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January 15, 2011 5:55 AM   Subscribe

The Price of Altruism - George Price, a (troubled) father of group selection thru his discovery of the eponymous Price Equation, has a rather interesting biography...
George Price was born a Jewish half-breed to parents who kept his Semitic side a secret; lived much of his life an aggressive atheist and skeptic of the supernatural; and died a Christian, twice converted, albeit, to his mind, a defeated one. Several years before he abandoned his career in a mission to shelter and comfort homeless alcoholics, he made a number of extraordinary contributions to evolutionary biology, a field in which he had no training. Educated as a chemist, Price had worked previously for the Manhattan Project on uranium enrichment, helped develop radiation therapy for cancer, invented computer-aided design with IBM and dabbled in journalism.

Shortly after Christmas 1974, Price slashed his carotid artery with a pair of tailor's scissors in his room in a London squat. John Maynard Smith, with whom Price published a paper that applied game theory to natural selection, was one of the few people, along with some of those homeless alcoholics, to attend his funeral. Also present was William Hamilton, the father of kin selection, which proposed that self-sacrificing behavior was able to evolve between related organisms because of the advantages conferred to their shared genes. Price used Hamilton's ideas about kin selection to derive his own equation, one that could explain selection at multiple levels of organization—the genetic level, as well as among individuals in kin groups and populations of unrelated others. The equation marked a breakthrough in the field: Price had provided a working mathematical model for the emergence of altruism in a theory of the world that took dogmatic self-interest as its first principle.
Coincidentally, he died the same day as Gregor Mendel.

Oren Harman talks about his book & Frans de Waal reviews it (btw for an empathic 'mechanism' cf. oxytocin/vasopressin and mirror neurons)
posted by kliuless (9 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

A very interesting story. I'm obligated to point out that Radiolab just had a segment on George Price in their latest show.
posted by ensign_ricky at 6:23 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

jesus, I had no idea that Gregor Mendel lived that long.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:35 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

in spirit... or thru quantum teleportation!

also btw a new paper on gene-environment interaction :P
posted by kliuless at 6:54 AM on January 15, 2011

posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:10 AM on January 15, 2011

yea, just like cats & dogs...
posted by kliuless at 8:24 AM on January 15, 2011

I thunk them half breeds wuz injuns, not Jews!

(Mom of Jewish half-breeds)
posted by mermayd at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2011

The excerpt from Radiolab is amazing, and the man and his story is really remarkable. Great post!
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:08 AM on January 15, 2011


Yeah, fuck that racist term.
posted by peppito at 8:33 PM on January 15, 2011

Primitive agriculture in a social amoeba - "The striking convergent evolution between bacterial husbandry in social amoebas and fungus farming in social insects makes sense because multigenerational benefits of farming go to already established kin groups." also see Slime Mold MacDonald farms its bacterial meals

and btw...
-How much power do our genes have over our friendships?
-Scientists find an equation for friendship
-The history of hugs (awwww)
posted by kliuless at 8:11 AM on January 24, 2011

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