Friday, May 2, 2008
Oh dear, it's Friday again already. The scientist being appreciated this week is John Maynard Smith, aeronautical engineer turned evolutionary biologist. Part of what draws me to him is that I feel a slight kinship with him in terms of the change of fields (after all, I left aerospace engineering to pursue a degree in computational neuroscience). More to the point, though, is that Dr. Maynard Smith is a perfect example of the great impact a person can have on a traditionally descriptive field simply by applying mathematical reasoning. Instrumental in bringing game theory to bear on some of the more nuanced and difficult areas of evolution (such as cooperative behaviour), his best known game theory model is the Hawk-Dove game. I was first introduced to the works of John Maynard Smith by his mention in Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, where his arguments and models are used extensively in framing the thoughts of, in my admittedly not entirely informed opinion, one of the greatest evolutionary biologists of the last century. Of course, like so many of my intellectual heroes, John Maynard Smith is now unfortunately deceased, leaving me without hope of ever getting to meet him and thank him for helping me see the beautiful obviousness of evolution by simply knowing how to look.