Auto-obituary

From a view based on natural history, KJ participated in fashioning an ideology as powerful and transformative as any philosophy or religion before it: “Darwinism” and specifically “Sociobiology”. Using intricate mathematical detail these theories show how process of natural selection (i.e “red in tooth and claw” and advantage of sex-appeal results in sophisticated collaborative behavior. A bunch of ueber-rationalists had the crucial insight: that what matters in evolution are not organisms or groups of organisms, but individual genes. A gene that encourages creatures containing copies of itself to collaborate with each other will thus prosper, even if that collaboration is detrimental to some of the collaborators, as long as the others involved in the transaction benefit more. Since the best way to be sure you share genes with someone else is to be related to him or her. “Hamilton’s rule quantifies the degree of altruistic self-sacrifice that might be expected as being proportional to the degree of relatedness.

KJ was immersed in these ideas and fascinated with thermodynamics, proposing Sociodynamics as the synthesis of them all. With tools borrowed from game theory and with computer simulations flavored with empirical data collected directly from mother nature, he showed that sex can evolve, if aided by assortative mating, as a tool to tame excess variance in the game of evolution. The same principle, applied to cultural evolution, allows cooperative behaviors to flourish in the presence of homophily allowing synergistic interactions to dominate successful societies. KJ saw these principles working in science itself, where diversity of ideas selected by empirical evidence produce evolution of knowledge. This led him to postulated an Extended Inclusive Fitness Theory that allowed to merge economic and biological thoughts on social synergies produced by cooperation and division of labor made possible by organized society using assortment among humans and other animals, including insects and unicellular organisms.

His scientific exploration started with biochemical studies in enzyme kinetics, continued with explorations in neuroscience studying the biochemistry in memory formation. These studies let to the discovery in 1989 of a simple molecule containing nitrogen and oxygen, that was part of the metabolism of Arginine, that modulated memory formation. Lack of equipment and the loss of a crystal of the isolated compound in the post, hindered the chemical identification this “substance S” as NO (produced metabolically from Arginine). His publications in 1990 demonstrated the involvement of this compound in basics biochemical processes involved in memory formation in insects. Eric Kandel discovered the role of NO in memory formation in 1991 for which he was awarded the Nobel Price in 2000. This lack of financial support for the acquisition of sophisticated equipment led KJ to change his scientific inquiry and focus on social processes and its evolution in insects, especially ants. He became a dedicated myrmecologist working in ant behavior, ant ecology, taxonomy, biogeography, physiology, etc. for some 20 years. Age made youthful field explorations less frequent and lead him to focus on the evolution of social behavior in humans, getting him involved in behavioral and evolutionary economics. There he contributed to the understanding of how division of labor and knowledge produces synergy by pioneering quantitative studies on the dynamics of synergy in biological and economic systems. This lead to a precise quantitative thermodynamic definition of synergy. This experience catapulted him to complex system sciences, bioeconomics, and the interdisciplinary exploration of nature, leading to the creation of the Doctoral Program in Interdisciplinary Science. In order to broaden his audience, he founded EduCienciaVirtual to promote videos and IT technology to teach science to high school students; and put much effort in producing video games to help the general public to grasp complex phenomena in evolutionary biology and economics.

Uber-rationalist sociobiologists managed the impressive trick of angering both Marxists (who wanted to believe in the perfectibility of mankind) and religious fundamentalists (who wanted to believe that the human psyche was divinely created). KJ suffered these rejection personally as an awkward, naive but deeply sincere individual with a scientist’s passion for arriving at the truth no matter what friendships might be upset, or egos (including, on occasion, his own) broken.

This note was inspired by The Economists (March 16, 2013) note on “W.D.Hamilton Darwin´s retriever”