ANT221H5 The Trust Paradox

Science for everyone

Compelling and accessible

This exciting new online course was developed by Dr. David Samson, Associate Professor of Biological Anthropology. Dr. Samson's high-profile research has been featured in venues such as BBC, Time, New York Times, TVO and New Scientist.

  • Instructor: Dr. David Samson
  • Prerequisites: None. All registered UTM undergraduate students may enrol in this course.
  • Distribution: Science credit at UTM
  • Mode of delivery: online synchronous course

buddhist monks praying and soldiers marching with arms raised

About the course

The ultimate question that all life is bound to ask is: how do I survive?

Our species, evolved a uniquely human answer, which led to our ascendance as the most dominant on the planet….but at what cost? This course explores a central human paradox: how altruism, community, kindness, and war and genocide are all driven by the same core adaption. We’ll call this the Trust Paradox and the evolution of this suite of traits, best described as coalitionary cognition, is one of the most complex and ancient in our species. We will explore how this – often imperceptible drive – can predict our behavior even better than “race,” class, gender, or religion. It is responsible for our capacity for cooperation and competition, and allowed us to navigate increasingly complex social landscapes. But in our vast modern world, has this blessing become a curse? 

We will explore the new science of applied evolutionary anthropology through:

  • readings
  • podcasts
  • a documentary (Roko Belic’s Happy – a cross cultural investigation of positive psychology)
  • active learning assignments

The first part of the course is a description of the science of coalitionary instincts as they typically manifest in ethnolinguistic groups.

The second part of the course is an exploration of the ways in which we can leverage this drive in an applied manner to increase human wellness, in our face-to-face communities as well as at scale within and among societies.

We will engage with cutting-edge science and philosophy, as well as Dr. Samson's lab research with small-scale societies and wild chimpanzees, to explain the science, ethics, and history of coalitionary cognition in compelling and accessible terms.

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