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Dr. J. Michael Plavcan

J. Michael Plavcan has published extensively on the evolution of sexual dimorphism in primates and humans, and is particularly interested in the difficult task of inferring social behavior in extinct species from clues left in fossilized teeth and skeletons. He has worked in museums throughout North America, Europe, and Africa, and has carried out paleontological field work in North and South America, and most recently Turkanaland in Kenya. He received his degree in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy at Duke University, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Plavcan will speak on Evolution and the Place of Humans in the Natural World

The publication of the Origin of Species revolutionized the study of biology, and today evolution is foundational to our understanding of the natural world around us. When it comes to humans, though, the concept of evolution strikes at the core of who and what we are. Humanity has always placed itself as apart from, and often above, nature, and even today the thought that we are “just animals” is repulsive to many people. But our understanding of human evolution has changed the way we view ourselves, and impacts our understanding of our relationship to the natural world, the underlying nature of our behavior and cultures, and the origins and function of our physical selves. Rather than offering an excuse for amoral and licentious behavior, as some fear, our understanding of ourselves as an evolved species helps us deal with ecological, behavioral, social, and physical challenges. Further, by understanding how we are similar to other animals and the natural forces that shaped us into the beings that we are today, we are able to identify what makes humans truly unique.

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