John Maynard Smith, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, is the author of On Evolution, The Evolution of Sex, Evolution and the Theory of Games, and, with Eörs Szathmáry, The Major Transitions in Evolution. (December 2000)

The Cheshire Cat’s DNA

In 1900, three biologists independently rediscovered Mendel’s laws, according to which the characteristics of organisms are determined by hereditary units, each kind being present once in a gamete, sperm or egg, and hence twice in the fertilized egg. In effect, it was an atomic theory of heredity. The term “genetics” …

Genes, Memes, & Minds

As an evolutionary biologist, I am used to being misunderstood by philosophers. Even my favorite philosopher, Karl Popper, although he later repented, argued for many years that evolution theory is metaphysics rather than science. It is therefore a pleasure to meet a philosopher who understands what Darwinism is about, and …

Life at the Edge of Chaos?

Darwinism Evolving is a history of ideas about biological diversity and evolution, from Aristotle to the present day. The last part of the book is an account of some recent developments, and an attempt to forecast the future. Most of this review will be concerned with the final section, which …

Taking a Chance on Evolution

Although very different in style and content, the last two books by Stephen Jay Gould—Wonderful Life and Bully for Brontosaurus—and Ernst Mayr’s Toward a New Philosophy of Biology are ultimately about the same questions. Is evolutionary biology a science? If so, what kind of a science is it? Mayr’s book …

Dinosaur Dilemmas

When, as often happens, I find myself dissenting from something written by Stephen Jay Gould, I remind myself that we share a common childhood experience. We were both dinosaur nuts, at a time when to be interested in dinosaurs was to be an oddball. For both of us, that early …

Triumphs of Colonialism

I remember, some years ago, visiting E.O. Wilson at Harvard. For some reason, he had to leave the room for a few minutes, and during his absence I enjoyed watching a colony of weaver ants with which—I almost wrote with whom—he shared his office. At first sight their movements appeared …

What Can’t the Computer Do?

The year 1989 marked a milestone in the history of artificial intelligence. A computer program, Deep Thought, defeated several chess grandmasters. The Russian grandmaster Garri Kasparov, it is true, defeated Deep Thought, but who can feel confident that in ten years’ time the then world champion will be able to …

Natural Selection of Culture?

The formal similarities between biological evolution and human history have repeatedly tempted students of one topic to borrow ideas from the other. The most famous and fruitful example of borrowing by biologists of an idea from the human sciences was the use made, by both Darwin and Wallace, of Malthus’s …

Storming the Fortress

To write a history of the world, a man would have to be slightly crazy. He would have to be possessed by some single idea which, he believed, could illuminate the whole course of history, and in the light of which all events could be judged. To write a history …