Evolution of Ideas: a collection of essays


(ACD) #22

"The rise of information theory aided and abetted a new view of life. The genetic code—no longer a mere metaphor—was being deciphered. Scientists spoke grandly of the biosphere : an entity composed of all the earth’s life-forms, teeming with information, replicating and evolving. And biologists, having absorbed the methods and vocabulary of communications science, went further to make their own contributions to the understanding of information itself.

Jacques Monod, the Parisian biologist who shared a Nobel Prize in 1965 for working out the role of messenger RNA in the transfer of genetic information, proposed an analogy: just as the biosphere stands above the world of nonliving matter, so an “abstract kingdom” rises above the biosphere. The denizens of this kingdom? Ideas.

‘Ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms,’ he wrote. ‘Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role.’

Ideas have ‘spreading power,’ he noted—‘infectivity, as it were’—and some more than others. An example of an infectious idea might be a religious ideology that gains sway over a large group of people. The American neurophysiologist Roger Sperry had put forward a similar notion several years earlier, arguing that ideas are ‘just as real’ as the neurons they inhabit. Ideas have power, he said:

Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet.

Monod added, ‘I shall not hazard a theory of the selection of ideas.’ There was no need. Others were willing.

Dawkins made his own jump from the evolution of genes to the evolution of ideas. For him the starring role belongs to the replicator, and it scarcely matters whether replicators were made of nucleic acid. His rule is ‘All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities.’ Wherever there is life, there must be replicators. Perhaps on other worlds replicators could arise in a silicon-based chemistry—or in no chemistry at all.

What would it mean for a replicator to exist without chemistry? ‘I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet,’ Dawkins proclaimed near the end of his first book, The Selfish Gene , in 1976. ‘It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.’ That ‘soup’ is human culture; the vector of transmission is language, and the spawning ground is the brain.

For this bodiless replicator itself, Dawkins proposed a name. He called it the meme, and it became his most memorable invention, far more influential than his selfish genes or his later proselytizing against religiosity. ‘Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation,’ he wrote. They compete with one another for limited resources: brain time or bandwidth."


(ACD) #23

The following came to me in an alumni communication from the London School of Economics:

“Atlantic Fellows are activists, artists, journalists, health professionals, entrepreneurs, researchers, teachers, lawyers, policymakers, and others who collaborate to advance equity, opportunity and human dignity. Fellows are thinkers and doers with innovative ideas and the courage, conviction and capacity to bring lasting improvements to their communities and the world.”

“The Atlantic Fellows program is built on the idea that achieving fairer, healthier, more inclusive societies requires leaders with diverse perspectives to collaborate on solutions and learn from one another. The Atlantic Institute connects the seven Atlantic Fellows programs, building a global community of courageous leaders who inspire positive change. The Atlantic Institute is based at the Rhodes Trust in Oxford.”

This all connects to the organization about which I wrote on ideapod:

“By the turn of the twentieth century, the discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa had created vast wealth which funded a political organization established by Cecil Rhodes whose purpose was to defend, preserve, and expand the British empire through an amalgamation of its global English-speaking heritage into a like-minded commonwealth. Rhodes and his political organization arguably were a front for the Rothschilds who funded mining operations in South Africa and who became custodians of Rhodes’ bequest.”


(Mark's Myth) #24

As in Rhodes Scholar…

Why is it called Rhodes Scholar?

Definition and History. The Rhodes Scholarship , and the scholars who are distinguished by this achievement, was created by and named after the British mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes . … Since then, over 7,500 scholars have attended the university from all over the world.


(ACD) #25

There is much to learn about the Rhodes activities in Africa and the uses to which the resulting plunder was put.


(Mark's Myth) #26

Yes. It seems that somehow these folks whose ill found wealth destroyed much, they eventually arrived at a decision to obfuscate their deeds with offers to the #senseof consciousness that is not containable in most humans.

Alfred Nobel is another who comes to mind… Nobel held 355 different patents, dynamite being the most famous. After reading a premature obituary which condemned him for profiting from the sales of arms, he bequeathed his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes…

In 1888, the death of his brother Ludvig caused several newspapers to publish obituaries of Alfred in error. A French obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and that Nobel “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before” through his invention of dynamite. This distressed Nobel, who was concerned that when he truly died he would not be remembered well. This event led him to bequeath the bulk of his estate to form the Nobel Prize in 1895. Nobel died in 1896.

As far as Rhodes Scholars… my life changed because of one in particular. I received a call from a friend in London in 1978 to come for an interview at Interaction. Little did I know how this journey would change my life. Ed Berman is still out there doing his thing, and I thank him for who he is and having been a Rhodes Scholar.


(ACD) #27

The idea of the Rhodes scholarship was to bring the Anglo American progeny to Oxford where they could be properly tutored.