Speaker: Sahotra Sarkar, Professor, Department of Philosophy, 
Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin

Date: Monday, April 4, 2016
Time: 3 PM
Place: 102 Reid Hall

Title: Nature and Nurture in the Postgenomic Era

Sponsoring departmentHistory & Philosophy


The Human Genome Project was predicated upon the idea that genes are the primary causal factors for organisms’ traits, including the complex behavioral and disease-related traits in humans. Yet, some fifteen years after the announcement of a completed human genome sequence, genomics seems to have contributed little to the dissection of these traits. Instead, it has only underscored the complexities of organismic development that were part of the repertoire of the critics of the Human Genome Project when it was first proposed. Moreover, a new field of epigenetics has emerged to study the role of inheritance that goes beyond DNA sequence. In some cases, effects of experience influence the genesis of traits after many generations. Sahotra Sarkar will discuss what this all means for the traditional nature-nurture dispute within philosophy. 

About the speaker:

Sahotra Sarkar is a philosopher of science and conservation biologist at the University of Texas at Austin. He is one of the founders of systematic conservation planning within conservation biology,promoting the use of multi-criteria decision analysis and supervising the creation of the ConsNet decision support system.In this context he has advocated participatory environmental planning and strongly criticized the imposition of authoritarian and discriminatory environmental policies on local residents.

In the philosophy of biology, Sarkar is known for his work on reductionism and criticism of hereditarian thinking in biology as well as the use of informational concepts in molecular biology. In the philosophy of physics, Sarkar is known for controversially defending the conventionalism of simultaneity in special relativity and suggesting a stochastic modification of quantum dynamics.

His laboratory also works on a suite of neglected tropical diseases including Chagas disease, dengue, leishmaniasis and tick-borne diseases. In addition, Sarkar is a noted critic of creationism and intelligent design and played an important role in combating attempts to introduce creationism into high school curricula in Texas.