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Distinguished Lorentz Fellow Award Ceremony 2017

When 26 September 2017 from 16:00 to 18:30 hrs
Where VOC Room, Bushuis, University of Amsterdam
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Franjo Weissing will be awarded the Distinguished Lorentz Fellowship 2017/18 in a prize ceremony on 26 September 2017. Weissing, Professor of Theoretical Biology from the University of Groningen, receives the Fellowship for his research on cultural evolution. 


16.00: Arrival, coffee and tea
16.30:  Welcome by Theo Mulder, Director of NIAS
16.40: Talk by Franjo Weissing "Rethinking cultural evolution theory"
17.10: Presentation of the Distinguished Lorentz Fellowship Award by Sijbolt Noorda, Chair of the NIAS-Lorentz Advisory Board
17.30 - 18.30: Reception

TALK "Rethinking cultural evolution theory"

Understanding cultural change – that is changes in language, customs, attitudes, beliefs, social norms, knowledge, technology, or skills – is a major challenge in the humanities and the social sciences. Various researchers have pointed out that cultural change is in many respects similar to genetic evolution. The argument is that, like genes, cultural traits exhibit variation, that this variation is transmitted between individuals, and that the variants differ in their efficiency to spread in a population. In other words, cultural traits show heritable variation in transmission efficiency, the prerequisite for evolution by natural selection. Based on this fundamental insight, the vivid research field of “cultural evolution” has emerged, which adopts concepts, methods and ideas from the theory of genetic evolution and applies them to cultural processes, such as the spread of language or technology. Some researchers even suggest that an evolutionary approach may provide a synthetic framework for unifying the social sciences, just as genetic evolution is a unifying principle underlying all life sciences. Although such ideas may sound appealing, one must realize that cultural evolution theory is much less well established than its biological counterpart. In particular, there is no generally accepted view of the nature of “cultural traits,” the laws governing their transmission, and the meaning and dynamics of “cultural selection.” Weissing is convinced that the cultural evolution framework needs a new theoretical foundation, which is not based on the analogy between genes and “cultural traits” but on the mechanisms underlying the emergence and spread of cultural innovations. During his DLF project, he will work on the establishment of such a framework, hopefully profiting from intense discussions with social scientists, anthropologists, historians, psychologists, and other experts that have detailed knowledge of the processes underlying cultural change.

Franjo Weissing

Prof.dr. Franjo Weissing has a distinct interdisciplinary profile. He graduated in Mathematics with minors in Biology, Physics, Economics, and Psychology. Weissing wrote his PhD thesis in the area of evolutionary game theory, under supervision of the economist (and later Nobel laureate) Reinhard Selten. At the Centre of Interdisciplinary Research of the University of Bielefeld, Weissing wrote his first publications together with the political scientist (and later Nobel laureate) Elinor Ostrom. Since 1989 he has been at the University of Groningen and is currently Full Professor of Theoretical Biology and Founding Director of Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Course Evolutionary Biology (MEME). Weissing has published many multi-disciplinary papers in high-impact journals such as Science, Nature and PNAS. 

The Distinguished Lorentz Fellowship

The Distinguished Lorentz Fellowship (DLF) is awarded to a leading scientist working on research that brings together perspectives from the Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Technological Sciences. It was set up by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW) and the Lorentz Center Leiden. The award consists of a residential fellowship at NIAS, an international workshop at the Lorentz Center and a personal prize of €10,000. The Fellowship is part of the NIAS-Lorentz Program, promoting cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. Previous DLF's include law and technology expert Bert-Jaap Koops, mathematical economist Cars Hommes, and musicologist Henkjan Honing. Franjo Weissing will receive the award from Sijbolt Noorda, Chair of the NIAS-Lorentz Advisory Board, at a ceremony in Amsterdam in late Spring 2017.

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