Dame Gillian Beer, Darwin's universal impact, Mon 6 July

 
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Darwin imagining others: observation and language. Professor Dame Gillian Beer (University of Cambridge, UK). Summary: Darwin was a famously attentive observer, responding to movement, gesture, and the invisible thrust of desires in an array of life forms from oysters and climbing plants to human beings of many cultures. This talk will draw on materials from the whole course of Darwin's life and writing. It will demonstrate how speculation in his early private notebooks fuels his much later arguments and it will investigate how Darwin explores the awkward fit between 'expression' and 'emotions'. Being human, in his understanding, implies the effort to recognize, and perhaps to enter, other forms of consciousness. Language, as a particularly human tool, is itself caught up in the evolutionary process - 'half-art and half-instinct', as he observed. How does it help - and hamper - the investigation of different species? And what can be learnt about being human by mimicry and empathy with other sentient beings? These are questions that stretch Darwin's capacities and whose challenges he meets. The talk will investigate the degree to which his arguments still trouble our understanding.

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