Talk by Anthropologist Nancie L. Gonzalez "Energy & the Evolution of Culture"

This is our regular and fairly informal monthly meeting continuing  the Fall series at  new location in the Rockville Library. Anthropologist  Nancie L. Gonzalez, will speak on Energy and the Evolution of Culture: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness


  This talk defines culture as that body of acts, objects, ideas and sentiments that depend upon symbols and abstract thought for their existence.  It also asserts that culture distinguishes humans from all other life forms, and that the symboling ability developed after certain brain mutations occurred in ancestral primates. Articulate speech was one of those that proved successful in developing and passing on to new generations ways to improve the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Some other animals can learn cultural symbols, but they are not known to invent them.

  Using data from archaeological sites and ethnography in societies ranging from preliterate foragers to modern, industrial, urban civilizations, this talk argues that the key to cultural evolution has been the kind and amount of energy humans have harnessed and controlled at different points over the past 200,000 years.  Non-cultural animals, including early hominids, had only the energy of their bodies at their disposal, and had to depend upon their biological makeup for food, defense, and the acquisition of mates for reproduction and care of the young.  Beginning with the domestication of plants and animals, and ending with the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels and atomic energy, it is suggested that the globalized society we now know has perhaps sowed seeds of its own destruction and may not continue to persist as we know it until and unless new forms of energy are discovered and harnessed.

Dr. Gonzalez is now Professor Emeritus, Univ. of Maryland, College Park where she was Academic Vice-Chancellor, and member of the faculty of anthropology, as well as of the Institute for International Development and Conflict Management.  Just before retirement she was a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace and also has  done fieldwork in Israel and the West Bank, among Spanish-Americans of New Mexico, and in mainland China. She has published widely on all of these in six books and a couple hundred (or so) articles.  Most recently, she an article in The Humanist on marriage and the family, now and "then." 

The talk will be followed by a snack break where people can socialize and  merge into a Q &A with the speaker.

Handouts about WASH and other secular, scientific and humanist topics will be available.

All are welcome.

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  • Gary B.

    We regret that our speaker, Nancie L. Gonzalez, has taken ill and will not be able to attend. We will have a substitute presentation in her absence.

    October 11, 2013

  • Gary B.

    This should be a great talk so invite your friends.

    October 7, 2013

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