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STIAS Lecture Series: Professor Onur Güntürkün
Start: 22/03/2017, 13:00
End: 22/03/2017, 14:00
Contact:Felicia Mc Donald - 021 808 2581
Location: CREST Lokaal 4045, 4de vloer, RW Wilcocks Gebou

​You are cordially invited to attend the second public STIAS lecture of 2017. This presents an opportunity to academics, researchers and students at SU and in the Western Cape, as well as members of the public, to learn more about the work of STIAS fellows and associates.

On this occasion Professor Onur Güntürkün

Professor for Biopsychology at the Ruhr-University Bochum

 and STIAS fellow will present a talk with the title:


The Parallel Evolution of Cognition in Birds and Mammals


In short, my question is the following: Is it possible that the ability for higher cognition arose several times in parallel during evolution? This could imply that some very different animals also developed brain mechanisms that can generate highly intelligent behavior. 

Until very recently, scientists thought that the emergence of the neocortex (the outer layer of the brain in humans and other mammals) was a prerequisite for complex cognition. Birds and all other non-mammalian beasts own nothing that resembles the neocortex. Thus, according to the classic view of neuroscience, we mammals should be the only group of animals that have complex cognitive abilities. Unfortunately, this view is wrong. Studies of the last two decades revealed that especially corvids and parrots are cognitively on par with apes. In fact, there is not a single cognitive ability demonstrated in chimps (brain weight 400g) that meanwhile was not also demonstrated in corvids (brain weight 12g). So, the neocortex does not seem to generate a computational advantage that surpasses the capacity of the non-cortical avian forebrain. Just the reverse seems to be true: birds churn out more brain power with far less brains. Since the evolution of birds and mammals parted ca. 300 million years ago, it is likely that birds have taken a completely different neural route to generate complex cognition. The fascinating point is the following: The way that birds solve cognitive problems is virtually identical to the way we mammals do. Thus, birds and mammals convergently developed two very differently organized forebrains that nevertheless generate virtually identical cognitive abilities. My talk is about these discoveries but also about preliminary experimental results that could give answer to the burning question how birds achieve all this.

Date      Wednesday 22 March 2017
Time      13:00
Place     CREST Room 4045, 4th floor, RW Wilcocks Building,

              Cnr of Ryneveld and Victoria Streets, Stellenbosch


Onur Güntürkün is a Turkish-born Professor for Biopsychology at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. He is kept awake with questions like: "why do humans and other animals have asymmetrically organized brains?", "can different kinds of brains produce the same cognition?" or "what is the neural substrate of our thoughts?". He spent years of his life in different universities in Germany, France, the USA, Australia, Turkey, and Belgium. He mostly uses humans and pigeons as his experimental subjects but also loves to do science with dolphins and magpies. Onur Güntürkün works with all kinds of research approaches that reach from simple field work to brain imaging at ultrahigh magnetic fields, is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences, holds two honorary doctorates, and received numerous national and international scientific awards, among them both the highest German and Turkish science award.

We look forward to welcoming you at this event  –  not to be missed!