Next Meetup

How Intelligence Evolved: What Does it Mean to Be Human?
How have advances in molecular genetics, neuroscience, embryology, epigenetics and cybernetics affected our understanding of how we evolved, how we are both similar and different from our non-human ancestors, and what it means to be human? How did we get so smart? One of the radical new ideas we will discuss is how human intelligence, once it got started, may have accelerated subsequent adaptations of body and mind. Our growing cognitive and social skills may have given us the ability to choose smarter mates and adopt other more-adaptive behaviors more efficiently and more effectively than less intelligent competitors. Once we were able to imagine and predict future events, our intelligence could pull itself up by its own bootstraps. Classic Darwinian natural selection is a slower and entirely random process involving incremental improvements taking many generations before an adaptive benefit may show up in population statistics. Most mutations turn out to be non-adaptive. So do most human intentional innovations, but you don’t have to wait multiple generations to find out what works better. To inform our discussion, we will begin each subtopic with a short video clip. You can preview the full video programs online if you have time, but that is not required; we only plan to discuss selected excerpts. Some of the clips are from the 2007 PBS NOVA special, “What Darwin Didn’t Know.” The full 1:40 program is available at We also will discuss how evolution of cultural memes drives human evolution faster than genes. We’ll watch evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who coined the word “meme,” explain how the original meaning was “hijacked” and is now used to refer to any idea that spreads virally on the internet. memes that spread virally. We’ll discuss whether human genetic evolution is ongoing or whether meme evolution now determines the future of homo sapiens. The short video is at We will view a video clip of philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett lecturing about his recent book “From Bacteria to Bach and Back” at Google. You do not need to read the book or preview the video, which is available at (runs 1:17). Dennett compares Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia to an African termite castle to illustrate “design competence without comprehension.” We’ll talk about how intelligent problem solving can evolve without understanding. Conclusion from the NOVA program: “Scientists are finally beginning to crack nature's biggest secrets at the genetic level. The results are confirming the brilliance of Darwin's insights while revealing clues to life's breathtaking diversity in ways the great naturalist could scarcely have imagined.” If we don’t have time to cover this whole agenda (likely) and there is interest in delving more deeply into some of these questions, I’ll schedule a future event, possibly based on more of Dennett's book and/or the NOVA video. If you RSVP and later find you cannot attend, please cancel your reservation as early as possible so someone from the waitlist can take your place.

Free Library - Independence Branch

18 S. Seventh St. · Philadelphia, PA


What we're about

The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society is a Meetup group that brings together thoughtful people for stimulating and civically minded conversations.

We meet in a relaxed setting on almost every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 AM and occasionally in the evening. Most of our events aim for a small group ambiance with about 10-12 participants. Sometimes we use larger spaces with different group dynamics and formats.

Almost all our events engage participants in a group conversation to explore a wide range of topics including society & culture, philosophy & religion, design, science & technology, psychology, politics, economics, and current events.

We organize a safe, facilitated forum of inquiry and exploration.

Our interactive format engages participants to speak up and be heard, to explore our assumptions, to listen and hear others, and to find and build meanings.

We value topics that matter, diverse points of view and ways of knowing, sensitive listening, and your contributions to our explorations.

In addition to ideas and resources posed by the event host(s), our conversations are informed by participants exchanging experiences, interpretations, understandings, beliefs, feelings, values, thoughts, and ways of thinking.

Through discourse and consideration these ideas can reveal a web of relationships which participants can form into meaningful insights and new possibilities.

We start the conversation so come participate and accept your own genius.

For more information about our group including our list of Frequently Asked Questions, please visit About the Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society (

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