Dr. Dick Byrne

Monday, February 24 2014 at 7:00PM

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72a Waterloo Street

Dr. Dick Byrne

What's the talk about?

Although many of our everyday judgements of intelligence in other species can be shown to be dubious, the idea that some species have developed superior intelligence is a respectable one. The tricky part is measuring it! Brain size seems more ‘objective’ than intelligence, but it too is not easy to compare across species. Also, having a large brain is not necessarily a ‘good thing’. Despite these difficulties, there’s been real progress in understanding what sorts of animal have specialized in intelligence, and what ecological problems have pushed their evolution in that direction. But there’s much less agreement about what their ‘higher intelligence’ actually is, perhaps because it can be several things. Purely quantitative differences in learning and memory may be responsible for a lot of what we notice and can measure. Yet human intelligence did not come from nowhere: and human intelligence includes the ability to understand how things work, whether those things are other people or systems of inanimate objects in the world. The big challenge will be discovering the precursors of this qualitative advance in other species.


Dick Byrne studies the evolution of cognition, particularly the origins of distinctively human characteristics, using evidence from species as diverse as great apes, elephants and domestic pigs. In 1987, with three colleagues, he set up the Scottish Primate Research Group, which now links 17 faculty and their research teams in an informal collaboration spanning 5 Scottish universities. Professor Byrne has published 1298 refereed journal articles, 64 invited book chapters, and edited 3 books. He was awarded the British Psychology Society Book Award 1997 for his O.U.P. monograph The Thinking Ape, and appointed to the fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2002.

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The Admiral Bar

72a Waterloo Street

19:00 for 19:30

FREE and open to all