Deciphering human essence with J.L Arsuaga

15 October 2020 ·

Have you ever wondered why nature shaped us in this particular way? Which are the features that draw the line between animals and humans? How does our consciousness play a role in it? In this 4th edition of Spanish Science Influencers we will dig deeper into these questions with two renowned experts: the paleontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga and the neuroscientist Axel Cleeremans!

Join us on October 29th at 6pm at the Instituto Cervantes Bruselas (Avenue Louise 140, 1050 Brussels). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a maximum of 25 people will be allowed on the premises. If you cannot make it to the venue, rest assured the event will be live-streamed (details on this will follow).

This event organized by CEBE is supported by the Arts and Science section of the Embassy of Spain in Belgium and by the Instituto Cervantes in Brussels under the SciComm initiative #SPreadScience.

Free registration following this link 

Description of the talks: 

It was long thought that our intelligence had evolved to hunt and not be hunted. That is, paleoanthropologists believed that we were the result of selective pressures exerted on our ancestors by the environment. But why does a hunter need to be self conscious, as we are? Today we think that we owe much more to the social environment than to the ecology. Our brain is, above all, a machine for processing social information.

Understanding consciousness remains a formidable challenge - why and how is it that the biological activity of the brain produces mental states? Here, I explore the links between perceptual awareness, self-awareness, and theory of mind, and suggest that consciousness is something that the brain learns to do. By this account, the brain continuously and unconsciously learns to redescribe its own activity to itself based on its interactions with itself, with the world, and with other people. Thus, experiences only occur in experiencers that have learned to know they possess certain first-order states and that have learned to care more about certain states than about others. In this sense, consciousness is the brain’s (unconscious, embodied, enactive, nonconceptual) theory about itself, derived from its continuous attempts at predicting the consequences of our actions on other agents. 

Know better our invited speakers:

Juan Luis Arsuaga is a Spanish paleoanthropologist, well-known for his work in the Atapuerca Archaeological Site, which was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in "Scientific and Technical Research" category in 1997. In 2002 he was designated member of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States and in 2007 he became a member of the Royal Academy of Doctors of Spain. He is professor in the Paleontology Department of the Faculty of Geological Sciences at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid and a visiting professor of the Department of Anthropology at the Sapienza Università di Roma. He is co-author of several books and more than 200 peer-review articles. 

The finds at Atapuerca have contributed to bring new light on the first humans in Europe. In 2013, Arsuaga co-authored a paper which reported the finding of the oldest human (H. heidelbergensis) DNA ever, dating back 400,000 years.

Axel Cleeremans is a Research Director with the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (F.R.S.-FNRS) and a professor of Cognitive Psychology at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), where he heads the Consciousness, Cognition and Computation (CO3) Group and presides the ULB Neurosciences Institute. His research is essentially dedicated to understanding the mechanisms of consciousness and the differences between conscious and unconscious processing. Cleeremans has acted as president of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology and is currently president of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. A member of the Royal Academy of Belgium, he is also Field Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers in Psychology. In 2015, we was awarded the prestigious Ernest-John Solvay prize for human sciences by the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research.Axel Cleeremans has authored numerous articles dedicated to consciousness and edited several books, including, with Tim Bayne and Patrick Wilken, the "Oxford Companion to Consciousness”. For more info, click here.