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A “€˜Problem”€™ Worth Addressing

December 30, 2015

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Tom Stoppard

Indeed, the two young men the heroine strives to out-argue sound rather like my pals at the classic blog Gene Expression circa 2005. In his “€œAuthor’s Note,”€ Stoppard cites Imperial College evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi, an expert on human genetic variety, as his chief guide to the science. (Here’s Razib’s interview with Dr. Leroi at GNXP ten years ago.)

This surprisingly short play references a remarkable number of concepts utilized by 21st-century right-of-center intellectuals”€”the story opens, for example, with the heroine’s tutor explaining the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the standard introduction to theories of how altruism could evolve.

Other longtime fascinations of the Edge.org crowd featured in The Hard Problem are the replication crisis in psychology, the larger implications of the financial crisis of 2008, and adoption. The nature-nurture implications of adoption are of natural interest to Stoppard, who only discovered in his 50s that he wasn”€™t roughly a quarter Jewish as he had assumed, but was entirely Jewish.

Unfortunately, the current version fails to fully exploit the dramatic potential of such theatrical concepts. At this point, The Hard Problem, while a delightful read, lacks impact in the theater (judging from its notices when it debuted in London). I wouldn”€™t be surprised if Stoppard punches up the plot before The Hard Problem eventually comes to the U.S. The philosophical issues the dialogue explores with such facility are not just of academic interest, but are the very stuff of life, so the play has the skeleton of a powerful drama.

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