MIS Speaker's Series: Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini


1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 8, 2019


McClelland Hall 130

Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Arizona

Title: What Darwin Got Wrong


Abstract: Charles Darwin wrote: “For natural selection can act only by taking advantage of slight successive variations; she can never take a leap, but must advance by the shortest and slowest steps”.

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely breakdown. But I can find out no such case”.

Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection Ch VI (Murray, London, 1859, p. 194).

I will show that Darwin was right in saying that his theory would absolutely breakdown if any such complex organ is found. But many have been found: (1) Organs having appeared suddenly, without any adaptive value. The internal (please notice: internal) mechanisms are fully understood. (2) Coordination: multiple traits appearing together. None has any adaptive value in isolation. No adaptive value of small steps. (3) The Evo-Devo revolution (4) Physical and chemical constraints on what forms of life are possible.

I will conclude with some lessons and a conclusion.


Bio: Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini is (since August 1999) Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Arizona, member of the Cognitive Science Program, of the Department of Psychology, of the Department of Linguistics, and honorary member of the Department of Management and Organizations. In the Fall of 2013 he has been a visiting scholar in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy of MIT and then in the Department if Psychology at UCLA.

He has been the founder and director of the Department of Cognitive Science (DIPSCO), of the Scientific Institute San Raffaele, in Milan (Italy), and then professor of Cognitive Psychology at the San Raffaele University. Previously he was Principal Research Scientist at the Center for Cognitive Science of MIT (1986-1993), visiting professor at: MIT, Rutgers University, Harvard University, University of Maryland, the Collège de France (Paris, France), and at the University of Bologna. He obtained his doctorate in physics at the University of Rome (Italy) in 1969. His principal domains of research and teaching are Cognitive Science, Judgment and Decision Making, Biological Foundations of Language, Language Evolution, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science. He has been the recipient of the prize “Premio Il Rosone d’Oro”, for the diffusion of science to the general public, of Premio Tevere for the best book of non-fiction, Rome (Italy) and of the Medal of the Chambers of Representatives (Medaglia della Camera dei Deputati) for the diffusion of science.  He has also been for many years, a regular science correspondent for the daily paper “Il Corriere della Sera”. Now for “Il Foglio.”


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