The Theoretician's Laboratory

Richard Mcelreath and Robert Boyd

in Mathematical Models of Social Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2007 | ISBN: 9780226558264
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226558288 | DOI:
The Theoretician's Laboratory

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Mathematical models and the tools used to analyze them constitute the theoretician's laboratory. Simple mathematical models are experiments aimed at understanding the causal relationships that drive important natural phenomena. Theoreticians in evolutionary biology use a variety of tools to study such models, divining their secrets to reveal how interactions that take place over long time spans shape the evolution of behavior. These models are almost always too simple to make accurate predictions or even accurately represent how any real behavior evolves. This chapter focuses on the theoretician's laboratory and the utility of mathematical models used to study social evolution. It also discusses some of the reasons why computer simulations are poor substitutes for analytic models. It then describes a simple model of evolutionary changes that result from variation in probability of survival—a form of natural selection that populations geneticists call viability selection. Finally, the chapter introduces a very useful tool called a mating table and shows that social learning dynamics can be very similar to viability selection dynamics for simple genetic models.

Keywords: mathematical models; experiments; evolutionary biology; computer simulations; viability selection; mating table; social learning; social evolution; behavior; theoretician's laboratory

Chapter.  9657 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Evolutionary Biology

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