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Scientists Coming To San Diego To Talk About Roots Of Human Violence

Aired 5/8/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Ajit Varki is co-founder of CARTA, the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny and Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at UC San Diego


The CARTA Symposium on Male Aggression and Violence in Human Evolution will be held on Friday May 16 from 1 - 5:30 p.m. at the Salk Institute

Why are humans violent? Why is one culture more violent than another? And why are males traditionally more violent than females?

Those are some of the questions that will be discussed at a symposium next week at the Salk Institute.

Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University is a co-chair of the symposium and one of the speakers.

In an interview on, he said that exploring questions about the roots of human violence is one of the most interesting aspects of human evolution that isn't understood fully.

“We are an unusual species because we have such an extraordinary mix of these two aspects," Wrangham said. "We show them both to extremes; we’re amazingly more cooperative than almost any other species and we’re extraordinarily destructive compared to most other species.

"Grappling with the extent to which that is a product of culture and biology and to the extent of why we should have biological predispositions to go in both those directions remains one of the huge questions,” he said.

The group sponsoring the symposium is called CARTA, the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny. It's dedicated to the exploration of how human beings became the way they are.

Ajit Varki is a professor of medicine at UC San Diego and co-founder of CARTA.

He said "anthropogeny" — the study of the genesis or origins of humans and where we came from — is a very old term that they've resurrected.

Varki said to study anthropogeny you need to include neuroscience, genetics and biochemistry among other areas of research. There are centers around the world that specialize is specific aspects of anthropogeny, he said, but no one place has experts from all the fields.

He said CARTA was born out of the idea of bringing researchers from around the world together to explore topics like the roots of human violence to try to build a greater understanding.

He said sometimes this results in unexpected collaborations between scientists who might not have otherwise met.

The CARTA Symposium on Male Aggression and Violence in Human Evolution will be held on Friday, May 16 from 1-5:30 p.m. at the Salk Institute. To register for the event go here.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | May 8, 2014 at 4:20 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Duh. It is the law of nature. Eat or be eaten. Man is just more technologically able to kill others without the eating part. Russia, Nigeria, North Korea, Egypt, Iraq. It is the way of the world. Bring back all of our troops to protect the homeland. To heck with the these warlike countries. Let them have at it. Less for us to deal with in the future. Isolationism is the only way.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 8, 2014 at 10:27 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

I enjoyed listening to professor Varki. He acknowledged a holistic approach of many disciplines which I think brings a better understanding of the issue of violence.

In particular, it was interesting to consider an aspect of humans that sets us apart from other animals - the ability of learned behavior, intentional peace, including even peace movements. I've never thought of Ghandii as doing something that is counter to instinctual human reaction, very thought provoking.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | May 10, 2014 at 1:33 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

LOL Ability of learned behavior??? Millions of people have killed in war, genocide and murder for the past 3000+ years. And where are we now? Look at Nigeria, Ukraine and the Middle East. We have learned nothing. Man is a vicious animal. And so the world turns. Protect yourself. Nobody else will.

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