Origins Symposium, Saturday

I got an early-morning and late-afternoon taste of today’s talks via live streaming video, interleaved with an Easter Egg Roll at the historic Marston House, with my great-granddaughters, Josie and Maureen and their mother, and my wife, Teresa.  You would think that at my age, I would have been to egg rolls before, but this was my very first one.  After an Easter Egg Hunt, story telling, and a magic show, the kids line up to “roll” an egg towards the finish line with a plastic spoon to win a prize from the Easter Bunny. Just before Josie’s group lined up, Josie announced quietly to Teresa, “I’m going to win the egg roll.”  At the word “Go”, Josie flipped her egg 80% of the way to the finish line and won a stuffed rabbit.  I figure that in the old days raw eggs were probably used instead of plastic, and winning would have required a great deal more finesse.

As expected the talks at the Symposium were wide ranging and fascinating.  True to name of the conference, there were discussions of the origins of the structure of the universe, galaxies, stars, and planets, as well as the origins of life, species, and social norms such as altruistic behavior.  I couldn’t begin to accurately summarize any significant part of the discussions.

Regarding the subject, “What does it mean to be human?”, there seemed to be a consensus that our brains manipulate symbols  in a way no other creatures can.  Brain size, upright walking, and tool use, which had been key criteria  in past years have given way to our ability to constructively manipulate symbols.  That, and the degree to which we control our surroundings, and have a consciousness of self.

Another interesting point: As we know, humans are not genetically diverse.  Why is this?  I was fascinated by the view of Curtis Matheson (?) that the “MIS6” glacial  period 140,000 years ago drove the homo sapien population down to 600 individuals living on the east coast of Africa, and that all humans descended from them.  This would explain the apparently small gene pool.

Sunday’s Program:

Panel 1 – Consciousness, complex cognition, and language

Panel 2 – Human Uniqueness

Panel 3 – Culture and Morality

Panel 4 – The State, social norms, and institutions

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