Dueling Selectively With Darwin

Turning points in my intellectual life have never been welcome; I always seem to resist them until forced to do otherwise. One such passage occurred some 10 years ago, as I was walking one spring morning in the Downs of southern England with the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith and his biologist wife Sheila. John, remarking on our proximity to Charles Darwin’s home, chided me gently: “You really must think about natural selection, Stuart.” How his comment shocked me

Stuart Kauffman
Aug 9, 1987

Turning points in my intellectual life have never been welcome; I always seem to resist them until forced to do otherwise. One such passage occurred some 10 years ago, as I was walking one spring morning in the Downs of southern England with the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith and his biologist wife Sheila. John, remarking on our proximity to Charles Darwin’s home, chided me gently: “You really must think about natural selection, Stuart.”

How his comment shocked me! Of course I should think about it! But I had spent more than a decade exploring the idea that much biological order might reflect inherent self-organized properties of complex systems, even in the absence of selection. Since Darwin, of course, we have come to view natural selection, sifting out rare useful mutations from myriads of useless ones, as the sole source of order in biological systems.

But is this view correct?...