An open access article through arXiv.org:
Exploration and Exploitation of Victorian Science in Darwin’s Reading Notebooks [PDF]
Jaimie Murdock, Colin Allen, Simon DeDeo
Abstract 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 shifts, on multiple timescales, between choosing to remain with familiar topics and seeking 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.
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