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cover for The Evolution of Everything

The Evolution of Everything — by Matt Ridley

Rating: 6/10

This book is an expansive look into how Darwin’s Theory of Evolution applies to many more areas than just those that have genes – culture, morality, religion, the universe, education, history, law, government, the internet, money, society, everything.

The author understands systems that are shaped by evolution as those systems which change incrementally through trial and error, with innovation driven by recombination.

The book intents to motivate the reader to start spotting phenomena that emerge from the bottom-up, as opposed to being designed or created (top-to-bottom). To “Give less credit to creationists, while we encourage and celebrate the evolution of everything”.

And I found myself convinced and loving the argument.

Prior to the book, I understood economics to be a complex-system that emerges from free-association and trade, and I was aware that when human’s intervene and try to shape the form of this system, bad things happen. What I wasn’t aware of was that this same line of thinking applies to almost any other system.

I found especially intriguing to see an evolutionary perspective applied to technology, religion, personality, and money. Areas which I had never thought of as systems, much less systems that have been shaped by trial and error, and recombination.

The insight I found most valuable was that of understanding that most of us have a bias to attribute occurrences to deliberate action by a group of people, and to not see them as things that emerged from a complex system. One example of this is the invention of the light bulb, most of us attribute credit to Edison for this, but the book argues that if Edison had not discovered the light bulb, someone else would have. In fact, many other inventors came up with a light bulb around the same time.

A lesson to take away is that instead of focusing our efforts in acting as creators and inventing new things, we should be keenly aware of what the market wants, or what technology wants, and act as facilitators of that evolution.