Growing up in Sweden, author J. Arvid Ågren was taught British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene theory, which was commonly taught in Europe. When Ågren arrived in North America for graduate school he found an alternate universe where biology students grew up on the theories of American evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould.
“The Americans had quite a different take on a lot of big theoretical issues in evolutionary biology and evolutionary theory,” said Ågren, Wenner-Gren Fellow in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University. “There were so many conversations over the years and I became interested in why biologists think differently about evolution and the debates between these views.”
Central to evolutionary biologists is the challenge to explain adaptation. Charles Darwin captivated the world with his theory of natural selection, leading biologists to view evolution and natural selection as a theory about individual organisms. More than a century later, there began a subtle shift in perspective towards the gene’s-eye view of evolution in which natural selection was thought to be a struggle between genes for replication and transmission to the next generation. This theory shifted the perspective from the organism