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Paul Bingham Explains Human Uniqueness at World Science Festival

Stony Brook’s Paul M. Bingham, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, was one of four panelists in the prestigious eighth annual Big Ideas Series presentation at the World Science Festival at New York University on May 29. Planet of the Humans: The Leap to the Top, moderated by public radio host WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, played to large, sold-out audiences locally and at remote streaming locations.

Bingham and fellow panelists Lee Berger, Dean Falk and Steve Pinker examined from a variety of perspectives what it means to be human in an attempt to answer the question that nagged Charles Darwin until the day he died, “How did the incremental process of evolution by natural selection suddenly produce an utterly unprecedented kind of animal such as humans?”

In his presentation, Bingham explained how human uniqueness emerged from the evolution of social coercion. He developed this Social Coercion Theory with Joanne Souza, also from Stony Brook’s Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, and SBU alum Daijiro Okada, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Rutgers University.

Bingham and Souza wrote Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future, a journey into the evolution of human beings and our properties, social behavior, history and contemporary lives to address the question: Of all living things on this planet, what makes humans so utterly unique?

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