Michael Dowd: Pro-Future Evangelist

Discover Magazine | Michael Dowd | Pro-Future Evangelist

We All Live in Darwin's World

Discover Magazine

by Karen Wright

You could call Helen Fisher a Darwinian matchmaker. The acclaimed anthropologist from Rutgers University is also a best-selling author of books on love and the chief scientific adviser to an online dating service called Chemistry.com. This service utilizes a questionnaire that Fisher developed after years of research on the science of romantic attraction. It reveals which of four broad, biologically based personality types an applicant displays and helps identify partners with compatible brain chemistry. In designing the questionnaire, Fisher relied on the principles of evolutionary psychology, a field inspired by Charles Darwin’s insights. She has even used those principles to size up Darwin himself. (He is a “negotiator,” “imaginative and theoretical,” “unassuming, agreeable, and intuitive”—but also married, alas, and dead.)

Fisher’s work is just one of the innumerable offshoots of Darwin’s grand theory of life. In the 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species, it seems no sphere of human thought or activity has been left untouched by Darwinian analysis. Evolutionary theory has infiltrated the social sciences, where it has been used to explain human politics and spending habits. It has transformed computer science, inspiring problem-solving algorithms that adapt and change like living things. It is cited by a leading theoretical physicist who proposes that evolution helped shape the laws governing the cosmos. A renowned neuroscientist sees ideas of selection as describing the honing of connections among brain cells. Literary critics analyze the plots, themes, and characters of novels according to Darwinian precepts. Even religion, the sector most famously at odds with Darwin, now claims an evolutionary evangelist.

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