Past Event

Characterizing Animals in Science and Fiction

November 28, 2016
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
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Buell Hall, Columbia University, 515 West 116th Street, New York

The event recording is available via YouTube. 

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.


  • Alexandra Horowitz, Adjunct Associate Professor, Barnard College
  • 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

This event is sponsored by the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience.