Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist

With so much negativity in the media, Matt Ridley presents a very solid case for optimism. Playing on many of the same themes as Robert Wright in Non-Zero, Matt Ridley shows us Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” at work in the market forces of trade and in cultural evolution. Through specialization we have been able to get better at doing things. This has provided us with something we never had before: surplus. I mean we used to be just like all other animals – eating what we could and living from year to year. But once we could accumulate surplus things, we could trade them. and once we started trading an upward spiral started that had innovation and trade feeding off each other. The more we innovated, the more surplus we could gather, and the more we could trade. The more we could trade, the more wealth we accumulated, because you only trade when you get a better deal! But the beauty of trade is that both parties get a better deal, because both parties only give up what they have for something they want more. This is the famous “win-win” that people talk about. This is what Robert Wright calls non-zero sum games. It is a winning strategy for evolution. The one concept that I want to talk briefly about here is Ridley’s metaphor of ideas having sex with each other. Just as plants and animals have sex in hopes of creating a new version of themselves that is slightly better, ideas mix with other ideas to do the same. I have an idea for a new product and...

Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen

Subtitle: Sex & the Evolution of Human Nature. What’s more interesting than that? Ridley’s The Red Queen is about how much of our evolutionary development was an attempt to beat the burden of parasites. Sex is the¬†secret weapon for all sexually reproducing organisms. Sex allowed us to create an unpredictable environment that parasites could not easily adapt to. When I take my genes and shuffle them up with my wife’s genes, we create a creature sufficiently different from both of us to stump the parasites’ ability to profit from our energy. Parasites have been a part of nature forever, and so early animals and plants gained an advantage in defending against them over the creatures who simply split in two, providing parasites the same playing field as past generations. This is the beginning of sex in evolution. Ridley takes it all farther by showing how the sex drive in all animals shapes how they behave. In Quanology, I’ve called this The Sexual Landscape. It is a set of circumstances that shape who we want to mate with and how we compete for mates. Ultimately, we see that the desire for good mates and the things we do to get them have been the forces shaping our modern society. These are fundamental, universal characteristics of humans. Men like pretty women, and women like wealthy, powerful men. Ridley argues against the behaviorists who believe that these things are taught by society. The Red Queen, as a concept, is there to explain the pendulum of evolution – that whenever an advantage is found, it creates a “hole in the market” that will...