Yale-NUS College hosts renowned primatologist Frans de Waal to discuss human versus animal intelligence

3 March 2017

Event aimed at bringing the liberal arts experience to the local community

From 6 to 8 March 2017, Yale-NUS will host renowned primatologist Frans de Waal, an ethologist and biologist known for his work on the behaviour and social intelligence of primates.

Professor de Waal will be speaking at a public talk titled ‘Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are’ on 6 March 2017, where he will challenge the view that our intelligence set humans apart from other animals. Employing modern neuroscience research, he will demonstrate how claims of the uniqueness of human intelligence is overthrown by the increasing recognition of how other primates are political, cultural and perhaps even moral beings. The central message of this new science, known as evolutionary cognition, is one of mental continuity across all species, with human intelligence being a variety of animal intelligence.

On 8 March 2017, Professor de Waal will also participate in a public panel discussion titled ‘Being human: Ethics, religion and our ancestry’, which will discuss questions about the relationship between animal and human behaviour, what we can learn from animals and apply to the human condition.

Professor de Waal is the inaugural speaker of ‘The Big Think’, an annual event aimed at bringing the liberal arts experience to the community. Held over three days at Yale-NUS College, ‘The Big Think’ comprises a series of public talks and small-group discussions for Yale-NUS community and members of the public to engage with and be inspired by thought-provoking insights from a prominent and influential scholar. Such events foster not only a curiosity for knowledge but also an appreciation of the diversity and free exchange of ideas, a central tenet of liberal arts education.

The conceptualisation of ‘The Big Think’ was led by Assistant Professors of Science Ajay Sriram Mathuru and Philip Johns. The duo shared that each year, a speaker who appeals to the scholars and students across the three divisions at Yale-NUS College – Science, Social Sciences and Humanities – will be invited to share on an interdisciplinary topic that would also be of interest to the general public.

They said: “We see this as a broad extension of the Common Curriculum, which students take in their first two years at Yale-NUS, where classes are created to be multi-disciplinary and to drive critical, creative and active thinking. We want to extend that interdisciplinary nature of Yale-NUS’ classes and learning past our own community, and share that with the rest of Singapore.”

Events At A Glance

Event Date/Time/Venue Details
Public talk: Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are 6 March 2017, 6.30pm,
Yale-NUS College Performance Hall
Panel Discussion: Being Human: Ethics, Religion, and our Ancestry 8 March 2017, 6.30pm,
Yale-NUS College Performance Hall
  • Open to media
  • Panel session with Frans de Waal, Gavin Flood(Comparative Religious Studies, Yale-NUS College), and John van Wyhe (History and Biology, National University of Singapore)
  • Register at http://beinghuman.peatix.com

For media enquiries, please contact

19 June 2020: Outdated links have been removed.