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Thursday, May 12 • 11:00am - 11:15am
Darwin's Semantic Voyage

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Search in an environment with an uncertain distribution of resources involves a trade-off between local exploitation and distant exploration. This extends to the problem of information foraging, where a knowledge-seeker shifts between reading in depth and studying new domains. To study this, we examine the reading choices made by one of the most celebrated scientists of the modern era: Charles Darwin. Darwin built his theory of natural selection in part by synthesizing disparate parts of Victorian science. When we analyze his extensively self-documented reading, we find he does not follow a pattern of surprise-minimization. Rather, he shifts between phases in which he either remains with familiar topics or seeks cognitive surprise in novel fields. On the longest timescales, these shifts correlate with major intellectual epochs of his career, as detected by Bayesian epoch estimation. When we compare Darwin's reading path with publication order of the same texts, we find Darwin more adventurous than the culture as a whole. These results provide novel quantitative evidence for historical hypotheses previously debated only qualitatively.

Thursday May 12, 2016 11:00am - 11:15am MST
COOR L1-18 975 S Myrtle Ave Arizona State University Tempe, AZ 85281
  Culture and Ethics, Long Paper
  • Session Location COOR L1-18