Simon Conway morris – Darwin’s compass: why evolution is very far from random

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‘Darwin’s Compass: Why evolution is very far from random’


Simon Conway Morris

(Cambridge Earth Sciences)

Abstract: Received wisdom is that evolution is effectively open-ended and inherently unpredictable. Jared Diamond points to the uniqueness of woodpeckers and extrapolates to the human, while on a yet wider stage Steven J. Gould famously claimed that to re-run the tape of life would produce an entirely different world, again without humans. I will argue the exact opposite, drawing on examples of evolutionary convergence that span molecular biology (carbonic anhydrase) to behaviour (gin and tonic), and that also point to the inevitability of not only intelligence but the emergence of very similar cognitive maps. Evolutionary convergence is not only a strong indicator of an inherent predictability, (er, like physics), but also suggests that there are deeper principles involved. Darwin understood the motor, I want to understand the substrate.

Date: 28th November 2007, at 16.30

Location: Darwin Lecture Theatre, UCL