He’d met his wife, Julia, on the Manhattan Project, but as well as being a scientist she was a devout Roman Catholic. The marriage was hard-pressed to survive Price’s scathing views on religion, and after eight years and two daughters – Annamarie and Kathleen – they divorced. Fed up with his job, his life and the distinct lack of recognition in America, Price cut his ties in 1967 and crossed the Atlantic to London, intent on making a great scientific discovery there. He felt he had just a few more years to make his mark, but as it turned out, he needed only one.
Price had set himself the ‘problem’ of explaining why humans lived in families – particularly what fatherhood was for, scientifically speaking. This, in turn, led him to the question of how altruism had evolved, and it was while studying new theories around this topic that he derived what is now called the Price equation, almost by accident.
It captured the essence of evolution by natural selection in one simple formula. …
He would seek out the homeless in Soho Square or at the nearest railway stations, Euston and King’s Cross, and give them anything they asked for, from the money out of his pay packet right down to the clothes off his back. If they needed a place to sleep, he would invite them back to his flat indefinitely. Eventually he had given away so much that he became as destitute as the men he was helping. When the lease ran out on his flat, he took to squatting, moving often, somehow continuing to do research as well.
By the end of 1974, Price had given up everything. Some time before dawn on 6 January 1975, in a squat not far from Euston, he killed himself. More.
The story is not, of course, simple, and it is well worth a read. Let’s just say, as Regnier tells it, he was prepared to do anything and anything to defend a theory derived from Darwinism.
See also: Claim: Our brains are hardwired for altruism
An evolutionary challenge: explaining away compassion, philanthropy, and self-sacrifice
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