Sean Rice first spoke to us on the phone from Texas, where he studies evolutionary theory. Is it possible for an evolving system, we asked, to avoid wasting any resources? His reply touched on infinity, the difference between foresight and hindsight, randomness, the impossibility of optimality in the absence of constraint, and the elegance of sex as a strategy. We decided then that we should fly out to meet him. Situated academically at the intersection of mathematics and biology, Rice is the kind of person that it’s fun to lob complex, open questions at. Meet him in this video, and be sure to read his essay, “Evolution in a Finite World.”

How would you define waste in the context of evolutionary biology?

Do people misunderstand waste?

Can producing waste be an advantage?

Do mathematical biologists have a position of thought leadership in the field?

What is the holy grail of your field right now?

What is the role of philosophy in the theoretical sciences?

Is it tricky being an evolution expert in a state where the idea of evolution is being actively challenged?

Are humans still evolving?

What attracted you to mathematical biology?

Why are people scared of math?

What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?