John Maynard Smith

British theoretical evolutionary biologist and geneticist (1920-2004)

John Maynard Smith (January 6 1920April 19 2004) was a British evolutionary biologist and geneticist.

John Maynard Smith in 1997.

Quotes edit

  • It is in the nature of science that once a position becomes orthodox it should be subjected to criticism.... It does not follow that, because a position is orthodox, it is wrong.
    • (1976) Group Selection. Quarterly Review of Biology 51, 277-283.
  • It is an occupational risk of biologists to claim, towards the end of their careers, that the problems which they have not solved are insoluble.
    • John Maynard Smith (1988) Games, sex and evolution. p. 249.

The Theory of Evolution (1958) edit

  • Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed for the remarkable fact of our own existence, indeed the existence of all life wherever it may turn up in the universe.
    • p. xv.
  • Natural selection is the only workable explanation for the beautiful and compelling illusion of 'design' that pervades every living body and every organ. Knowledge of evolution may not be strictly useful in everyday commerce. You can live some sort of life and die without ever hearing the name of Darwin. But if, before you die, you want to understand why you lived in the first place, Darwinism is the one subject that you must study.
    • p. xvi.

Evolution and the Theory of Games (1973) edit

  • The last decade has seen a steady increase in the application of concepts from the theory of games to the study of evolution. Fields as diverse as sex ratio theory, animal distribution, contest behaviour and reciprocal altruism have contributed to what is now emerging as a universal way of thinking about phenotypic evolution.
    • p. vii.
  • Paradoxically, it has turned out that game theory is more readily applied to biology than to the field of economic behavior for which it was originally designed
    • p. vii.
  • Evolutionary game theory is a way of thinking about evolution at the phenotypic level when the fitnesses of particular phenotypes depend on their frequencies in the population.
    • p. 1.
  • The theory of games was first formalised by Von Neumann & Morgenstern (1953) in reference to human economic behaviour. Since that time, the theory has undergone extensive development... Sensibly enough, a central assumption of classical game theory is that the players will behave rationally, and according to some criterion of self-interest. Such an assumption would clearly be out of place in an evolutionary context. Instead, the criterion of rationality is replaced by that of population dynamics and stability, and the criterion of self-interest by Darwinian fitness.
    • p. 1-2.
  • Game theory concepts were first explicitly applied in evolutionary biology by Lewontin (1961). His approach, however, was to picture a species as playing a game against nature, and to seek strategies which minimised the probability of extinction. A similar line has been taken by Slobodkin & Rapoport (1974). In contrast, here we picture members of a population as playing games against each other, and consider the population dynamics and equilibria which can arise.
    • p. 2.

Quotes about Smith edit

  • John Maynard Smith, an engineer by training, knows much about his biology secondhand. He seldom deals with live organisms. He computes and he reads. I suspect that it's very hard for him to have insight into any group of organisms when he does not deal with them directly. Biologists, especially, need direct sensory communication with the live beings they study and about which they write.
    • Lynn Margulis, The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution ed. John Brockman (1995).

External links edit

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