EEB 210/396 - Animal Models in Human Evolution

Spring 2008

Instructor: Bruce Goldman
Office: TLS 364 - hours by appt.
Lab: TLS 180
Phone: 486-2984

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Introduction (word)

Syllabus (word)

Lecture Notes (word)

Powerpoint Lectures (powerpoint)

Required readings from Internet (pdf)

Discussion Questions


Other Websites (word)






In this course, we will explore various aspects of human evolution. I aim to demonstrate that an informed evaluation of the general biology of other animals, taken in conjunction with an understanding of mechanisms of evolution, can greatly enhance our understanding of, and our appreciation for, several unique, or relatively unique, features of human biology. This course is designed to work in two ways---to use the topic of human evolution as a focus for discussing various fundamental evolutionary concepts (which apply across all organisms) and to demonstrate how these concepts can open new vistas in the attempt to understand certain elements of human biology that have long been topics of intense discussion among philosophers, psychologists, neurobiologists, clinicians, and so forth.

The most important goal of the lecture material will be to explore features that are unique or almost unique to human biology---things like language, the ability to perceive and understand the thoughts and emotions of others, and complex reasoning ability---and to discuss how these things might have evolved. Before we can tackle these challenging subjects we will need to discuss elements of evolutionary biology that are likely to be particularly helpful. We will also need to develop an overview of hominid evolution based mostly on the fossil record, and we will need to discuss some relevant information regarding primate physiology and behavior, since primates are our closest living relatives.

My goal for this class is that we will work together---instructor and students---to explore some fascinating aspects of human biology. I hope that each of you will experience a somewhat new view---a different perspective---on what makes us all the species that we are, with our unique attributes.

In a very real sense, I’m a student in this course as well as being the instructor. I don’t do research in the area of human evolution, but I have been fascinated by reading material that I’ll be discussing with you. Also, my long-standing interest in general issues of evolutionary biology has considerably influenced the animal research that I have carried out (in reproductive endocrinology and in biological rhythms) as a laboratory biologist. I’ll probably be tempted to use a few examples during the course of our semester together. I see it as perhaps the ultimate challenge to apply these concepts to the understanding of human behavior and mental processes. (I think it safe to assume that we are the only animals that wonder, and that think about how we got to be the way we are, and that communicate with each other about these things.) I hope that we will have some lively discussions; if so, I anticipate that you may have questions and thoughts that will cause me to revise some of my current ideas. I look forward to that.