A NY Times review of a mathematics book commented that “this is an ambitious proposal, sure to ignite controversy.”
And it indeed ignited controversy, if twitter is any indicator.
the new book claims to explain revolutionary concept called ‘ecorithms’. More details below:
Probably Approximately Correct, Dr. Valiants winsome title, is his quantitative framework for understanding how these ecorithms work. In nature, there is nothing so neat as our idealized flower algorithm; we cannot really hope to get a precise rule distinguishing between two types of flowers, but can hope only to have one that gives an approximate result with high probability.
The evolution of species, as Darwin taught us, relies on natural selection. But Dr. Valiant argues that if all the mutations that drive evolution were simply random and equally distributed, it would proceed at an impossibly slow and inefficient pace.
Darwins theory has the gaping gap that it can make no quantitative predictions as far as the number of generations needed for the evolution of a behavior of a certain complexity, he writes. We need to explain how evolution is possible at all, how we got from no life, or from very simple life, to life as complex as we find it on earth today. This is the BIG question.
Dr. Valiant proposes that natural selection is supplemented by ecorithms, which enable organisms to learn and adapt more efficiently. Not all mutations are realized with equal probability; those that are more beneficial are more likely to occur. In other words, evolution is accelerated by computation.
Interestingly, it received positive reviews from a few fairly good scientists. Who is correct?
Based on what we found here and there, the book has interesting mathematical content, but it chooses ENCODE’s marketing style. Mathematics is not a twitter-ready subject. In an earlier era, a mathematician would have written a book, stayed humble and got discovered twenty or fifty years later. However, that is not acceptable in this ‘present shock’ era. So, the promoters decided to push a mathematics book by throwing a few stones at the bee-hives of evolutionary biologists and sail on the wind of controversy. Good luck to them ! One Amazon reviewer finishes with a hilarious description:
In the end, this book got the Dorthy Parker review in my house–not a book to be tossed aside lightly, but to be hurled with great force! I actually threw it across the room…