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Proving Darwin: Making Biology Mathematical Reprint Edition

3.3 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1400077984
ISBN-10: 1400077982
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“One of the great ideas men of mathematics and computer science.” —New Scientist

“Strange and marvelous. . . Disarmingly funny, but also thrillingly clear.” —The Guardian

“[Chaitin’s] enjoyment of the topics of his own research is infectious.” —The Times Higher Education Supplement
 
“Call him Omega Man. . . . In the rarefied world of pure mathematics, Gregory Chaitin is indeed something of a venerated superhero.” —Waterloo Region Record

“[Chaitin is] enthusiastic and extremely readable. . . . Amazing. No wonder [he] chose mathematics over physics.” —New Scientist

“The musings of a great mind on a subject beyond most of us.” —Ottawa Citizen

“Provocative. . . . Stimulating. . . . Credit the author for a lively style, lots of useful historical references and an appendix that includes von Neumann’s prescient essay on self-reproducing automata.” —Kirkus Reviews

"Gregory Chaitin has devoted his life to the study of mathematics. . . . A great mind.” —The Victoria Times Colonist

“[Chaitin] is a creative genius.” —Tucson Citizen

About the Author

Gregory Chaitin is widely known for his work on metamathematics and for his discovery of the celebrated Omega number, which proved the fundamental unknowability of math. He is the author of many books on mathematics, including Meta Math! The Quest for Omega. This is his first book on biology. Chaitin was for many years at the IBM Watson Research Center in New York. The research described in this book was carried out at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where Chaitin is now a professor. An Argentine-American, he is an honorary professor at the University of Buenos Aires and has an honorary doctorate from the National University of Cordoba, the oldest university in Argentina.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400077982
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400077984
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,510,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This book promised so much, and yet delivered so little. To be sure, the author has some very interesting ideas that are worth being exposed to but that does not save this book. The first problem is in delivery - almost the entire book seems to be taken verbatim from class lectures. Certain content is duplicated often enough, that the book could have been cut in half with no loss. The second issue lies in the content itself. The author claims to have developed a working toy model of Darwinian evolution. But there's one fundamental problem here - his model relies on algorithmic mutation to introduce diversity, whereas real organisms generally undergo bitwise mutation. Hence, his model allows for a much more sophisticated search of the genotype space than is allowed in nature. In the same vein, by his own admission, the model can not actually be simulated, because it relies on a fitness function that can not be guaranteed to produce a result.

Not as important, but still misleading, is that his result claims to model Darwinian evolution. This is not true, as Darwinism posits that all existing life forms came into being from nothing (or from a primordial soup, if you wish) solely through natural selection acting on genetic crossover & mutation. What his model actually demonstrates (or would, if it could be simulated) is non-Darwinian adaptation & evolution. His evolution is only capable of tiny incremental changes that can not possibly create entirely new structures - they can only rearrange existing structures.

In summary, the fundamental ideas relating biology-mathematics-creativity are very interesting, as is the goal of developing a mathematical model for evolution. However, all this is worth a 30-60 minute lecture; not this book.
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Format: Paperback
Gregory Chaitin's book Proving Darwin: Making Biology Mathematical combining biology, microbiology, mathematics, evolution and even information theory is directly in my wheelhouse. I had delayed reading it following a few initial poor reviews, and sadly I must confirm that I'm ultimately disappointed in the direct effort shown here, though there is some very significant value buried within. Unfortunately the full value is buried so deeply that very few, if any, will actually make the concerted effort to find it.

This effort does seem to make a more high-minded and noble attempt than what I would call the "Brian Greene method" in which an academic seemingly gives up on serious science to publish multiple texts on a popular topic to cash in on public interest in that topic through sales of books. In this respect Chaitin is closer to Neil deGrasse Tyson in his effort to expound an interesting theory to the broader public and improve the public discourse, though I would admit he's probably a bit more (self-) interested in pushing his own theory and selling books (or giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the publisher has pushed him to this).

Though there is a reasonable stab at providing some philosophical background to fit the topic into the broader fabric of science and theory in the later chapters, most of it is rather poorly motivated and is covered far better in other non-technical works. While it is nice to have some semblance of Chaitin's philosophy and feelings, the inclusion of this type of material only tends to soften the blow of his theoretical work and makes the text read more like pseudo-science or simple base philosophy without any actual rigorous underpinning.
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Format: Hardcover
Mathematician Gregory Chaitin attempts to provide a mathematical model of evolution in this short book based on a university course given in the Spring of 2011 at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where the author is a professor. It also adapts material given at one of his lectures at the Santa Fe Institute. It is a quick read and an outline at best of his work, but it does give the reader a general idea of the concepts behind what the author calls "metabiology", an attempt to model evolutionary adaptation through computer software rather than natural software, otherwise known as DNA.

The central premise of this book is that by utilizing algorithmic information theory and the flexible and creative nature of postmodern mathematics, one can construct a working mathematical toy model of evolution, creating a piece of randomly mutating software that selects for a fitness trait. The main idea here is that DNA is a naturally occurring piece of software, our internal programming language as it were. This is not an original concept, but it is one that Chaitin expands upon greatly in the text.

I'll admit that it's an absolutely compelling idea. Evolution, after all, is the backbone of modern biology, but its main concepts are often misunderstood or outright rejected by a significant portion of the population. If one can really take a mathematical model and "prove" that the basic mechanisms of evolution (random mutations and natural selection) work as advertised, then it could go a long way towards advancing scientific literacy.

Keep in mind that the author's model is simplistic at best, selecting for only one trait and having none of the environmental pressures that truly drive adaptation.
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