(1990). "Biological automata models and evolution I: The role of computer modelling in theories of evolution and the origin of life," in <i>Organizational Constraints on the Dynamics of Evolution</i>. Manchester University Press.

(1990). "Biological automata models and evolution I: The role of computer modelling in theories of evolution and the origin of life," in Organizational Constraints on the Dynamics of Evolution.

Publication Info: 

Goel, Narendra S. and Richard L. Thompson. "Biological Automata Models and Evolution I: The role of computer modeling in theories of evolution and the origin of life.” in Organizational Constraints on the Dynamics of Evolution, edited by G. Vida and J. Maynard-Smith. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990. 15–32


Excerpt from the essay introduction (page 16):

Because of the complexity of biological systems, one may ask the question 'Is it necessary to have access to supercomputers before one can make meaningful models of biological systems?' We do not think so. We feel that at this stage of our understanding of biological phenomena, simple microcomputer-based models are more likely to advance the level of this understanding. Such models will necessarily be much simpler than the phenomena they represent, and one might suppose that they are likely to be unrealistically simplistic. However, as Newton showed in his analysis of the solar system, it is often possible to abstract simple, analyzable patterns of regularity from a complex system. These can provide a tractable starting point for further analysis and elaboration, whereas a more detailed and 'realistic' model might be too complex to handle.


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From the Preface: "This volume consists of selected papers" presented at "an international symposium on some current problems in evolution in order to meet leading scientists of the topics and also to present and discuss our relvant ideas." It was held at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, 29 June through 3 July 1987.

The celebrated British theoretical evolutionary biologist and co-editor of the conference proceedings, John Maynard Smith, wrote in the his “Concluding Remarks”:

"For me, one of the high spots of the conference was the account by Thompson and Goel of their biological automata models. It was not only that I was envious of their skill at programming. More important was their demonstration of the process of “self-organization”. If you can program something, then you can be confident that the mechanisms you propose can actually generate the results you claim, and that is what they have done. Some thirty years ago, I drew a distinction between two kinds of developmental process, which I called 'jigsaws' and 'penny whistles'. By a molecular jigsaw I had in mind a structure whose final shape depended on the shapes of the molecules that composed it, and which would, in a sense, assemble itself, given that the right molecules were provided (perhaps in the right relative amounts, and in the right order). It is this kind of process that Thompson and Goel have simulated, with triumphant success" (pages 434–35).

In a personal recollection, Thompson commented that Smith “neglects to mention the anti-evolutionary content of one of these papers, but he commented favorably on this in private conversation. Of course, he continued to champion evolution.”

Thompson's professional affiliation listed at:
La Jolla Institute, P.O. Box 1434, La Jolla, CA 92038, U.S.A