behavioral biologist known for his work on the social intelligence of primates. His first book, Chimpanzee Politics (1982) compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. Ever since, de Waal has drawn parallels between primate and human behavior, from peacemaking and morality to culture. His latest book is The Bonobo and the Atheist (spring 2013, Norton). De Waal is C. H. Candler Professor in the Psychology Department of Emory University and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a member of the (US) National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he was selected by Time as one of The Worlds 100 Most Influential People Today, and in 2011 byDiscover as 47 [all time] Great Minds of Science.