Darwinism in Thought and Action

It has been interesting to see a Darwinian perspective increasingly being applied in areas outside the confines of biology. Take this line from a recent review of the Umberto Eco edited On Ugliness in the Village Voice:

That he shows no awareness of post-Darwinian science can mean only that he isn’t serious about locating the sources of aesthetic feelings.

I can’t recall ever seeing Darwin invoked in a piece of literary criticism.

In A Farewell to Alms economist Gregory Clark presents data showing that the most economically successful individuals in the pre-industrial era were not only more literate, but had significantly more surviving children than the disadvantaged. In an age of little economic expansion, this forced cultural and perhaps genetic differences down the economic ladder, taking their middle-class values with them. This he argues lowered the level of violence and set the stage for the Industrial Revolution. See the New York Times review here, as well as the accompanying graphics.

Interestingly, Norman Cantor in The Civilization of the Middle Ages suggests an antieugenical effect from the prohibition to marriage and siring children for the most educated segment of early Medieval society, the clergy. This stands in contrast he says to the rabbinical mandate to father as many children as possible.

The recent troubles with Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at M.I.T. brought to mind the work of Rafal Kicinger. He has proposed applying natural selection to structural design.

Mystery Text

Schematic of Genetic Design Process

It would be interesting to see this approach taken to other aspects of design, such cost, environmental impact and aesthetics. I imagine there will come a time when all designs are proven and adapted against these vectors using genetic algorithms.

» Posted: Saturday, November 17, 2007 | Comments (1) | Permanent Link


Although “Darwinism” is widely misunderstood and as often misused, it is certainly a powerful tool in widely domains. But as much as, and perhaps more, than almost any other idea, we need to be on guard for the very serious perversions of thought, logic, and humanity that have, throughout history, been presented under the good name Darwin.

» Posted by David S. on November 28, 2007 01:23 PM