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The Evolution of Everything

How New Ideas Emerge

Matt Ridley

History gets written as if it's Intelligent Design - generals win battles, politicians control countries, scientists discover truths, inventors invent new things. But the world much less a planned place than this implies. The battle more often won by happenstance - weather, a lost map, a misunderstood order.

We think of the world as 'top-down' - we are moral bc God tells us to be, we are lawful bc the state tells us to be.

Newton the first to break free of this - gravity keeps planets in orbits, and apples falling, not the supervision of God.

When 60,000 people died in Lisbon earthquake of 1755, on All Saints day when the churches were full, theologians dutifully trotted out the verdict that God was punishing them for sinning. But for the first time this was met with scorn - "What, Lisbon more sinful than Paris, FFS?"

The 'anthropic principle' argument - that the Universe is perfectly adapted to human life, and if it had been just a tiny bit different, we would never have happened. But it gets cause and effect backward - we have adapted to the conditions, the environment hasn't been adapted to suit us.

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The Enlightenment embraced the idea that you could explain nature without recourse to a designer. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Spinoza.

A child does not have an innate sense of mortality. It has to find out for itself that it is not the center of the Universe. By gradual trial and error he finds what behaviour leads to being treated well by others. It is by everyone accommodating their desires to those of others that a system of shared morality evolves.

Suggestion that as Western society urbanised, it became politer and less violent, and Capitalist society disliked violent disruption. Your neighbour became a potential trading partner rather than a potential stealer of your sheep. Govt found it easier to tax peaceful citizens. Revenge became the national province of the govt rather than the private wrong to be righted.

The island of Gaua, part of Vanuatu, has a population of 2000, but 5 different native languages. Forested mountainous terrain.

Some parts of society have abandoned marriage and adopted practice of single motherhood, serviced by wandering, polygamous men. Whatever your explanation for it, it is clear that marriage is evolving before our eyes. It's never been 'designed', it just evolves to suit the society it is in.

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The more urbanised a country is, the richer it is.

For the unthinking opponents of capitalism - gains from trade are mutual; if they weren't, people would not voluntarily participate. The more open and free the market, the less opportunity for exploitation or predation. Never perfect, but the bottom line is that countries run by merchants are always better than countries run by despots.

The thinkers who lived through the Industrial Revolution - Adam Smith, Malthus, John Stuart Mill - all missed the significance and the potential of what was unfolding before their eyes. They saw only the struggle and suffering, because their world view dominated by the idea of diminishing returns. Similar viewpoints common during the Great Depression of 1930's, and the stagflation of the 1970's.

Yet the opposite has always occurred. far from diminishing, returns have always increased, thanks to mechanisation and cheap energy. As the world grew more populous, with more mouths to feed, fewer people starved.

The cost of food and clothing has steadily decreased over past 50 years, while the cost of health care and education has increased dramatically. The market provides food and clothing; the state education and health care.

Traditional idea of inventions by geniuses who stumble upon ideas that change the world. But if Edison hadn't invented the light bulb, there were at least 23 others who were working on the thing at the same time.

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Trial-and-error is the most powerful process for solving problems in a complex world, while expert leadership is not. A story of fisherman's boats: "Every boat is copied from another boat ... It is clear that a very badly made boat will end up at the bottom after one or two voyages and so will never be copied ... One could then say that it is the sea itself which fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others."

New tech comes from tinkering, not from science.

Our personalities are decided in our teens. Not just our socialisation - where we copy the habits and accents of our peers - but more fundamentally, where we learn our status. In case of males, that is largely based on height and strength and how domineering you are. And women base theirs on how attractive others find them.

Homocide stats world-wide are dominated by young, unmarried, unemployed men seeking to improve their status or defeat sexual rivals.

Private schools because of widespread dissatisfaction with the bureaucratically run state system. This is world-wide, and rich and poor, as well as middle classes. James Tooley, educ prof at Newcastle U, catalogued low-cost private schools in slums everywhere. He would get to a country and be solemnly assured by bureaucrats that there were no such thing, but then would go into the slums and find them. Doorless classrooms with unqualified teachers who delivered much better schooling than the govt run ones, and for a pittance. Mainly because, unlike the public system, lazy or incompetent teachers were sacked.

Suggestion that the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Industrial Revolution were all accidental by-products.

Trade made Italian merchants rich, and because they feared they were sinning with usuary and profiting, they commissioned pious works of art and architecture. Printing made possible the cheap and widespread dissemination of texts which enable reformers to undermine the power of the Catholic Church. And even more far-reaching, printing encouraged literacy, which stimulated demand for eyeglasses which lead to work on lenses and telescopes, which lead to the discovery that the Earth wasn't the center of the Universe.

In 1950, South Korea and Ghana had same income per capita. One received far more aid, advice and political intervention than the other. It is now by far the poorer of the two.

Crop circles an example of how credulous people cling to beliefs. Even when circles demonstrated as man-made hoaxes, there will still people who insisted that that still didn't mean that some weren't made by aliens landing.

G.K. Chesterton "When people stop believing in something, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything." So decline in religious belief accompanied by rise in pseudoscience and other strange beliefs.

The key to many of these beliefs is that cannot be refuted. Anything that seems to prove the belief wrong simply leads to a reinterpretation of the belief and the evidence. Marx's predictions of the coming revolution; Malthusian predictions of coming famines and shortages, Freudian explanations of the mind.

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