Proximal vs ultimate constraints on evolution

For a mathematician — like John D. Cook, for example — objectives and constraints are duals of each other. But sometimes the objectives are easier to see than the constraints. This is certainly the case for evolution. Here, most students would point you to fitness as the objective to be maximized. And at least at a heuristic level — under a sufficiently nuanced definition of fitness — biologists would agree. So let’s take the objective…

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Permission to Learn

When you were in elementary school, did you get a say in what you learned? How about in secondary school? Odds are, you were given a set of classes, and your time at school looked something like this: We all had these instances when we wondered, “Why am I learning this?” We were then either told that we had no choice, or that that there were benefits to learning that material that we couldn’t see…

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Unity of knowing and doing in education and society

Traditionally, knowledge is separated from activity and passed down from teacher to student as disembodied information. For John Dewey, this tradition reinforces the false dichotomy between knowing and doing. A dichotomy that is socially destructive, and philosophically erroneous. I largely agree with the above. The best experiences I’ve had of learning was through self-guided discovery of wanting to solve a problem. This is, for example, one of the best ways to learn to program, or…

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John Maynard Smith on reductive vs effective thinking about evolution

“The logic of animal conflict” — a 1973 paper by Maynard Smith and Price — is usually taken as the starting for evolutionary game theory. And as far as I am an evolutionary game theorists, it influences my thinking. Most recently, this thinking has led me to the conclusion that there are two difference conceptions of evolutionary games possible: reductive vs. effective. However, I don’t think that this would have come as much of a…

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Heuristic models as inspiration-for and falsifiers-of abstractions

Last month, I blogged about abstraction and lamented that abstract models are lacking in biology. Here, I want to return to this. What isn’t lacking in biology — and what I also work on — is simulation and heuristic models. These can seem abstract in the colloquial sense but are not very abstract for a computer scientist. They are usually more idealizations than abstractions. And even if all I care about is abstract models —…

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As a scientist, don’t speak to the public. Listen to the public.

There is a lot of advice written out there for aspiring science writers and bloggers. And as someone who writes science and about science, I read through this at times. The most common trend I see in this advice is to make your writing personal and to tell a story, with all the drama and plot-twists of a good page-turner. This is solid advise for good writing, one that we shouldn’t restrict to writing about…

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