Week 1: Evolution Refresher
The course begins with an overview of evolution, emphasizing the key principles of variance, inheritance, and selection, focusing on fitness pressures, adaptation, and the role of mutation. Important concepts such as the selfish gene, life-history, inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism are reviewed.
Week 2: How Animals Do It
We consider the world of animal communication. This includes the role of honest and deceptive signalling, across a great range of species. Among the domains of animal communication that are considered are eusociality, mating, predation, conspecific rivalry and cooperation. The key concept of evolutionary arms races is introduced.
Week 3: Hominin Entry into the Cognitive Niche
Building on last week’s understanding of arms races, we explore the distinctively human cognitive adaptations that have given us such competitive advantages over all other species. Capacities intrinsically tied to human communication—symbolism, language and theory of mind—are seen to be part of this legacy.
Week 4: We’re Not What We Think
The roles of conscious will and rationality are considered as explanations of our distinctive human communication. The evidence regarding these ideas is drawn from clinical research in cognitive science, neurology and psychology. More evolutionarily consistent explanations, drawn from speech act and argumentation theory, are considered.
Week 5: Culture, Learning and Phenotypes
The nature-nurture debate is long dead. We explore the concept of phenotype plasticity and discover how a flexible learning capacity is not only consistent with gene-driven evolution but dependent upon it. With this understanding we can reconsider the nature and function of culture.
Week 6: The Social Context of Human Communication
Human sociality is cooperative and competitive, simultaneously and reciprocally; it is negotiated through families, partnerships, cliques, alliances, coalitions, etc. Human dominance of our ecological niche has made these social groups the primary selective pressures on human communication. The legacy of that evolution is evident in our social institutions; for example, politics, morality and religion.