February 27, 2017

The evolution of human uniqueness

Kim Hill, ASU

Although scientists are aware that humans share the same biological heritage as do all other organisms on the planet, Homo sapiens have become an extreme outlier species, what can best be described as ‘‘a spectacular evolutionary anomaly.’’ Identifying the causes of human uniqueness is one of the most exciting and philosophically profound issues of all scientific research. Despite this, only recently have theoretical and empirical advances allowed research to focus directly on human uniqueness. I will describe a myriad of objective criteria showing that humans are indeed a special and puzzling species, and then review evidence that a combination of life history changes, cooperative proclivities, cumulative culture, cognitive adaptations, and language, all interacting and coevolving, have taken humans through a biological transition that is unmatched by any other species. Hence human societies have indeed become the 8th major evolutionary transition of life on earth.