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The probability of creating life in a laboratory


Biology's major problems: Origin of life and the human mind
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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Within the realm of biology, there is the problem of the origin of life, which I don't think we could claim to have solved at the moment. But I don't think we are waiting for a Darwin, exactly, I think we know what we're looking for, the problem is to... getting the chemistry to work, and that's a big... big and very hard problem. I still hope to live long enough to see it done. I mean, I really don't think, I mean if I was a creationist, I certainly wouldn't pin my faith in the impossibility of creating life in the laboratory, because I bet we're going to do it - it's just it may take a bit of time. The other end of evolution, I mean, the whole problem of the human mind, and it's not a field in which I've worked, it does seem to me that we just don't really yet know how to go from neurophysiology to thinking, and maybe we can't. But I never like to admit that you can't. But it does seem to me that it may be that a really quite different kind of theoretical notion, a new way of thinking about things, a new Darwin is needed. Not that I've got anything about neurobiology, it's fine, but I do feel at the moment that it's sort of stuck and it's not quite clear to me where it's going to go next.

The late British biologist John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) is famous for applying game theory to the study of natural selection. At Eton College, inspired by the work of old Etonian JBS Haldane, Maynard Smith developed an interest in Darwinian evolutionary theory and mathematics. Then he entered University College London (UCL) to study fruit fly genetics under Haldane. In 1973 Maynard Smith formalised a central concept in game theory called the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS). His ideas, presented in books such as 'Evolution and the Theory of Games', were enormously influential and led to a more rigorous scientific analysis and understanding of interactions between living things.

Listeners: Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins was educated at Oxford University and has taught zoology at the universities of California and Oxford. He is a fellow of New College, Oxford and the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Dawkins is one of the leading thinkers in modern evolutionary biology. He is also one of the best read and most popular writers on the subject: his books about evolution and science include "The Selfish Gene", "The Extended Phenotype", "The Blind Watchmaker", "River Out of Eden", "Climbing Mount Improbable", and most recently, "Unweaving the Rainbow".

Tags: life, origin of life, neurobiology

Duration: 1 minute, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008