Wistar Day

Koprowski and I, the only biologists present, were confronted by a rather weird discussion between four mathematicians – Eden, Schutzenberger, Weisskopf, and Ulam – on mathematical doubts concerning the Darwinian theory of evolution. At the end of several hours of heated debate, the biological contingent proposed that a symposium be arranged to consider the points of dispute more systematically, and with a more powerful array of biologists who could function adequately in the universe of discourse inhabited by mathematicians.

– Martin Kaplan

References:

Wistar and DNA Day: A Fifty-Year Fuse Under Neo-Darwinism

Mathematicians and Evolution

Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Review)

Inadequacies of neo-Darwinian evolution as a scientific theory

Algorithms and the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution

The Chairman: We are not interested in your computers!

13 thoughts on “Wistar Day

  1. The argument made by Eden and by Schutzenberger at the Wistar institute symposium is basically the same “rarity of functioning proteins” argument that has been discussed here ad nauseam. Most of the biologists at the symposium did evolutionary biology a disservice by treating the symposium as just another occasion to brag about their latest work. They only briefly refuted the protein-space argument.

    However the last link given by Mung above is Schutzenberger’s paper from the symposium volume. See particularly the discussion afterward. (Dick Lewontin, who plays a major role in it, was my thesis advisor at the time, and I was back in his lab in Chicago while he was attending the conference). One translation should be made. When Conrad Waddington uses the term “epigenetics”, a term he coined, it is basically a synonym for “development”. It does not refer more narrowly to methylation of DNA or histone modifications, phenomena completely unknown at that time.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed talking science and evolution with mathematicians. They’re very smart of course, but usually completely clueless about biology. Many of their questions, observations and misunderstandings are so out of my normal mode of thinking I have dig deep to even understand what they’re getting at, much less discuss.

  3. REW:
    I’ve always enjoyed talking science and evolution with mathematicians. They’re very smart of course, but usually completely clueless about biology. Many of their questions, observations and misunderstandings are so out of my normal mode of thinking I have dig deep to even understand what they’re getting at, much less discuss.

    If my experience is any guide, it’s not a symmetrical situation. They don’t have to dig deep to understand what you’re getting at; in fact they think they know more about biology than you do by virtue of their superior mathematical brains.

  4. Speaking of anniversaries, was Paul Nelson Day celebrated here? It was just a couple weeks ago.

  5. John Harshman: They don’t have to dig deep to understand what you’re getting at; in fact they think they know more about biology than you do by virtue of their superior mathematical brains.

    With one exception that was not the case. But maybe they were just being polite and if offered the anonymity of the internet would have been a bit more arrogant….but i’m inclined to think not

  6. John Harshman,

    How would one celebrate? By partaking of some sort of bouillabaisse that contained sea-creatures with as diverse array of body plans as possible?? One would have to cook the sponges a loooong time.

  7. Math is only a language of measurement . measurement is a real thing. God himself says he measured things out. (proverbs/Job etc).
    Yet for biology origins math is useless.
    The only math that is useful is the type used by Berlinski etc in demonstrating the impossibility of the odds for things to create complexity.
    So math only can show error in a subject that uses probability to explain fish becoming zebras.
    In proving evolution or disproving it math doesn’t help because its all about just memorizing things alreadsy known. Very math folks invent/discover some new math thing.
    They are doing doing insight/imagination and I suspect that the more math one does the less able one is able to contribute to scientific discovery/invention.
    The thing about complicated subjects like biology origins is one must think. Not memorize what others thought up long ago.

  8. Joe Felsenstein:
    Well, that sure takes care of me.Gotta stop stop all this mathematical biology stuff and go into some other field.

    Maybe you could take up free verse. Use Byers as a model. I particularly love

    So math only can show error
    in a subject that uses probability
    to explain
    fish
    becoming
    zebras

    Definitely improves if you adjust the line breaks a bit; Byers needs to think more about that.

  9. Robert Byers: The thing about complicated subjects like biology origins is one must think. Not memorize what others thought up long ago.

    Would you like some butter on that brick of irony?

  10. Joe Felsenstein:
    Well, that sure takes care of me.Gotta stop stop all this mathematical biology stuff and go into some other field.

    If you say your doing biology then its about ideas on biology. Crunching numbers
    would only be after some biology presumptions were made.
    I don’t know the details of what you do but I bet math is only a supplement to foundational conclusions.
    Why would math have any insight into biological origins?

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