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Rethinking “Survival of the Fittest”: From Competition to Cooperation with Buzz Baum

Thursday February 8th
Doors & drinks 6.30pm; Talk starts 7pm

Conventional wisdom holds that much of nature's beauty has arisen as the result of relentless competition between selfish actors through a process we call Darwinian evolution. In this view of things, “selection" weeds out the ugly, weak and the inefficient. This idea has long been used to justify untrammelled free-market capitalism as a route to progress. While the spread of this type of economic model yielded enormous benefits for society in the 20th century, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, our planet has been profoundly changed in the process in ways that threaten the natural world and our way of life. Furthermore, it has recently become clear that this is also a poor way of describing the mechanism of biological evolution itself.

In this talk, Buzz Baum, a group leader at the MRC’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, will put this right. He'll show that evolution involves more than “selfish genes”. In fact, just as the Capitalist market-place strips systems bare, relentless selection in nature can have the same effect - by paring down the bodies of parasites so that they can feed more efficiently on their hosts. Conversely, much of the complexity and beauty we admire in nature arises when selection fails. Meanwhile many of the key transitions in the history of life on earth, including innovations that led to our own evolution, depended on the cooperation of organisms rather than their competition.

As became clear in images taken by the crew of the Apollo 8 mission as they encircled the Moon, the Earth has a fragile beauty of its own that emerges from the complex webs of interactions that bind organisms together into ecosystems that span the globe. Now that human activity is threatening to up-end this balance, a fuller understanding of the evolutionary history of life on Earth can inspire new ways of thinking about our interactions with one another and with other organisms, so that we can find ways to survive and thrive on this beautiful living planet, together.

Kairos, 84 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4TG

Doors open at 6.30pm for drinks. The talk will start at 7pm followed by a one-pot vegan supper and discussion.

£8 members, £15 non-members. Food and drink complimentary.