An interview with Ernst Mayr

Posted on June 27, 2011


Ernst Mayr is another great intellectual hero of mine.  This man is about an authoritative a source as one can find in evolutionary biology, and that stems from the fact that he has spent nearly 80 active years in the field.  No, that’s not a typo–80 years.  He was born in 1904 and died in 2005, making him 101 years old upon his death.  He wrote many books, three of which he wrote in his 90s, and his last book What Makes Biology Unique? was published when he was 100 years old.

Mayr is best known for his work in what is known as the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, which was the coming together of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian natural selection.  He is the originator of what is known as the biological species concept (BSC), and the theory of peripatric speciation, which he put forth in his groundbreaking 1942 publication Systematics and the Origin of Species.

Mayr had his biggest influence on me through his epic volume The Growth of Biological Thought, which follows the progression of biological ideas from Aristotle to modern times.  It was truly a weighty tome, and not light reading in the least.  But I read every single one of those 800+ pages and can literally feel the impact it has had on my own thinking.

In watching this interview with the 96 year-old Ernst Mayr one is truly aghast of his clarity and genius.  This man’s razor-sharp mind after nearly a century of life is truly inspirational.  If one accomplished only a quarter of what Mayr has done in his life in the field of biology, and evolution in particular, they would go down in the history books as one of the all-time greats.  Enjoy this interview, his brain is something to behold.

Posted in: Science