Cover image for The Evolution of Everything [electronic resource] : How New Ideas Emerge
Title:
The Evolution of Everything [electronic resource] : How New Ideas Emerge
Author:
Ridley, Matt.
Description:
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.
Publisher:
HarperCollins,
Date:
2015
Digital Format:
cloudLibrary EPUB
Language:
English

Summary

Summary

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.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Working from the idea that evolution is "happening all around us" and is "the best way of understanding how the human world changes, as well as the natural world," Ridley (The Rational Optimist) looks at how numerous facets of society and nature develop and change over time. "Evolution is far more common, and far more influential, than most people recognize," he says. The book's primary argument is that, more often than not, there is no rational mind or organized decision-making behind the development of common concepts or widespread phenomena, but an unconscious reaction to an immense variety of factors. "The genome has no master gene, the brain has no command center, the English language has no director, the economy has no chief executive," he states. Ridley observes this principle in culture, government, and technology. There's a lot of information to work through, but the reasoning is sound and arguments are well-supported with historical precedent and general observation. While the premise may not sit well with everyone, Ridley provides enough evidence to support his claims and generate no shortage of debate. Agent: Peter Ginsberg, Curtis Brown. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

Evolution, a phenomenon without an underlying plan that explains life's development, has convinced scientists, if not the general public, but authorities still debate whether Darwin's theory applies to human society. Veteran science writer Ridley (The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, 2010) investigates. According to conventional wisdom, progress in law, morals, economics, and even science itself doesn't just happen. It requires creative input through religion, legislation, political or philosophical movements, individual geniuses, or the work of deep thinkers. Not so, writes the author in this ingenious study: "Intelligent design is just as bad at explaining society as it is at explaining evolution." Over centuries, languages change in a planless process similar to natural selection, and authorities proclaim rules to little effect. Economic systems that appeared spontaneously (commerce, free markets) operate far more efficiently than top-down systems that require guidance (mercantilism, Marxism). Laws demand lawgiversexcept when they don't. The admirable Anglo-American common law simply evolved. How did torture, racism, slavery, and pedophiliaall once acceptablebecome immoral today despite the decline of religion in recent decades? Ridley argues that we have evolved to prefer nicer relationships. "Morality," he writes, "is an accidental by-product of the way human beings adjust their behavior towards each other as they grow upgoodness does not need to be taught, let alone associated with the superstitious belief that it would not exist but for the divine origin of an ancient Palestinian carpenter." These are fascinating essays backed by a mixture of good evidence and personal philosophy. Few readers will object to the author's contempt for intelligent design until his concluding chapters on government, when his fervent libertarianism nearly gets the better of him. Like Malcolm Gladwell, Ridley's taste for counterintuitive arguments often oversimplifies and ignores contradictory evidence, but he provides a wild ride, almost too thought-provoking to read for long stretches but difficult to put down. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Darwin's great realization should be called the special theory of evolution, Ridley (The Rational Optimist, 2010) says, because life isn't the only thing that evolves. In 16 chapters (capped by a brief epilogue, The Evolution of the Future), he argues the evolution of other physical realities (the universe, genes, population), many more intangible public realities (the economy, technology, education, leadership, government, religion, money), a couple of personal realities (the mind, personality), culture, and the Internet. Each of these realms began and grows best by natural selection no creator started it, and no planner makes it change. As an epitaph for each chapter, Ridley quotes the Roman philosopher-poet Lucretius, whose De Rerum Natura (circa 49 BCE) both preserves the thought of Epicurus and provides the agenda for modernity, from Newton to Darwin to the present. Ridley also brings in Adam Smith to complement Darwin; as Darwin advances natural selection for the life sciences, so does Smith for the social sciences. All along, Ridley shows how hard it has been for even the most definite evolutionists to fully abandon the notion of a guiding intelligence, whether divine or human. Yet that is what the hard evidence to the effect that good things come by undirected means that Ridley adduces in every chapter compels us all to do.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2015 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

WHAT ARE WE to make of the following developments? * During the 16th century, the south end of London Bridge was adorned with spikes bearing the rotting heads of traitors, murderers and other criminals. Today, not only are there no heads on London Bridge, but capital punishment has been abolished in Britain for half a century. * On Feb. 14, 1876, Elisha Gray, a co-founder of the telegraph-equipment manufacturer Western Electric, filed with the United States Patent Office a memo describing "Instruments for Transmitting and Receiving Vocal Sounds Telegraphically" - the telephone. That same day, a lawyer representing a Boston University professor named Alexander Graham Bell filed a patent application for a device for "transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically" - a telephone. The ensuing legal wrangle went on for years. * The 20th century was marred by horrors: the mass slaughter of World War I, the extermination camps of World War II, the tens of millions who died of starvation during China's Great Leap Forward. Yet in this period the lives of billions of people grew immeasurably richer, safer and more comfortable, thanks to widespread economic growth, major scientific and medical advances, dramatic improvements in transportation and communications and a gradual waning of racism and other biases. On the face of it, the disappearance of grisly totems of justice, the suspiciously coincidental patent filings and the inexorable rise in living standards in the face of organized disaster and depravity seem to have little to connect them. But Matt Ridley, the author of several well-regarded books on genetics and evolution, would argue that they are all of a piece - that each is the result of unplanned and undirected behavior unfolding over time. The word for this is "emergent," and with "The Evolution of Everything" Ridley has set out to construct a sort of grand unified theory of emergent behavior. The idea is simple, yet to many people disturbing: Society evolves, as does the world in general, largely in a way neither we nor whatever God we conjure up has any real control over. This isn't true of everything, but it's true of far more than we care to believe. Highways are designed; traffic happens. Buildings are constructed; cities happen. Battles are strategized, troops mobilized, weapons deployed, but defeat or victory happens. "I want to . . . get you to see past the illusion of design," Ridley writes, "to see the emergent, unplanned, inexorable and beautiful process of change that lies underneath." He has set himself a tough task. As humans, we like to think we control events. We accept, at least in theory, that there is a degree of randomness in the world, but we still try to read some kind of portent into whatever happens. Any explanation is more comforting than the stark possibility that things occur without purpose. Even an inscrutable deity who deals out death and torment for reasons we can't fathom is preferable to the profound disorientation of chance. We want - need - to believe that someone or something is in charge. Darwin ran afoul of this mind-set with a series of far-reaching observations that are still bitterly and irrationally contested today. Ridley goes further. Citing the British innovation theorist Richard Webb, he calls Darwin's thesis the "special theory of evolution," as opposed to a general theory that goes beyond biology "to society, money, technology, language, law, culture, music, violence, history, education, politics, God, morality." In his previous book, "The Rational Optimist," Ridley took on doomsayers with the argument that things are getting better, thanks largely to market economies and other actions that take place without the benefit of central planning. Here he assails "creationism" in all its forms. The result, while not entirely convincing, offers a highly intelligent and bracingly iconoclastic view of the world. It forces us to see life through new eyes. Ridley's muse is not Darwin but Lucretius, the Roman poet and philosopher whose opus, "De Rerum Natura" ("On the Nature of Things"), may have helped jump-start the Renaissance. Lucretius, unlike Aristotle, was not amenable to Christian dogma: He celebrated earthly pleasures, and he insisted that every phenomenon has a natural - as opposed to supernatural - explanation. The recovery of his long poem in 1417, on a dusty shelf in a German monastery by an out-of-work papal secretary, was the subject of Stephen Greenblatt's award-winning book "The Swerve." But whereas Greenblatt, following Lucretius, defined a "swerve" as a sudden deviation from the expected course of things - the unearthing of a forgotten manuscript, for example - Ridley gives it a very different meaning. To him, a swerve is what happens when someone devises a perfectly rational explanation only to succumb in the end to religious sleight-of-hand - as Newton did in insisting that his clockwork universe had to have been fashioned by "an intelligent and powerful being," even if it ticked along on its own. The world is full of such swerves, but try catching Ridley in one. You are more likely to find him holding fast to an idea even as it leads him toward the ditch. He is on solid ground in likening Adam Smith's explanation of markets to Darwin's account of evolution, and he makes a convincing case that language, marriage, monogamy, morality and even technology are also emergent phenomena, evolving without benefit of direction from above. This would explain, among many other things, the curious coincidence of the two telephones and the absence of heads on London Bridge: Ideas are in the air, and we prefer to get our gore at the movies now - but not because anyone decreed it. Ridley doesn't mention the failure of Esperanto or the emergence of English as a common tongue, maybe because these are so obvious. But he does go into fascinating detail on the spontaneous evolution of public morals - also laid out by Adam Smith, in his 1759 book "The Theory of Moral Sentiments." Government, religion, the Internet - all are spontaneous and evolutionary in Ridley's view, the laws of Moses notwithstanding. The trouble begins when he stops observing emergent phenomena and starts pumping for them as the ideal solution to any given problem. He makes a good case that education would be better off without bureaucrats. But elsewhere he overreaches. His insistence that climatechange arguments are overwrought is rather suspect, especially for someone with a working coal mine on his country estate. Elsewhere, discussing the shortcomings of foreign aid, he notes that while Ghana and South Korea had roughly the same per capita income in the 1950s, the one that has gotten far more aid in the years since is vastly poorer today. True enough - but it hardly follows that, as he concludes, "the story of economic development is a bottom-up story. The story of lack of development is a top-down story." In fact, South Korea's economy is both remarkably successful and heavily directed from above - unlike North Korea's, which is staggeringly unsuccessful and even more heavily directed from above. So the lesson is clear: Emergent solutions succeed, and planned solutions fail - except when they don't. It would be nice to learn what differentiates one situation from another. That Ridley hasn't explained it hardly invalidates his larger point, that emergence is far more prevalent and more powerful than we think. But here too a deeper question remains: Why are emergence and randomness so hard for people to accept? Could it be that the human brain is such a pattern-seeking organ that it can barely acknowledge unguided developments as an option? "The belief in the will and in the immortal soul themselves emerged as evolutionary consequences of how the brain changed," Ridley writes. It's a thought he might well have explored further. FRANK ROSE is a senior fellow at Columbia University School of the Arts and the author of "The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the Way We Tell Stories."


Library Journal Review

Does the world operate according to a master blueprint, or is it far more influenced by unfolding events that cause gradual change? Science columnist Ridley (The Rational Optimist) posits the latter, explaining that all facets of human culture are driven by evolutionary change in a bottom-up ordering rather than a top-down design. The author champions the ideology of ancient Roman poet, Titus Lecretius Carus, using stanzas of his poem De Rerum Natura to segue to essays on subjects ranging from religion and government to population and technology. These revolutionary manifestos borrow narratives from science, economics, politics, and philosophy. Ridley's use of source material is vast, ranging from quoting author Sam Harris on free will in order to demonstrate the "evolutionary consequence of how the brain changed," to arguing how climate change has become a religious argument, with quotes from Nigel Lawson and French philosopher Pascal Bruckner. Despite impressive research, however, the author fails to hide his bias on certain subjects or his Libertarian beliefs, leaving the thoughtful reader wanting a bit more counterargument. VERDICT Readers of evolutionary theory, sociology, history, anthropology and philosophy shall be highly entertained by this thought-provoking read but may not evolve to Ridley's level of thinking.-Angela Forret, Clive P.L., IA © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.