Athena Aktipis

(Techniques Speaker Series)

February 24, 2021
4 pm (MST)

Zoom meeting


Athena Aktipis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University, co-Director of The Human Generosity Project and Director of the Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative at ASU. She studies how systems effectively scale up cooperation and avoid being undermined by cheating. Her work encompasses many different systems and methods,  from studying human sharing in The Human Generosity Project to cellular cooperation and cheating in multicellular bodies. Aktipis is the author of The Cheating Cell: How evolution helps us understand and treat cancer (Princeton University Press). She is also the chair of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting and is the host of the podcast, Zombified.

Here is the link to Athena’s website.

Public Talk

Cannibalizing Ourselves: how our brains and our bodies turn against us

From mutated genes in cancer cells to viral memes invading our brains, we are more vulnerable than we like to think. In this talk, I explain how cannibalistic forces can arise in the meat of our bodies and electrical signals of our brains, slowly eating us from the inside out. First, we look at cancer cells. They evolve within us to exploit the very cooperation that makes us viable multicellular organisms. They consume the resources in our bodies, cannibalizing healthy cells to turn them into raw materials for their own propagation. Second, we look at self-replicating brain-eating memes. From the Baby Shark (do-do, do-do-do-do) song to QAnon conspiracy theories, it is frightening how easily our brains can be consumed by socially transmitted information. Why do cancer cells and conspiracy theories both have the power to cannibalize us? I end by explaining how both of these cannibalistic forces gain their power from through a slow and pernicious process of natural selection. If you want to learn how to avoid being eaten alive, or at least how to be more aware while your body and brains are being liquified, you should definitely listen to this talk.