The true story of a scientist who discovered the equation for altruism—and gave himself away

Michael Regnier in Quartz:

ScreenHunter_2225 Sep. 17 16.54Laura met George in the pages of Reader’s Digest. In just a couple of column inches, she read an abridged version of his biography and was instantly intrigued. In the 1960s, apparently, egotistical scientist George Price discovered an equation that explained the evolution of altruism, then overnight turned into an extreme altruist, giving away everything up to and including his life.

A theatre director, Laura Farnworth recognized the dramatic potential of the story. It was a tragedy of Greek proportions—the revelation of his own equation forcing Price to look back on his selfish life and mend his ways, even though choosing to live selflessly would lead inexorably to his death. But as she delved into his life and science over the next five years, Farnworth discovered a lot more than a simple morality tale.

Born in New York in 1922, George Price realized pretty early on that he was destined for greatness. In a class full of smart kids he was one of the smartest, especially with numbers. He was in the chess club, obviously, and his mathematical brain was naturally drawn to science. Determining that there was no rational argument for God’s existence, he became a militant atheist, too.

His PhD came from the University of Chicago for work he did on the Manhattan Project—having graduated in chemistry, he’d been recruited to find better ways to detect traces of toxic uranium in people’s bodies.

More here.