In 1943, Erwin Schrödinger posed this question in a series of lectures at Trinity College, Dublin.
Seventy-five years later, the biophysics revolution is ongoing. Schrödinger’s call to action inspired his colleagues to look at the building blocks of life at all scales, from the diminutive DNA molecule to schooling fish and the construction of anthills.
My research group at Harvard University focuses on altruism, or why creatures sacrifice themselves for the common good.
But rather than relying on psychology or moral philosophy, we approach this problem using thermodynamics – how the laws governing heat and the interaction of microscopic particles might translate into macroscopic behavior. Can we explain altruism by casting humans as atoms and molecules, and societies or populations as solids, liquids or gases?
By studying each of these phases as physicists, we come away approaching a recipe for altruism – rules for certain structures that might foster cooperation.
What we’ve observed so far is that strong local connections enhance altruism everywhere. more>