Newsletter > 22/04/2014 Saturday 24 October 2020

Antonianum-Templeton Research Project on Human Specificity

Place: Pua Roma
Date: 22/04/2014
PUA The Pontifical University Antonianum is hosting a research project sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, which involves the Theology and Philosophy Faculties. The title of the project is “Human Specificity: Tools, Symbols and Culture among Neuroscience, Philosophical Anthropology and the Religious Attitude towards Creation”. The research is based upon recent achievements and trends in cognitive neuroscience regarding high cognitive functions such as language and the use of tools, as well as written language, religious behavior and cultural dynamics in general. A key notion is that of “neural re-use”, according to which the evolutionary emergence of new (and higher) cognitive function (e.g., complex imitation and language) does not necessarily require the formation of new cortical areas, but rather happens through the re-use of existing neural circuitry for implementing more elaborate neural functional networks able to support those higher cognitive functions. Beyond its evolutionary implications, there is preliminary evidence the neural re-use may also happen during the lifespan of human beings. A case in point is that of the neural occurrences accompanying the acquisition of reading skills. This might represent, according to the project’s working hypothesis, a case of a genuinely cultural dynamic (reading) affecting the neural architecture both without passing through evolutionary modifications and in ways not entirely reducible to neuronal learning mechanisms.

If this were the case, then reductive understanding of human culture would be much less plausible. And this in turn would have relevant consequences both for an integral and non-reductive understanding of human specificity, and for continuing to refine the message of the imago Dei doctrine as well as of the eschatological dimension of Christianity.

In light of this project, a Research Seminar on the topic of “Broca’s area and Mirror Neuron System among Tools and Language, Learning and Sociality” took place at the Antonianum on Oct. 24-26, 2013, with presentations by Prof. Karl Zilles, neuroscientist from Jülich Research Centre; Prof. Pier Francesco Ferrari, neuro-primatologist, from Parma University; and Prof. Gennaro Auletta, philosopher, from University Gregoriana in Rome.

The next Research Seminar is scheduled for April 2014, on the issue of “Broca’s Area and Motor Cortex between Linguistic Syntax and Complex Actions”. Professors Andrea Moro, neuroscientist from Pavia University, and Giovanni Buccino, neuroscientist from University of Catanzaro, are invited to deliver the results of their recent research, and to establish a dialogue with philosophers and theologians.

Those interested in this research project can contact Ivan Colage via email:
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