CCGL9042 Global Issues

The Evolution of Civilization

This course is under the thematic cluster(s) of:

  • The Quest for a Meaningful Life / The Universe and the Question of Meaning (UQM)
  • The Human Life Span (HL)

[This is a certified Communication-intensive (CI) Course which meets all of the requirements endorsed by HKU’s Senate, including (i) the teaching assessment of oral and digital communication ‘literacies’; and (ii) at least 40% of the course grade assigned to communication-rich assessment tasks.]

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.
  5. Develop and demonstrate ability to speak effectively, display data in graphs, and convey messages by integrating text and graphics.

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 12
Reading / Self-study 64
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 20
Total: 120

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Class discussion 30
Presentation 40
In-class quizzes 30

Required Reading

  • Harari, Y. (2014). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harper Perennial. [Chaps. 2, 6, 10, 17, 19, 20]
  • Ridley, M. (2010). The rational optimist: How prosperity evolves. New York: Harper.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr L.W. Baum
Department of Psychiatry, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5106
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr L.W. Baum
Department of Psychiatry, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5106