R5B 003: Evolution of Brains and Behavior

Instructor: Tavi Steinhardt

Term: Summer 2019 Session: D

Time: M, T, W, Th 12:00pm-1:59pm

The main goal for this course is to develop skills for effective writing. We will discuss the concrete techniques that make writing clear (sentence level), cohesive (paragraph level), and convincing (argument level), and will practice those techniques through weekly peer workshops and in-class writing exercises, and by reading other writers’ work. In each discussion, we will explore a short reading and ask not only what the author argues, but also how the author presents the argument.

Our readings will come from many fields, but will all engage with evolutionary approaches to the study of behavior and the organ that produces behavior: the brain. How is an organism’s behavior affected by its current ecology and the heritage of its evolutionary past? How have brains changed over the course of evolutionary time, and what are the behavioral consequences of this change? How do cooperative social systems emerge from the competitive process of natural selection? And do we have to ask these questions differently when the organism in question is as behaviorally flexible as Homo sapiens? To help navigate these questions, we’ll enlist the help of major theorists such as Charles Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould, and E.O. Wilson, but will also dissect journal and magazine articles, textbook chapters, blogs, and social media posts. Our goal throughout will be to explore the mutually enlightening relationship between the evolutionary and behavioral sciences, and to understand the techniques that writers use to communicate about that relationship.


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