When Ideas Have Sex
I was predisposed to like this piece in the June issue of Scientific American, online today, based on its title alone:
But it's not just a provocative title. The parallel between the benefits of intermixing genes to create new life and the benefits of sharing ideas to create prosperity makes a lot of sense.
Writes Michael Shermer:
the free exchange between people of goods, services and especially ideas leads to trust between strangers and prosperity for more people. Think of it as ideas having sex. That is what zoologist and science writer Matt Ridley calls it in his book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (HarperCollins, 2010). Ridley is optimistic that "the world will pull out of the current crisis because of the way that markets in goods, services and ideas allow human beings to exchange and specialize honestly for the betterment of all."
Sex evolved because the benefit of the diversity created through the intermixture of genomes outweighed the costs of engaging in it, and so we enjoy exchanging our genes with one another, and life is all the richer for it. Likewise ideas. "Exchange is to cultural evolution as sex is to biological evolution," Ridley writes, and "the more human beings diversified as consumers and specialized as producers, and the more they then exchanged, the better off they have been, are and will be. And the good news is that there is no inevitable end to this process. The more people are drawn into the global division of labour, the more people can specialize and exchange, the wealthier we will all be."
He points to recent research showing that trade makes people act more fairly and concludes
In other words, our ancestors had sex with people they knew, but their ideas had sex with strangers, and this form of trade led to trust and prosperity.
Take that to your next cocktail party and see what it does for conversation.