A Toast to Evolvability and Its Promise of Surprise


From The New York Times:

Late last month, the day after my birthday, I was feeling punch drunk on my favorite glogg of sullenness, self-pity and panic. My life was passing by at relativistic speed, not one of my rotten siblings had called to wish me a happy birthday, my husband hadn’t bothered to arrange so much as a waiter-serenaded slice of cake at the restaurant the night before, and did he really think that his gift to me of an “amazing squirrel-proof bird feeder” would excite anybody but the squirrels?

My post-birthday gloom was so rich, so satisfyingly glutinous, that I forgot to be suspicious, and when we headed over to a neighbor’s house later that evening, I opened the door like a cartoon buffoon onto a huge throng of friends and relations, gathered from across the nation and athwart my entire curriculum vitae, bellowing out in fractured synchrony that magic word “Surprise!” I gasped. I couldn’t help wondering why I’d wanted such a shock to my system in the first place.

In their recently published book, “The Plausibility of Life,” Dr. Kirschner and Dr. John C. Gerhart of the University of California, Berkeley, offer a fresh look at the origins of novelty.

More here.