Evolutionary science as the new “classics”


Jason Collins


June 17, 2012

Carole Jahme at the Guardian reports on Richard Dawkins’s proposition that evolutionary science will be the new “classics”:

He explained that whereas classicists have traditionally been assumed to be the scholars most able to branch into any area of research, today – with advances in evolutionary study – it will be those with scholarship in evolutionary science who will supersede classicists in depth, breadth and usefulness.

Dawkins sees his new polymathic course at the New College of the Humanities as part of this trend:

He predicted that those who took his new degree course would achieve a “polymathic status”. He said the course “places evolution at the centre but brings in lots and lots of other subjects such as economics, social science, philosophy, engineering, medicine, agriculture, linguistics, physics, cosmology and history of science.”

Dawkins went into some detail to justify this statement, explaining the relevance of the various disciplines, starting with behavioural economics: “Everything has to be paid for, there is no such thing as a free lunch. You have to pay for whatever you do now in the form of lost opportunities to do other things in the future.”

He claimed that in the areas of sexual selection, parent–offspring relationships and sex ratio theory, economic thinking was “rife” within evolutionary research.

It is interesting that Dawkins intends to let ideas run in both directions between evolutionary biology and other fields, and that he is not engaging in pure evolutionary imperialism. However, I wonder what further ideas economics can offer evolutionary biology beyond those already well entrenched in evolutionary thinking. Are there any more insights or tools that evolutionary biologists should be borrowing from economics?