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The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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The New York Times bestselling author of The Rational Optimist and Genome returns with a fascinating, brilliant argument for evolution that definitively dispels a dangerous, widespread myth: that we can command and control our world.The Evolution of Everything is about bottom-up order and its enemy, the top-down twitch-the endless fascination human beings have for design rather than evolution, for direction rather than emergence. Drawing on anecdotes from science, economics, history, politics and philosophy, Matt Ridley's wide-ranging, highly opinionated opus demolishes conventional assumptions that major scientific and social imperatives are dictated by those on high, whether in government, business, academia, or morality. On the contrary, our most important achievements develop from the bottom up. Patterns emerge, trends evolve. Just as skeins of geese form Vs in the sky without meaning to, and termites build mud cathedrals without architects, so brains take shape without brain-makers, learning can happen without teaching and morality changes without a plan.Although we neglect, defy and ignore them, bottom-up trends shape the world. The growth of technology, the sanitation-driven health revolution, the quadrupling of farm yields so that more land can be released for nature-these were largely emergent phenomena, as were the Internet, the mobile phone revolution, and the rise of Asia. Ridley demolishes the arguments for design and effectively makes the case for evolution in the universe, morality, genes, the economy, culture, technology, the mind, personality, population, education, history, government, God, money, and the future.As compelling as it is controversial, authoritative as it is ambitious, Ridley's stunning perspective will revolutionize the way we think about our world and how it works.
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According to Ridley, “evolution is happening all around us. It is the best way of understanding how the human world changes, as well as the natural world. Change in human instructions, artifacts and habits is incremental, inexorable, and inevitable. 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 ouytsi8de; it has no goal or end in mind; and it largely happens by trial and error -- a version of natural selection."
Ridley then adds: "This truth continues to elude most intellectuals on the left as well as on the right, who remain in effect 'creationists.' The obsession with which those on the right resist Charles Darwin's insight -- that the complexity of nature does not imply a designer -- matches the obsession with which those on the left resist Adam Smith's insight -- that the complexity of society does not imply a planner. In the pages that follow, I shall take on this creationism in all its forms." And indeed he does.
These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Ridley’s coverage in the first six of 16 chapters:
o The Lucretian heresy (Pages 10-11)
o The puddle that fits its pothole, and, Thinking for ourselves (18-20)
o How morality emerges (25-27)
o Better angels (28-33)
o The evolution of law (33-36)
o The evolution of Darwin's ideas (37-39)
o Hume's swerve (39-42)
o Darwin on the eye (42-45)
o Astronomical improbability? (46-48)
o Doubting Darwin still (49-52)
o The lure of Lamarck (55-57)
o Culture-driven genetic evolution (57-58)
o All crane and no skyhook (62-64)
o On whose behalf? (65-68)
o Red Queen races (72-75)
o The evolution of language (79-82)
o The human revolution was actually an evolution (82-85)
o The evolution of cities (91-93)
o The evolution of institutions (94-95)
Whenever I encounter a staunch advocate of creationism, I am again reminded of a press conference in 1925 when the newly elected governor of Texas. Miriam Amanda Wallace ("Ma") Ferguson, was asked for her opinion about bilingual education. "If English is good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for me." Apparently there are still people out and about who, when referring to the King James version of the Bible to support their faith in creationism, believe that Jesus spoke Elizabethan English.
I agree with Ridley that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection as outlined in 1859 should really be called the "special theory" of evolution to differentiate it from his "general theory." Why? Matt Ridley agrees with Richard Webb that "the flywheel of history is incremental change through trial and error, with innovation driven by recombination, and that this pertains in far more kinds of things than merely those that have genes. This is also the main way that change comes about" in all other areas of human initiative. "For far too long we have underestimated the power of spontaneous, organic and constructive change from above. Embrace the general theory of evolution. Admit that everything evolves."
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Matt Ridley is most definitely a polemicist, not an academic. While I tend to agree with much of what he says, I am well aware that his erudite examples require very little evidence if they support his theories while subjecting competing theories to a very high standard of proof. (For example, he asserts that Montessori schools are better than traditional education based on the evidence that three successful tech companies were started by Montessori students).
If you keep an eye out for that technique, though, you can get a lot out of the book while still remaining a healthy skeptic.
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.