Diamond gives presentation at BC

AK Pachla, Copy Editor

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The Levan Center for the Humanities opened the 2016 season of their speaker series on April 6 with a presentation in the SPArC Indoor Theater by author, ecologist, and environmental historian Jared Diamond.

Diamond, a Cambridge Ph.D. and polyglot (among the 14 languages he has learned are German, Russian, a regional dialect spoken by the indiginous people of New Guinea, and soon, Italian) spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about his fifty year career as an anthropologist and the insights his work has given him regarding the human condition and the western world.

One of the first things any anthropologist will say about the study of culture is that humans face universal problems. We all have to eat, stay clean, avoid danger, and resolve disputes. Diamond refers to the variety of human culture as “a million experiments” in how humans solve our problems.

Diamond recounts the story of his first field expedition to New Guinea as a young anthropologist. He found the community there to be friendly, but took pause at some of the traditions. His guides, for example, refused to set their tents up beneath dead trees. Thinking this to be a superstition, Diamond ignored their warnings, but considered their words.

The New Guineans were actually employing some very clever statistical reasoning. When one lives a life where every night is spent sleeping under trees, Diamond used math to discover that if one made a habit of sleeping under dead trees, the likelihood of dying from having a dead tree fall on you in the night approaches 100 percent within ten years. It isn’t superstition. It’s algebra.

“We tend to go to one or another extreme in thinking about small traditional societies,” says Diamond, explaining that indigenous cultures are neither the noble savage nor the backwards caveman, but people living their lives and solving the problems they encounter. To regard others as fundamentally different from ourselves is to close ourselves off from our own colletive genius, Diamond contends.

Jared Diamond has written several books about anthropology and human ecology, including “The Third Chimpanzee,” “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” and his most recent, “The World Until Yesterday.” For more information about Dr. Diamond and his work, visit www. jareddiamond.org. For more information about the Levan Center 2016 Speaker Series, future guests, and a schedule of upcoming events, click the Levan Center’s tab on the BC website.

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