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Franjo Weissing receives Distinguished Lorentz Fellowship

14 December 2016

Franjo Weissing, Professor of Theoretical Biology from the University of Groningen, wins the Distinguished Lorentz Fellowship 2017/18 for his research on cultural evolution. 

Evolution of Culture 

Weissing’s research focusses on understanding the causes and consequences of diversity at all levels of biological organisation. During his Distinguished Lorentz Fellowship he will tackle the diversity of human culture. “In the last decades, it has become popular to view cultural change – that is changes in knowledge, technology, skills, languages, customs, attitudes, beliefs, social norms – as a process that is similar to biological/genetic evolution. Though an evolutionary perspective might indeed provide a powerful theoretical framework for understanding and predicting cultural change, up to now all attempts to develop such a framework have not been really convincing. The theoretical foundations of cultural evolution theory, which are largely based on the analogy with genetic evolution, are in urgent need of a rethink."

"I plan to use the Fellowship and workshop for such a systematic reconsideration. I will work on the establishment of a new theoretical framework – a framework that is not based on the analogy between genes and ‘cultural traits’ but on the internal and external mechanisms underlying the emergence and spread of cultural innovations. The establishment of a convincing framework requires intense discussions with social scientists, anthropologists, historians, psychologists, and other experts that have detailed knowledge of the internal and external processes that are relevant for 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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