Each year, Director William (Ned) Friedman and the Arnold Arboretum present the Director’s Lecture Series, featuring nationally recognized experts addressing an array of topics related to Earth’s biodiversity and evolutionary history, the environment, conservation biology, and key social issues associated with current science. Visit Past Series to listen to audio (when available) and past lectures.
Stephen Greenblatt, PhD, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University
1 Session: Monday, January 27, 7:00–8:30pm | Hunnewell Building
Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions. One of the world’s most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery in his book The Swerve, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.
Both evolution and global warming are “controversial issues” in education, but are not controversial in the world of science. There is remarkable similarity in the techniques that are used by both camps to promote their views. The scientific issues are presented as “not being settled”, or that there is considerable debate among scientists over the validity of claims. Both camps practice “anomaly mongering”, in which a small detail, seemingly incompatible with either evolution or global warming, is held up as dispositive of either evolution or of climate science. Although in both cases, reputable, established science is under attack for ideological reasons, the underlying ideology differs: for denying evolution, the ideology of course is religious; for denying global warming, the ideology is political and/or economic. Eugenie Scott will deconstruct the arguments and identify the ideologies that hinder widespread understanding of evolution and responsiveness to climate change.
When we picture evolution, we think of fish crawling from the sea hundreds of millions of years ago, or birds evolving into new species on remote islands. But evolution takes place today, in the most unexpected places–in city parks, in farm fields, and in hospitals. Humans, scientists now recognize, are a powerful evolutionary force, pushing life in new directions. Now, researchers are wondering where we’re headed. Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution: Making Sense of Life, will present some of the ways that modern civilization drives evolution and current thinking about humans as a force of change.
View the talk on WGBH’s Forum Network.
Patrick E. McGovern, PhD, Scientific Director, Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health, University of Pennsylvania Museum
1 Session: Monday, April 14, 7:00–8:30pm | Weld Hill
Fermented beverages have probably been with the human race from its beginning in Africa. Following a tantalizing trail of archaeological, chemical, artistic, and textual clues, Patrick E. McGovern, the leading authority on ancient alcoholic beverages, will describe how enterprising our ancestors were in concocting a host of beverages from a vast array of natural products (honey, grape, barley, rice, sorghum, chocolate). As humans spread around the planet, this had profound effects on our cultural and biological development. Some of these beverages, including the earliest alcoholic beverage from China (Chateau Jiahu), the mixed drink served at the King Midas funerary feast (Midas Touch), and the chocolate beverage (Theobroma), have been re-created by Dogfish Head Brewery, shedding light on how our ancestors made them and providing a taste sensation and a means for us to travel back in time. The talk will be followed by a tasting of ancient beers recreated by Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales. Participants in the tasting must be 21 or older.
$10 member, $20 nonmember
Lecture is full; Email or call 617-384-5277 to be added to the waiting list.