“What is man?… You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of
Psalm 8:4-6 (ESV)
Contact: Mary Ann Meyers, Ph.D., Senior Fellow
umans are strange and complicated creatures. We share many traits, including cognitive skills and emotions, with many other animals, and increasingly we learn that the borders between "them" and "us" are murky and permeable. But, it is claimed, self-consciousness, and with it language and culture, sets us apart. The purpose of the discussion is to relate new insights from a range of sciences, including evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neurology, genetics, archaeology, and anthropology, to the understanding of who we are, as well as to consider how traditional philosophical and theological understandings of human uniqueness may be affected by these insights. Research has shown not only shared neuroanatomical structures among mammals but also actual affective commonalities such as the ability to feel pain and seek pleasure, emotions like fear, greed, anger, jealousy, and affection, and even a capacity for empathy. To what degree other species have the capability to understand another individual's behavior is a matter of debate. But it is less the question of whether animals can be considered in any sense moral beings that concerns the scholars and scientists gathered at Chicheley Hall, a Georgian country house in North Buckinghamshire, than questions related to the development of linguistic competence, reasoning, and the ability to objectify the world around us in distinction from self.
The probe for answers brings researchers from anthropology, archaeology, biology, psychology, and neurobiology together for conversation with philosophers and theologians in a beautiful Midlands manor house surrounded by a one-hundred-acre park west of the River Great Ouse.