2008 Stanislaw Ulam Memorial Lecture Series
A Cooperative Species: How We Got to Be Both Nasty and Nice
presented by Samuel Bowles, Professor, Santa Fe Institute and University of Siena

September 16, 17, and 18, 2008

Humans are remarkably cooperative animals. We frequently engage in joint projects for the common benefit on a scale extending beyond the family to include total strangers. We do this even when contributions to the project are costly and yield little private benefit. Examples are upholding social norms even when a transgression would not be noticed, warfare, and actions to preserve the natural environment.

Lecture 1. A Cooperative Species (or are we just afraid someone may be looking?)
Since Darwin, the evolutionary origin of these and other examples of altruistic cooperation has puzzled biologists and economists where notions of 'selfish genes' and amoral Homo economicus hold sway. Drawing on archaeological, genetic, climatic, and other information about the conditions under which our distant ancestors lived, Bowles will show why standard explanations of human cooperation are inadequate.

Lecture 2. Altruism, Parochialism, and War: Rambo meets Mother Teresa
Bowles uses computer simulations to generate artificial histories of humanity over tens of thousands of years, tracing alternative trajectories that could explain how we got to be both nasty and nice. The disquieting conclusion will be that war and hostility toward outsiders may have been midwives of our more admirable moral predispositions.

Lecture 3. Machiavelli's Mistake: Why Policies Designed for “Wicked Men” Fail.
Taking account of our ethical dispositions and the conditions necessary to both enhance and empower cooperative motivations is essential if we are to face the challenges of environmental sustainability, control of epidemic disease, the governance of the information based economy, and political violence.