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I'm Church Leader, Writer, Speaker, Marketer, Kindness Project Founder, Broadcaster and Superhero. But most important I'm a Husband, Father and a worshiper of Jesus.

16 July 2010

When ideas have sex

Matt Ridley, author of "The Rational Optimist" gave a fascinating TED Talk the other day about how these are extraordinarily prosperous times through the uniquely human, almost sexual, mating of ideas and "the collective brain".

Ridley gives the example of a computer mouse and asks the question, "Who knows how to make this?" The answer is quite literally NOBODY including it's actual manufacturer. It's an example of the cumulative product of thousands of people specializing in SOMETHING or other... coming together. In the old days Kings, who had great wealth, would have 500 people working FOR them. Today... we do too when you think of the collective efforts we're making for OUR benefit.

That's idea sex.
It allows us to do things that we don't even understand... things that are beyond our actual capabilities.

Evidence suggests that cultural evolution depends on exchange and trade to bring together ideas in much the same way that genetic evolution depends on sex to spread genetic mutations, or in the case of bacteria, on horizontal gene transfer. When starved of access to a large “collective brain” by isolation from trade and exchange, people may experience not just less innovation, but even regress.

And this exchange creates the momentum for more specialization which creates the momentum for more exchange... escalated by an age of marvelous technological innovation. These are the times we're living in!

He makes a very solid argument about how the value of actual intelligence is minimal compared to the power of a collective that communicates and functions intentionally together.

This has changed the way I think about human intelligence. I've never had much time for the academic obsession with intelligence. Highly intelligent people are sometimes remarkably stupid; stupid people sometimes make better leaders than clever ones. And so on. The reason, I realize, is that human intelligence is a collective phenomenon. If they exchange and specialize, a group of 50 dull-witted people can have a far higher collective intelligence than 50 brilliant people who don't. So that's why it is utterly irrelevant if one race turns out to have higher IQ than another, or one company hires people with higher IQs than another. I would rather be marooned on a desert island with a diverse group of mediocre people who know how to communicate, from a singer to a plumber, say, than with a bunch of geniuses.

Yet... we don't seem to completely grasp this potential somehow. Ridley said this in a recent Globe and Mail article called, "Dare to be an optimist".

Yet for reasons he confesses he doesn’t fully understand, gloom sells. “The generation that has experienced more peace, freedom, leisure time, education, medicine, travel, movies, mobile phones and massages than any generation in history is lapping up gloom at every opportunity.”

Remember the Louis CK routine called "Everything is Amazing and Nobody is Happy" on Conan O'Brien that made the rounds last year?

This is where Christians typically go on rants about the evils of... something or other... capitalism, schools teaching evolution, abortion, government, lack of government. Sometimes even the ever-coming Apocalypse! Yes! This one calls for the ole end of days diatribe.

It's not that I don't believe that it is coming at some point. But personally... I certainly hope it's not now. There has never been a more important and potentially prosperous Era for The Church. What I LOVE about Ridley's societal hope, is that it comes from a secular, evolutionary, rational point of view. It doesn't even touch on the actual source of legitimate hope that God gave to the world through Jesus Christ! And even without it... the realization that we can change the world together is so tangible.

Don't get mad Christians. Get this thing. Because this principle... is the "discovery" of a paradigm God laid out for man to follow YEARS ago. Right now at Freedom House, we're spending the summer working through our motivational gifts (Romans 12) and ministry gifts. Why?

Because we believe cities can be changed BY good INTO good when people motivated BY the love of God to SHARE the love of God, all WORK together.

Here's some 1 Corinthians 12 action from The Message:

"God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits."

Such a beautiful, hopeful, doable picture that we get to participate in. So hey... go let your ideas have sex with someone else's ideas... something even better will come out than you can do by yourself.

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