CCGL9042 Global Issues

The Evolution of Civilization

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


[This course will be offered twice – one section  each in semesters 1 and 2 on WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON (4:30 pm – 6:20 pm).  The first section will be delivered in the CENTRAL PODIUM LEVELS, CENTENNIAL CAMPUS and the second section in the WILLIAM MW MONG BLOCK, SASSOON ROAD CAMPUS.]

Course Description

This course will draw on economics, evolutionary theory, and psychology to address the key issues:

  1. How did humans go from relatively isolated tribal life to an increasingly cooperative, interconnected, globalized world?
  2. How can our knowledge of human nature and past progress be used to help solve major societal challenges?

The theme of this course is that natural selection is a useful framework for understanding how humans have progressed from subsisting in relatively isolated groups to where individuals are highly specialized in their productive efforts and highly integrated with the entire world through globalization. The course will explore how this progression may be the result of genetic selection, but likely more the result of selection acting on ideas, or memes, rather than genes, but in an analogous manner.

Through an understanding of human evolution, the origin of economic development will be explored. Combined with the psychological perspective of understanding the individual, we attempt to shed light on how complex civilization has come into existence. Lectures will ask one or two main scientific questions and then focus on answering them, showing the types of evidence that can be used to address the question and the logical progression of ideas.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding and awareness of the various domains of human progress.
  2. Describe and explain the basic principles of evolutionary theory as a model for human progress.
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of how trade and specialization are central to human advancement.
  4. Apply knowledge and understanding of evolutionary theory, psychology, and the scientific method to solving several societal problems.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Course will be offered twice:
Section 1 – First semester (Wed); Section 2 – Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 60
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 20
Assessment: Reflective writing 20
Total: 134

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Class discussion 25
Group presentation 25
Reflective writing 25
In-class quizzes 25

Required Reading

  • Ridley, M. (2010). The rational optimist: How prosperity evolves. New York: Harper.

Recommended Reading

  • Axelrod, R. (2009). The evolution of cooperation (Rev. ed.). Basic Books.
  • Clark, G. (2007). A farewell to alms. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Harford, T. (2011). Adapt. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody. New York: Penguin Press.

Recommended Website


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr L.W. Baum
Centre for Genomic Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5106
Email: lwbaum@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr L.W. Baum
Centre for Genomic Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5106
Email: lwbaum@hku.hk