Category Archives: Humanities

Neanderthal Among Us? Science Meets Fiction

What makes us human is a question that not only science asks, but all disciplines of mind from philosophy to religion to sociology and ethics, and even to storytelling and the arts.

Tim Disney’s new movie “William” is about a Neanderthal living in the modern world and forces us to ask about humanness and many other questions.

Disney’s movie provides a foil to explore many facets of human nature and sociology, and raises questions about technology and its present and future effects on the human phenomenon.

With research interests and experience exploring the distinctions in the Neanderthal and Human genomes, Alysson Muotri, Director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program, brought together a panel of experts from across a spectrum of disciplines to explore these issues in a lively and engaging forum with the movie’s creator.

Watch — Neanderthal Among Us? Science Meets Fiction – A Discussion of Tim Disney’s Motion Picture “William”

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Women in Leadership 2019

“Where on an imagined clock of equality do we now stand?” asks veteran journalist Lynn Sherr at the start of this year’s Women in Leadership panel.

Listen in as Sylvia Acevedo, Chelsea Clinton, Jedidah Isler answer that question and share their thoughts on the present and future of the role of women in America. Each panelist reflects on her road to leadership and details the support mechanisms and mindsets needed to get there when faced with adversity.

This is the second annual Women in Leadership panel – convened to celebrate and honor the legacy of Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space.

Watch — A Conversation with Sylvia Acevedo, Chelsea Clinton, Jedidah Isler, and Lynn Sherr

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Oy Vey – The Strange Stories of Yiddishland

Unlike most languages, which are spoken by the residents of a particular area or by members of a particular nationality, Yiddish – at the height of its usage – was spoken by millions of Jews of different nationalities all over the globe.

Eddy Portnoy’s book mines century-old Yiddish newspapers to expose the seamy underbelly of pre-WWII New York and Warsaw, the two major centers of Yiddish culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He calls it an underground history of downwardly mobile Jews.

He relates true stories of Jewish drunks, murderers, wrestlers, psychics and beauty queens, all plucked from the pages of Yiddish dailies, revealing unusual and unexpected aspects of Jewish urban life to an audience at UC Santa Barbara. His book “Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press” is one part Isaac Bashevis Singer, one part Jerry Springer – irreverent, unvarnished, and frequently hilarious compendium of stories providing a window into an unknown Yiddish world that was.

Watch — The Strange Stories of Yiddishland: What the Yiddish Press Reveals about the Jews.

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Ethics and Social Science

“We’re not just playing games in empty classrooms anymore,” says Scott Desposato, professor of political science at UC San Diego.

As the world of social science is increasingly reaching beyond the traditional college campus setting for their studies, new ethical questions are emerging. Sure, large amounts of data can be gathered in massive scale field experiments but are we neglecting the principles of informed consent? How should science and society work together to break new ground while pushing innovative thought forward? Explore these questions and more in this program.

Watch — Emerging Ethics Challenges for Experimental Social Science – Exploring Ethics

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Updating our Views on Nature and How to Save it

What is nature? What does it mean to preserve, or save it? Science writer Emma Marris says one common definition of nature in North America is the way any given place was before European explorers arrived and began changing the landscape. Therefore, saving nature would mean returning the land to how it was before their arrival. But, she says that idea is flawed because there are countless examples of land management by indigenous people: relocating useful plants to new environments, creating systems to manage rainwater, and clearing land for crops. And, human impact on the environment goes back much more than a few hundred years. Marris notes that pretty much anywhere you look, there is evidence of major changes with the arrival of humans – in particular, the extinction of large land mammals like the woolly mammoth.

Today however, the planet is largely tailored entirely to human existence. Nearly 40% of the ice-free surface of the earth is agriculture. Domesticated livestock far outweighs wild animal life. Species have been moved around, in some cases wreaking havoc on ecosystem. And of course, there are growing impacts of climate change – even hitting places on the planet where humans have never lived.

Marris argues that in order to effectively conserve nature, we have to change our perception of what nature means. She says her old way of thinking, that nature was a pristine untouched and unchanged place didn’t match reality, because if left alone, all places will change. So, she came up with new definitions, including the idea of resource-intensive land management to keep certain culturally important lands as unchanged as possible, and also the idea of novel ecosystems where uncontrolled landscapes have transformed themselves.

With this updated understanding of what nature is, Marris proposes an updated take on conservation. She suggests dividing land into three different styles of management: restoration, innovation, and observation. In her exciting and hopeful talk at UC San Diego, Marris goes on to give concrete examples of how these strategies have worked, and might continue to work around the world.

Watch — The Future of Nature: Conservation in the Anthropocene with Emma Marris – Institute for Practical Ethics

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