ABOUT

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Martin Nowak is a professor of Mathematics and Biology and the Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University. Evolutionary dynamics is the study of the fundamental principles that guide evolutionary change.

Mutation and selection are the classic components of the evolutionary process. Mutation leads to novelty, and natural selection determines the success of new mutations. But Martin believes that in order to get organization and the emergence of ever more complicated structures, evolution needs a third component, and this is cooperation.

Martin has long studied why cooperation exists and how it evolved—in other words, the reasons we do things that benefit someone else at cost to ourselves. Over the years, he has used mathematical descriptions to express the behavior of cells, viruses, insects, and humans, trying to understand what makes individuals join forces, work together, and help one another. Based on his mathematical models, as well as experimental games conducted with people who interact with each other, he has observed that nice guys can finish first, it is often better to reward than punish, and it pays to be generous, forgiving, and hopeful. Cooperation is a winning strategy in life.

Martin also uses mathematical models and computer simulations to study the origin of life, the evolution of social behavior, the evolution of cancer, the dynamics of virus evolution, and the evolution of language.