Interdisciplinary research: applying evolutionary thinking across different fields 

I think that evolutionary thinking has useful insights to offer to many other fields of study, both methodologically and conceptually. Currently, I am the lead investigator of two projects funded by the Balliol Interdisciplinary Institute trying to do precisely this:

Can evolutionary biology help explain why people behave economically irrational? 

In this project we are exploring if evolutionary thinking can help explain why people often behave economically irrational. Can behavioural biases in fact be evolutionarily rational? As a first step, we are organising a multidisciplinary workshop in Balliol College on May 29-30.

This project is a collaboration with Rick van der Ploeg (Economics, Oxford), Stuart West (Zoology, Oxford), Alex Teytelboym (Economics, Oxford), Max Burton-Chellew (Economics & Evolution, Lausanne) and Claire El Mouden (Human Sciences, Oxford).

What can evolutionary methods teach textual and literary scholars?

In this project we apply methods used in evolutionary biology to study the evolution of traits across species (phylogenetic comparative methods) to the ‘evolution’ of literary texts.

We are using two case studies: Caedmon’s Hymn, the oldest recorded English poem and I saw faire Cloris walke alone, a 17th century poem by William Strode. We are using computational model from evolutionary biology to study how different witnesses of these text could relate to each other, both to generate new hypotheses about textual transmission and to quantitatively verify earlier verbal analyses.

This project is a collaboration with Prof Adam Smyth (Balliol), Callum Seddon (LSE), Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe (UC Berkeley) and Matthew Robinson (Balliol).

This figure is a visual representation of our preliminary analyses, and shows that all versions of Caedmon’s hymn cluster in three main groups.