The Osher Experience with Anthropogeny
CARTA: THE QUEST FOR HUMAN ORIGINS
by James H. McCall
Thanks to one of our most compelling lecture series, Osher members recently enjoyed learning about anthropogeny: the investigation of the origin of man (humans.) Our program was presented by
members of CARTA: The Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny, a joint
program of UC San Diego and the Salk Institute.
Established at UCSD in 2008, CARTA is an international research forum exploring questions of
human origins through transdisciplinary interactions and collaborations. As the word anthropogeny implies, its primary goal is to find the answers to two age-old questions regarding humans: Where did we come from? How did we get here? And, to add to them, what can we learn about ourselves from our past?
CARTA seeks to explore and explain the origins of the human phenomenon. This includes the
practical side to anthropogeny as the study of human origins has a major impact on, and relevance to, issues related to medicine, biology, the organization of society, the upbringing of our young, and the interactions of humans with one another and with our environment.
In five lectures, prominent UCSD scholars, all CARTA members, addressed different topics related to human origins research. Each lecture is in our Osher Video Library found on our website.
Professor and physician Ajit Varki offered an overview of the current state of the field of anthropogeny. While describing briefly what is known about the origin of humans, Dr. Varki, Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at UC San Diego and Co-Director of CARTA, related how this information is relevant to many human diseases, including some that are unique to us as a species.
Professor Pascal Gagneux, Professor of Pathology and Anthropology at UCSD and Associate
Director of CARTA, described the evidence from primatology and genetics in discussing humans within the context of mammalian and primate evolution. Comparing genetic information of living
species provides much insight into human-specific changes and their roles in shaping our unique
In The Brains Behind Morality, Professor Patricia S. Churchland discussed the concept of morality as it relates to human behavior. What are the social and neurobiological roots of moral behavior? Her research focuses on the interface between neuroscience and philosophy.
Professor Rachel Mayberry explained How Sign Language Emergence Informs Our Knowledge of Language Evolution. Dr. Mayberry discussed how and why did language evolve and the study of sign languages, which we see emerge and unconsciously use under certain conditions, can shed light on fundamental properties of human languages.
In her lecture on Fossil Record of Human Origins, Dr. Margaret Schoeninger, Professor of
Anthropology at UCSD and Co-Director of CARTA, focused on the human fossil record from the
middle to late Miocene (20-5 million years ago) through the origins of anatomically modern humans around 180,000 years ago with emphasis on ecological and dietary information. She drew from her research on subsistence strategies with applications to behavior and ecology in anthropological
Osher members also presented challenging and thought-provoking questions that illuminated and
expanded on the topics and issues.