Highlights of Scotland's D'Arcy Thompson Celebration

Although there could have been a bit more science presented at the recent D’Arcy Thompson On Growth and Form centenary celebration in Scotland at Dundee and St Andrews universities---part of a year-long commemoration---the art and music talks seemed clearly to charm the crowd. It was a small gathering, roughly 100 people, that expanded to 200 for keynote speakers—Evelyn Fox Keller of MIT and Stephen Wolfram, CEO of Wolfram Research.

Organizers—principally University of Dundee museum curator Matthew Jarron---were wise to make it a public event and to keep most presentations to 10 minutes.

It makes no sense to publicize a D’Arcy Thompson celebration and then close the meeting to the public, as Dutch organizers Jaap Kaandorp et al. chose to do giving the public a tease of DWT’s work at a tiny exhibit in Amsterdam’s Oude Turfmarkt when the embryo museum 45 minutes outside of town is really the place to see.

Picking up my name tag at Dundee, I was handed a jute bag containing the official program, a couple of maps, a D’Arcy Thompson coloring book (no crayons), a St Andrews pencil, and a notepad/sketchpad. Also in the mix was a flyer from embryo geometry investigator Stuart Pivar, “D’Arcy Revisited,” about the 1998 Dundee conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of DWT where Pivar presented a poster; mentioning his old friend Steve Gould’s 1992 foreword to the abridged DWT book; and referring attendees to his web site: www.embryogeometry.com.

Available for purchase at the event was a comic book, Transformations, by Matthew Jarron and colleagues featuring a student named Katie who has an adventure with D’Arcy Thompson in her dreams. . .

Evelyn Fox Keller’s Fauvel Lecture at St Andrews sponsored by the British Society for the History of Mathematics was one of two conference high points. Keller informed the audience about the history of the “gene” and said that it is not an accurate term to describe what we now know to be systems.

Imperial College London’s Armand LeRoi, who later gave a splendid talk in the Dundee medical building: “D’Arcy Thompson and the School of Athens,” asked Keller how the neo-Darwinists are responding to her perspective. I referred LeRoi to my interview with Eugene Koonin who discusses Michael Lynch’s work re an update to the Modern Synthesis.

Stephen Wolfram packed in a crowd at Dundee for his lecture: “D’Arcy Thompson and the Growth of Computational Form” in which he discussed pigmentation patterns in mollusks saying this was not adaptationist, not natural selection, but “pure dynamics of growth process.” He added that all kinds of nice things can now be done to understand the dynamics since things have become computational. Wolfram is particularly inspired by DWT’s study of leaves and wants to get all the leaf forms possible for his own research. Contact him with your leaves (stephenwolfram.com)!

I noticed University of St Andrews Kevin Laland (Extended Synthesis) sitting quietly in the audience the first day of the Dundee celebration. He was not a presenter and not in attendance at the rest of the three-day conference.

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