Distinguished Lecture: The Evolutionary Origins of the Modern World

Harvey Whitehouse

June 5, 2024

Auditorium 3 Jean-Jacques Laffont

Our evolved psychology predisposes us to conform, to believe, and to belong. Over thousands of years of cultural evolution, these predispositions have been shaped and extended through the rise of more sophisticated technologies, more organized religions, more expansive empires. But now, for the first time, human nature is driving us towards a future of unprecedented political polarization, deadlier wars, and environmental destruction. This lecture offers a sweeping account of how our evolved biases have shaped humanity’s past and imperil its future. Taking us deep into New Guinea tribes, Libyan militias, Brazilian football fans, and predatory ad agencies, I argue that the tools we once used to manage our biases are breaking down. But it isn’t too late to fix them.

Author bio:
Harvey Whitehouse, Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford, has spent four decades studying some of the most extreme groups on earth: from the battlefields of the Arab Spring, via millenarian cults on Pacific islands, to violent football fans in South America. Along the way, he has undertaken research at some of the world’s most important archaeological sites, brain-scanning facilities, and child psychology labs – all with a view to pioneering a new, scientific approach to the study of human society. At Oxford, he directs the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion and is a founding director of Seshat, a vast database on human history that enables scholars and scientists to test hypotheses about the rise and fall of human civilizations. His latest book, Inheritance: The Evolutionary Origins of the Modern World comes out with Penguin Random House in June.


Harvey Whitehouse, Distinguished Lecture: The Evolutionary Origins of the Modern World, IAST General Seminar, Toulouse: IAST, June 5, 2024, Auditorium 3 Jean-Jacques Laffont.