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We are proud to announce primatologist Professor Frans de Waal for our first distinguished lecture in 2014. His first book, Chimpanzee Politics (1982), compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. Ever since, de Waal has drawn parallels between primate and human behavior, from aggression to morality and culture. His six popular books—translated into over a dozen languages—have made him one of the world's best known primatologists.
Frans de Waal received his Ph.D. in Biology and Zoology from Utrecht University, the Netherlands, in 1977. He completed his postdoctoral study of chimpanzees while associated with Utrecht University, in 1981, and moved the same year to the USA. He has been a National Academy of Sciences member since 2004, and a Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences member since 1993. Time featured him in 2007 as one of the World's One Hundred Most Influential People.
Abstract of the lecture: When people do evil things, such as when they commit genocides in Bosnia or Rwanda, we call them “animals.” If people act altruistically, such as when they save another’s life or give to the poor, we attribute this to our noble human morality. We call them “humane.”
Both sides of human nature, however, are tied to our biology. This theme of the duality of human nature, hovering between beast and angel, is explore by looking at our two closest primate relatives, the chimpanzee and the bonobo. The chimpanzee has a reputation as murderous and power-hungry, whereas the bonobo, the hippie of the primate world, prefers to “make love - not war.” Both apes are equally close to us, but comparisons with chimpanzees have thus far dominated the media as well as the literature. This is because until recently little was known about the bonobo. The bonobo’s female dominance, cooperative nature, and use of sex to restore peace challenges male-biased theories that equate humanity’s violence with progress.
Over the last few decades, biologists have popularized the image of humans as driven by “selfish genes,” doing only what is good for themselves. But the tone of the debate within Western society has changed since the crisis of 2008, and also within biology, the tone of the debate about human nature has changed over the last few years. The evolution of morality has become a central theme. Here we will look at human behavior through the eyes of a primatologist, who has written both “Chimpanzee Politics” (on the Machiavellian tendencies of male chimpanzees) and “Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape.” By using the bonobo and chimp as two provocative metaphors for ourselves and our evolutionary ancestry, we are able to see vivid mirror images of ourselves.
For more information on Dr De Waal see:
A fantastic TED talk on morals by animals:
A video presentation of his book ‘The age of Empathy’:
His official website at Emory university:
A short biography published in PNAS: