Landing : Athabascau University

Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex

This is a great TED talk from Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist (that I've started to read and am enjoying immensely), summarizing some of the main ideas in the book.

There are many useful ideas and surprising facts and arguments presented here but the central concept is that the fundamental distinguishing characteristic of humans, that they trade and exchange things, leads to ever-increasing efficiencies of use of time and the (literal) breeding of innovation, in an ever-accelerating virtuous spiral that means the world gets to be a better place to live for nearly everyone nearly all the time, notwithstanding local variations and occasional reversals. His view of the emergent collective is particularly insightful and, though not as subtly argued as Bloom's masterly 'Global Brain', makes a lot of sense and the simile that ideas literally reproduce sexually is memorable and worth examining. This is an original, poetic and compelling retelling of a very old idea that borrows heavily from Adam Smith and Leonard E. Read and that echoes many of the things W. Brian Arthur, Stephen Johnson, Kevin Kelly and others have been writing about technology and innovation recently. 


  • Excellent talk.

    Nice argument for specialization and trade unfortunately it does not touch on the negative influences of restricting information flow. It would be interesting to see hear his perspective on strong IP protection which reduces access to information.

    His suggestion of ideas reproducing sexually is entertaining but I can not think of an earth example with more than two parents and ideas often drawn from many sources.


    Eric von Stackelberg August 30, 2012 - 3:44pm

  • On a similar vein is Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's book Abundance (I am enjoying the read).  They talk about Kurweil's predictions, the Singularity (area of interest to me); Kahneman and his work etc. 

    Barbie Bruce September 7, 2012 - 2:56pm

  • Sounds like a book for my reading list, thanks!

    I'm feeling less and less positive towards Ridley's book as I get further into it - his political stance is very worrying and some of his detailed arguments and conclusions are very flaky, but the core idea is still powerful and persuasive and it remains packed with fascinating insights and facts, even if the conclusions drawn from them are sometimes dubious.

    Jon Dron September 7, 2012 - 3:14pm

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