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The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge Paperback – October 25, 2016
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“A highly intelligent and bracingly iconoclastic view of the world. It forces us to see life through new eyes.” (New York Times Book Review)
“A compelling argument...a fascinating work...The way the book frames the argument is delightfully novel...Ridley has amassed such a weight of fascinating evidence and anecdote that the pages fly by.” (The Times (Saturday Review))
“Ridley shows how hard it has been for even the most definite evolutionists to fully abandon the notion of a guiding intelligence…Yet that is what the hard evidence…that Ridley adduces in every chapter compels us all to do.” (Booklist (starred review))
“This penetrating book is Mr. Ridley’s best and most important work to date…there is something profoundly democratic and egalitarian-even anti-elitist-in this bottom-up approach: Everyone can have a role in bringing about change.” (Wall Street Journal)
“An exceptional book: exceptionally easy to read, easy to understand, easy to appreciate…Of the many good general texts on the subject, THE EVOLUTION OF EVERYTHING emerges as the fittest to champion the case for the ubiquity of evolution.” (Washington Times)
“Ridley is a provocative, occasionally pugnacious writer and his book is intriguing and artfully argued.” (London Sunday Times)
“Highly readable, invariably interesting…Ridley’s laudable aim is to disenthrall us of our intuitive creationism and make us see evolution at work everywhere…Ridley succeeds in spades…He possesses the rare power to see the world in a different light - one made not by great men or women but by undirected, incremental change.” (New Scientist)
“An ingenious study…fascinating…thought-provoking…difficult to put down.” (Kirkus, starred review)
“Impressive…Readers of evolutionary theory, sociology, history, anthropology and philosophy shall be highly entertained by this thought-provoking read.” (Library Journal)
“Building on the timeless insights of Lucretius, Ridley examines how civilization inexorably organizes itself. Wrong-headed social theories, he and Lucretius agree, just get in the way.” (Stewart Brand, Author, Whole Earth Discipline)
From the Back Cover
The New York Times bestselling author of The Rational Optimist and Genome returns with a fascinating argument for evolution that definitively dispels a dangerous, widespread myth: that we can command and control our world.
Human society evolves. Change in technology, language, morality, and society is incremental, inexorable, gradual, and spontaneous. It follows a narrative, going from one stage to the next; it creeps rather than jumps; it has its own spontaneous momentum rather than being driven from outside; it has no goal or end in mind; and it largely happens by trial and error—a version of natural selection. Much of the human world is the result of human action but not of human design: it emerges from the interactions of millions, not from the plans of a few.
Drawing on fascinating evidence from science, economics, history, politics, and philosophy, Matt Ridley demolishes conventional assumptions that the great events and trends of our day are dictated by those on high, whether in government, business, academia, or organized religion. On the contrary, our most important achievements develop from the bottom up. Just as skeins of geese form Vs in the sky without meaning to and ter-mites build mud cathedrals without architects, so brains take shape without brain-makers, learning happens without teaching, and morality changes for no reason other than the prevailing fashion. Although we neglect, defy, and ignore them, bottom-up trends shape the world. The Industrial Revolution, cell phones, the rise of Asia, and the Internet were never planned; they happened. Languages emerged and evolved by a form of natural selection, as did common law. Torture, racism, slavery, and pedophilia—all once widely regarded as acceptable—are now seen as immoral despite the decline of religion in recent decades. In this wide-ranging and erudite book, Ridley brilliantly makes the case for evolution, rather than design, as the force that has shaped much of our culture, our technology, our minds, and that even now is shaping our future.
As compelling as it is controversial, as authoritative as it is ambitious, Ridley’s deeply thought-provoking book will change the way we think about the world and how it works.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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I am career business executive looking for insight into ideation and the cultivation of creativity in the workplace. I was lured by the subtitle: How New Ideas Emerge; and by some blog that had put this on a list of recommended titles. I agree the title is good.
One the face of it (or on the dust jacket in this case,) the idea of evolution as the animating force in a crucible for new ideas is appealing. But this book is short on new ideas. It is basically a single idea, or simple premise really, extended to the point of breaking over some 300 pages. Like saying everything in life is sales, or everything is improvisation, the idea itself, I think, becomes unsupportable after you get beyond, “Well, yes, sort of.”
The basic premise is that evolution as outlined by Darwin (or as cutely and more narrowly defined by the author as Darwin’s “special theory” of evolution) applies not only to biology, but to every aspect of the world as we know it. It is at work in the human endeavors of government, technology development, education, personality development, religion, culture, etc., etc. Evolution determines everything. He then in-gathers some largely anecdotal evidence-via-inference in support this claim.
A couple of problems. First, Darwinian evolution is at best a metaphor in this case, and it is probably the wrong metaphor. The author’s grand summing up is essentially that everything moves forward in small increments, as a result of trial and error, building upon prior work and the work of others. Real “progress” comes from the bottom up and not from the top down. Any top down plans generated and approved by a small group of experts, and implemented by fiat, retard progress. So asserts the author.
I am not an expert on evolution. I do fully subscribe to the theory of evolution in biology and its implications for cosmology. But I suspect that what the author describes is not really evolution in the Darwinian sense. A fundamental principle of evolution is random differentiation. Although kids today delight in exclaiming how “random” everything seems, the human processes that the author describes are rarely the result of truly random efforts. We try different things and fail, but fiduciary responsibility at least in business demands that the things we try not be random. We try things that we think will be successful. Most of us are sentient purposeful beings and are picking things to try that make at least some sense. Exogenous factors may cause random things to happen upon implementation of the ideas that can affect the results but, that will happen regardless of whether the effort is bottoms up or top down.
A second core principle is that any notion of progress in evolution (that if left alone evolution will result in progress) is misplaced. There is no value system inherent in evolution by which you can measure progress: nothing in evolution says we or the world are any better or worse off now than we were several million years ago. Yet “progress” is the success metric of choice for the author when comparing bottoms up to top down: we have more progress when we let things evolve on their own.
What may be a more appropriate metaphor for the kind of self-organizing principles at work in the areas of human endeavor that the author selects (and to which the author only alludes in a sentence or two at the very end of the book) is chaos theory. Sure, absent any direction from above, groups of individual human beings will have a tendency, over time, to self-organize. Not highly insightful or controversial.
The second problem, which is the really annoying problem, is the Hail Mary pass the author throws early in the book presenting Adam Smith and Charles Darwin as inhabiting the same brain and equating evolution with (if not insisting that it is wholly inspired by) a comic book version of free market capitalism. The author thus grants himself free license to triangulate (evolution with market based deregulation with progress in any given human endeavor) and flog the exhausted tropes of a small government, social conservative, free market, quasi libertarian, and anti-religion political agenda mélange (throwing some shade on climate change in the process.) This he does relentlessly and shamelessly for the rest of the book. The book leaves any pretense to scientific method, insight, or rigorous philosophical inquiry quickly behind and becomes a polemic.
Nothing in the blurbs give the reader a heads-up on this. I blame the publisher. Maybe it's just me, but agree or disagree with the politics, I just wanted to know more about How New Ideas Evolve.
When I buy a book like this (and hardcover too!) I always feel wistful for the time spent and the fact that I could have purchased, and enjoyed far more, a perfectly decent bottle of Muscadet from the Loire; maybe to have with a little fillet of sole. I do like the way this idea is evolving...
The evolution of everything gives a synthesis of a host of topics that often define humanity. The author begins with the Universe and starts by introducing the idea of a skyhook. In particular that when at a loss for explanation defer to the divine as a hook to hang the answer on. Matt Ridley endeavors to remove skyhooks across a host of topics throughout the book. He begins with Morality and discusses how Smith in Theory of Moral Sentiments was on to a very important idea when he discusses how morality evolves to create social stability. The book is a great composition of history, science and philosophy. The author discusses evolution as an idea and how intelligent design has been shown to hang itself on skyhooks that time has removed. The author discusses genes and the idea of the selfish gene and in particular that genes don't evolve to fit a function but rather surviving genes somehow improve chances of success in unbeknownst to them. The author gives great overviews of how culture can change over time and is contextual he tackles how the economy evolved. The author gets into topics like education and will likely cause alarm with his criticisms of modern education. In particular the author discusses how the modern education system was developed to modernize the Prussian state and doesn't encourage creativity. The author gets into the benefits of the Montessori system. The author also discusses historically sensitive subjects like population and how Malthusian and Social Darwinist ideas dominated the last 200 years inclusive of even recent history. In particular the author is highly critical of population containment policy advocated even in the last two decades towards poor countries as paternalist and Malthusian. The author is critical of government and discusses how the state arose not out of benevolence but as a kind of social parasite preying on the productivity of its citizens. The author also documents how societies function much better than imagined in the absence of government and the Hobbesian outcome of life being brutish and short in the absence of government is an overstatement. There is an extremely strong libertarian narrative throughout the book. The author spends a lot of time discussing how the idea of government sponsored research as being the bedrock of modern development is nonsense and how ideas like the internet being developed by the government reinforce his point. In particular the author feels strongly that individuals don't make as large of a difference as is usually advocated and that important developments are usually being considered by contemporaneous citizens (calculus, the lightbulb, the steam engine all had multiple simultaneous people realizing their significance). The author takes aim at lots of people including those fearful of global warming. These arguments aren't taken as anti scientific but rather that becoming obsessed with an idea that isnt well understood can be similar to becoming religious about the cause. The author discusses things like bitcoin as well and the likely creator and ends with the internet which is of course a force that we are still coming to grips with.
It is hard not to learn something from the evolution of everything. Personally there is much that i agree with and much that i don't but everything in the book has supporting evidence and is argued with reason. It is not all fact as reasoned opinion remains opinion but one should not dismiss any of this commentary because it disagrees with ones beliefs. Definitely an enjoyable read, most sections retain the readers interest, others draw sympathy and some cause irritation but they do not bore.