What it Means to be Human: New Perspectives on the Boundaries of Human Nature

Thu 8 Mar 2012, 14:00 - 18:00

The British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH

Joint British Academy / Royal Society events, 8 March 2012: afternoon seminar held at the British Academy, on 'What it Means to be Human: New Perspectives on the Boundaries of Human Nature'; evening panel discussion held at the Royal Society on 'What it means to be human'.

Seminar: What it Means to be Human: New Perspectives on the Boundaries of Human Nature

This afternoon seminar was hosted by the British Academy’s President, Sir Adam Roberts, and consisted of two sessions. (Click on blue links to download presentation slides.)

1)  The Human Animal: new perspectives from Cognition, Neuroscience and Evolution

Questions addressed included:

What new insights do recent developments in these areas variously offer on the question of where the boundaries of ‘being human’ lie?

What has set us apart, and continues to set us apart from other species?

What do new discoveries about the workings of the brain tell us about how humans, in particular, ‘work’?


Professor Nicky Clayton FRS

Professor Andy Whiten FBA
"The Human Socio-Cognitive Niche and its Evolutionary Origins" (PDF file - 4.2 MB)

Professor Steven Mithen FBA
"What Does It Mean to be Human?" (PDF file - 7.1 MB)

Professor Chris Frith FBA FRS
"Metacognition and the social construction of reality" (PDF file - 177 KB)

Chaired by Professor Cecilia Heyes FBA

2)  The Cultural Animal: Human Society, Culture and Technology

Questions to be addressed will include:

How has ‘what it means to be human’ been shaped by the evolution of human cultures?

How has it been shaped by new technologies, including robotics, artificial intelligence and the internet?

What do the physical evidence of the past and the development of modern cities tell us about human behaviour patterns, minds and needs?

Will new technologies make some ethical standards that have been important in the past obsolete?


Professor Robert Foley FBA
"What it means to be human" (PDF file - 2.3 MB)

Professor Lord Colin Renfrew FBA
"Being Human: the dimensions of the symbolic" (PDF file - 8.2 MB)

Professor Sir Alan Wilson FBA FRS

Professor Margaret Boden FBA

Chaired by Baroness Onora O’Neill FBA HonFRS

Panel discussion: What it means to be human

What does it mean to be human, and what makes us so? Do our brain, how we evolved, how we communicate, or how we interact make us human? Are we really so different from the other animals?

An exploration of the boundaries of human nature chaired by Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse PRS with four eminent panellists: neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore FRS; evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar FBA; evolutionary anthropologist Professor Ruth Mace FBA; and evolutionary biologist Professor Mark Pagel FRS - each addressing, from their own perspectives ‘what it means to be human’.

View video recording via Royal Society website.

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