We are neurons

July 22, 2010 | By | Reply More

British Author Matt Ridley recently gave a stimulating and entertaining talk at TED. The central topic was about “mating ideas,” but the talk (which was engaging all the way through) took an surprising turn toward the end when Ridley announced that he doesn’t care whether some individuals have a somewhat higher IQ than others.   Smart individuals don’t necessarily make for a smart society–he suggested that Neanderthals were smart individuals, but they didn’t last. What do we modern humans have the Neanderthals lacked?

We exchange things and ideas (the evidence suggests that the Neanderthals didn’t exchange items and didn’t have any meaningful division of labor, not even a sexual division of labor). We function together and we are able to create things that nobody on earth knows how to make individually. Who knows how to make a computer mouse? Nobody. The “team” that makes computer mice includes the coffee-grower who provides coffee for the guy who works on an oil rig, who pumps out oil in order to allow a chemist to make plastic for the mouse. But there are 1,000,000 other members of this team.

We are prolific exchangers of ideas, and that is what we have over all other species. Each of us functions like a neuron, networking incessantly, enabling the whole to be much greater than the sum of the parts.  Smart individuals (despite how interesting they sometimes seem) are often dead ends. What really makes a society fly is when individuals have a propensity to exchange ideas, a built-in drive for mating their ideas, allowing their ideas to go where no smart individual (or even many groups of smart individuals) could have ever anticipated.

For an interesting epilogue, consider the work of David Sloan Wilson, who suggests that humans are half-bee (we’re not quite there), and that religion serves as the binding force.


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Category: Community, Culture, Economy, Quality of Life, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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