Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Promiscuous Idea

Just read the WSJ article by Matt Ridley called Humans: Why They Triumphed.  

If you're interested in evolution, technology, and innovation, this will probably float your boat.

Question: How did one ape 45,000 years ago happen to turn into a planet dominator?

Answer: An epochal collision of creativity.

This article plays right into my previous assumptions about human evolution (probably a result of what I learned in school):

"Scientists have so far been looking for the answer to this riddle in the wrong place: inside human heads.  Most have been expecting to find a sort of neural or genetic breakthrough that sparked a 'big bang of human consciousness,' an auspicious mutation so that people could speak, think or plan better, setting the human race on the path to continuous and exponential innovation."

This "secret" the article sites is purely one of those "think outside the box" riddles.

Assuming this article is correct, we've all been tracing our pencil inside the lines, and never looking at the whole picture.

Instead, "the sophistication of the modern world lies not in individual intelligence or imagination.  It is a collective enterprise...the knowledge of how to design, mine, fell, extract, synthesize, combine, manufacture, and market these things is fragmented among thousands, sometime millions of heads. Once human progress started, it was no longer limited by the size of human brains. Intelligence became collective and cumulative."

Hence, the path we started on didn't happen in just one head - it wasn't a "big bang of consciousness" - it was what happened when we simply started sharing. It was what happened outside of our own heads.

The article goes on to site why "trade obsessed" places such as Tyre, Athens, Alexandria, Amsterdam, London, Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, etc were "the places where invention and discovery happened" - "trade was the most momentous innovation of the human species; it led to the invention of invention."

As a result, these famous cities were actually "well-endowed collective brains."
These collective brains shared ideas and an offspring idea was formed.   This offspring idea is what propelled us forward as a species, and why we ultimately triumphed.

And now, with modern technology, with "things like the search engine, the mobile phone and container shipping just made ideas a whole lot more promiscuous."

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