Animals play a central role in human imagination. We study them, worship them, and domesticate them. We use animals to tell some of our most popular stories. But what do our characterizations of animals tell us about us? In other words, to what extent can cultural and scientific practices of characterizing animals reveal aspects of human (and animal) cognition? How do attributions of “human” characteristics to “other” animals simultaneously blur and fortify distinctions among these classifications? Our panelists approach these questions from perspectives in history, literature, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience. Harriet Ritvo will consider the boundaries between humans and animals in fiction and fantasy, Jonathan Losos will explore cultural fascinations with domesticity through the science of cats, and Alexandra Horowitz will discuss the physical and psychological curiosities of anthropomorphism in dogs.
Jonathan Losos, Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Curator in Herpetology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
Harriet Ritvo, Arthur J. Conner Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Matteo Farinella, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University
Lan A. Li, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University