The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley is a book that takes you through the evolution of many concepts that we live with every day. These are the concepts that surround us. More often than not we grew up on a narrative about these concepts either through our school education or through what we read and heard in media around us. The chapters in this book, one by one, debunk a lot of myths about who these concepts evolved. The biggest myth that it tries to debunk is the fact that a single individual was responsible for a certain breakthrough or a discovery. Matt Ridley argues and demonstrates that most things – especially the so-called progress of humanity would have happened with or without these people.
His best chapters are the first and the last one. In the last chapter, he argues that quality of life is much better today than anytime else in the history. However, we are constantly made to feel that we are living in the worst times.
There are 16 concepts that Matt Ridley explores in his book ‘The Evolution of Everything’:
- The Economy
- The Mind
- The Internet
Each chapter takes you through the evolution of the concept. It’s like a history lesson but take it with a pinch of salt as it is blind to concepts outside the western hemisphere. In the first chapter, he talks about that time when God was yet to be invented and that part is fascinating. Through the book, you learn some titbits about evolution – like how languages evolved, how laws and etiquette evolved. For example, Ridley explores the evolution of money only as it happened in Scotland and England. We, of course, know that the concept of money existed ever since we know trade existed.
As a reader, you would understand and hence appreciate few chapters more than the others. For example, I really enjoyed the chapter on technology, culture, and religion. However, the chapter on Genes and Mind I just scraped through. The population is the only chapter that mentions India. And it is obvious you can not talk about Population without talking about China and India.
The chapter on culture is lovely as it tells you how the norms and conventions of the society evolved. How some of the concepts just reversed their meaning as they moved into future. The chapter on technology tells you that the Internet would have anyway happened. And the chapter on government tells you that it would have happened a decade earlier if the government did not play its role in holding it back. The chapter on government is the amusing as it tells you that government came into existence not for the welfare of people and society as they would like us to believe. But for to have control and power over them. Come to think of it – do they not continue to work on the same agenda.
I really appreciated Matt Ridley’s analysis of how innovations happen – how they are bottom-up almost always as they come out of a common need or pain point. Research also happens because we are looking for a solution to a problem, no one funds just any research. In fact, there is hardly any practical innovation that you can attribute to the top=down approach of innovation.
Overall I enjoyed reading the book because I believe in its basic tenet that – evolution happens when it has to happen. People play their role but it is not a function of one person as the personality-driven media of today would like to believe. Some people end up getting too much credit for a particular invention/discovery/research, but that is essentially discarding all the work that happened before them or among the peers. It also re-enforces my conjectures that when ideas happen, there are multiple people working on the ideas in parallel. It is a matter of destiny or some time strategy that some people shine in the light of glory. While others remain as footnotes on research notes.
I hope the Matt Ridley would someday research Indian Philosophy – he would have a different angle for his religion chapter. He would also appreciate the fact that art, science and any other creative pursuit in India were never attributed to an individual as we always believe that knowledge and its fruits belong to everyone. Collective ownership of these prevented the glorification of some at the cost of others.
Interesting educating read. It might break some of the stereotypes in your mind.
Read The Evolution of Everything – one chapter at a time.