Bradford Harris in American Scientist:
When it comes to the story of evolutionary science, people know the name Charles Darwin, but most do not know the names Ivan Wallin or Lynn Margulis—two more recent, groundbreaking evolutionary theorists. Over the past several decades, these and other researchers have revealed that organisms’ cooperation and interdependence contribute more to evolution than competition. Symbiogenesis—the emergence of a new species through the evolutionary interdependence of two or more species—is at least as important in the history of life as survival of the fittest. Such insight has failed to gain traction in American minds—including those of American scientists—because of cultural history traceable back through the popularization of Adam Smith’s individualist philosophy.
By the time Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, the Western European and American mind had long been intellectually primed to interpret complexity by reducing perspective to the individual. Adam Smith’s publication of The Wealth of Nations 83 years earlier had set the tone of philosophical and scientific approaches to understanding complex systems. Fundamental to Smith’s philosophy, as economic historian Warren Samuel reminds us, was the notion that large organizations like the economy were to be “comprehended in terms of self-interest or maximization of personal well being.” Smith’s influence on Darwin was as strong as it was on the rest of the reading public.
Picture: Endosymbiosis: Homage to Lynn Margulis, a painting by Shoshanah Dubineer, occupies a hallway in the Morrill Science Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where Margulis was a professor until her death in 2011. Margulis maintained that genetic variation emerges primarily through symbiosis, not through competition, a once-controversial view that is gaining increasing acceptance