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課程來源:TED
     
Matt Ridley 談當概念遇上性
Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex
 
講者:Matt Ridley
2010年7月演講,2010年7月在TEDGlobal上線
 
翻譯:                劉契良
編輯:                洪曉慧
簡繁轉換:            陳盈
後制:                劉契良
字幕影片後制:        謝旻均
 
 
 
 
關於這場演講
 
在這場 TEDGlobal 2010 演講中,作者 Matt Ridley 穿越歷史展示了為何人類進步的動力是概念相遇與相交進而產生新概念的過程,個體有多聰明不重要,他表示,真正要緊的是集體智慧的聰穎程度。
 
關於 Matt Ridley
 
英國作家 Matt Ridley 藉由史證強調,人類進步與繁盛的動力一直是、且正是「概念相交的結果」。
 
為何要聽他演講:
 
英國作家 Matt Ridley 瞭解一件事:透過歷史,人類進步與繁盛的動力一直是、且正是概念的交合。Ridley 表示,現代世界的高度發展仰賴的不是個體的智慧或創造力,而是集體協作的成果。在他近期著作《理性樂觀派》之中,Ridley(他先前的著作包括《基因組》及《天性與教養:先天基因與後天環境的交互作用》)橫掃整部人類輝煌史,並提出強力的論點,「繁榮是來自每個人都能為其他每個人做工」。
 
我們習於交換、分享概念與專工,這正蓬勃衍生出設定人類生活標準的集體智慧。他表示,這「維繫了人類將在往後幾年內繼續繁盛的希望,因為概念正史無前例地彼此交合」。
 
「Ridley 透過大量的數據與無數的研究有系統地建立了一個案例,證明『多數人能得到較好的餵養、較好的居住品質、較好的娛樂、較不受疾病的侵襲,且較可能活得遠比其祖先更長壽』」。
《科學人》雜誌
 
Matt Ridley 的英語網上資料
 
網頁:The Rational Optimist  
Twitter:@mattwridley         
 
[TED科技娛樂設計]
已有中譯字幕的TED影片目錄(繁體)(簡體)。請注意繁簡目錄是不一樣的。
 
「翻譯編輯:myoops.org
 
1970 年代,我在牛津這裡求學時,世界的未來十分崎嶇,人口成長停不下來,全球饑荒無可避免,因環境中化學製品所引發的癌症廣為流行,致使我們的壽命縮短,森林受到酸雨的摧殘,沙漠一年會擴大一到二哩,石油日漸減少,核彈雲將終結人類,但這些全未發生(笑聲)。令人驚訝的卻是,若你端看我一生所實際經歷過的事,平均國民所得,而且是以全球一般人平均看來,化作實際數據並經通膨調整過後已漲了三倍,在我有生之年,人類的壽命也已提升了 30 個百分點,幼兒夭折率下降了三分之二,人均食物生產增加了三分之一,伴隨這一切是翻倍成長的人口,我們如何達到這一步田地?無論你認為那是好事亦是壞事,我們如何達到這一個結果?我們如何成為唯一的物種能在達致繁榮的同時,人口與時俱增?
 
 
這張圖表中的圓點大小代表人口多寡,圖中的曲線高低代表著國家人均生產總值,我認為要回答這個問題,你必需要先瞭解人類大腦是如何整合在一起,並讓他們的概念結合,再結合、相遇,而且,相交,換句話說,你必需要瞭解到概念是如何愛愛的,我想請各位想像一下我們如何從製作像這樣的物件,來到製作像這樣的物件,這兩種都是實際的物件,其一是 50 萬年前的澳洲手用斧錘,由人類手工製造,另一樣很明顯是電腦滑鼠,兩項物件的大小與形狀很不可思議地相似,我試過比較誰比較大,但卻幾乎辦不到,因為它們同是針對人手所設計,它們也同是「科技」,但有趣的地方並非它們的相似性,因那只表示兩者都是針對人手所設計,我感到有趣的是其不同性,因為左側這一樣的設計幾乎始終保持不變,歷經了約一百萬年,從 150 萬年前到 50 萬年前,人類製作了這項物件供 30,000 代的人使用,當然其中會有些許的改變,但當時工具的改變慢於人身骨架,沒有進步與創新,那是奇特的現象,但卻是事實,但右側的物件卻在五年後即落伍了,還有另一項不同點,即左側的物件乃由一種物質所製成,而右側的物件卻是經過不同物質的調製,矽加金屬加塑膠等,更有過之的,它是由不同概念調製而成,塑膠的概念、鐳射的概念、電晶體的概念,這些全綜合到這項科技當中,且因為這項整合,這種蓄積的科技讓我感到十分好奇,因為我以為這正是瞭解世界現狀的秘密所在,我的身體也是概念的蓄積,皮膚細胞的概念、腦細胞的概念、肝細胞的概念,全聚集起來,演化如何進行蓄積與合併事物的工作?
 
 
它其實是透過有性繁殖,在無性物種當中,如果你拿兩種不同生物中的兩種突變來比較,綠色與紅色,其中一種必定優於另一種,其一絕種,以便讓另一種存活,但如果你比較有性物種,則個體就有可能遺傳兩者且來自不同的族譜,所以性的功用是能透過個體獲致創新整個物種的基因,而非只是限於其自身的族譜之中,具有相同反應的過程,在文化演化時會如何表現?如同於生物演化時發生的性,而我認為答案是交換,交換物件的習慣,這是人類獨有的特色,沒有任何動物有此行為,你可以在實驗室中教牠們做一些交換,當然,動物之間亦有相互作用的關係,但交換物件的行為從未發生,如同亞當‧史密斯所說:「沒人見過一隻狗會和另一隻狗為一根骨頭從事公平交易」(笑聲),文化可以無需交換,無性文化確實存在,黑猩猩、殺人鯨等這類動物都擁有文化,牠們彼此教育傳統文化,長傳幼,這圖顯示出,黑猩猩彼此教導如何以石頭砸碎堅果,但不同點在於這種文化從不擴張、成長,從不積累、也從未整合在一起,理由是因為無性,現在與過去皆如此,概念並未交換,黑猩猩群之間有不同的文化,但牠們彼此間並沒有概念的交換,所以,為何交換能使生活水準提昇呢?
 
 
答案來自 1817 年的 David Ricardo,他對自己的故事有個石器時代的版本,雖然他說的是介於國家間的交易,Adam 花四個小時製矛、三個小時製斧,Oz 花一個小時製矛、二個小時製斧,所以 Oz 的製矛斧功力俱優於 Adam,他不需要 Adam,他可以自製矛與斧,Well no,因為只要再想想便可得知,假設 Oz 製作兩把矛,Adam 製作兩把斧然後交易,他們兩人便皆可省下一個小時的工時,當生產量增加,則這個事實就愈明顯,因為當他們做得愈多,Adam 的製斧功力也就愈強,同樣地,Oz 的製矛功力也更強,所以交易的好處只會增加,而這正是交易美好地方之一,因為它實際創造出一種推動力,更多專業,同樣地,推動力亦創造出更多的交易,Adam 與 Oz 都省下一小時的時間,省時是繁榮的前提且能滿足所需,自問需要多少工時你才能自我提供今晚讀一小時書所需的光源,假設從零開始,你去到鄉下找到一頭羊、宰羊、取羊脂、提製、煉蠟等,你要花多少時間?很長的時間,你要工作多久才能獲得一個小時的閱讀光源?如果以今日英國的平均工資看來,答案是約莫半秒鐘,回到 1950 年時,你會需要平均工資的八秒鐘工時,才能獲得所需光源,而那是你所獲得之 7 又 1/2 秒的繁榮,從 1950 起即是如此,因為是那 7 又 1/2 秒的時間可以讓你做其他的事,或讓你取得其他的貨品或服務,再推回 1880 年,你會需要 15 分鐘的時間,才能從平均工資中賺到這些時間的光源,如果回溯到 1800 年,則需要六個小時的工時才能賺到可以燒一個小時的蠟燭,換句話說,賺取平均工資的凡人,在 1800 年時,是負擔不起蠟燭的。
 
 
回到這張斧錘與滑鼠的圖片,自問:「誰製了這二樣物件,供誰使用」?石斧錘是由某一人製作,供其自己使用,那是自足的表現,我們現在會說那是貧窮的表現,但右側的物件,卻是由他人所製,供我使用,多少他人?數十人?數百人?數千人?更可能是數百萬人,因為你必需要加入種咖啡的人,它供油井工人沖泡,後者採油,供製塑膠等物品,他們都為我做工,才能製出一隻滑鼠供我使用,這也是社會運作的方式,也是我們作為物種所達致的成果,過去,如果富有的話 ,大概就會有人服侍您,所以才必需要致富,你可以雇用他們,法國路易十六世有很多人服侍他,他們將他打扮成這付模樣(笑聲),而且還設計了這款「神奇的」髮型,他有 498 名下人,每晚為他準備晚餐,但現代的觀光客到訪凡爾賽宮,看了法國路易十六世的圖片,則也有 498 人為其準備晚餐,他們在巴黎各處的小酒館、cafe、餐廳和商店工作,他們都已準備好在收到一個小時的通知後,即可為您提供絕佳的餐點,而且品質還可能高於法國路易十六世所享受的皇餐,這就是我們的成就,因為我們懂得合作,我們能專工及交換,以提昇彼此的生活水準,也有些動物會彼此合作,螞蟻是典型的範例,工蟻為蟻后做工,蟻后為工蟻做工,但有一個很大的差別是牠們只會在自己的領土裡相互合作,不同的蟻窩之間不會相互合作,這樣的發展是因為每個蟻窩中有繁殖的分工,也就是說,牠們分工是因為尊重繁殖,蟻后一肩扛下繁殖大任,人類不來這一套,我們堅持自己來的一件事,即繁殖(笑聲),就算是在英格蘭,我們都不會將繁殖任務交給女王(掌聲),那這個習慣又是從何時開始?已持續多久?其意義為何?我認為,最古老的源頭可能溯及性別分工,但我沒有證據,只是那看起來像是我們幹過的第一件事,雄性與雌性彼此分工,今日的社會仍是打擸與採集,社會中有種搜索糧秣的分工,整體而言,雄性狩獵,雌性採集,但不總是如此簡單,但的確有個區別介於男女的專業分工角色上,而此系統漂亮的地方是分工可以讓雙方皆受益,女人知道這一點,以 Hadzas 族為例,她們挖樹根和男人交換肉類,她們明白自己能獲得蛋白質的管道就是多挖一些樹根以交換肉類,而無需自己累個半死去打獵或費力的獵殺一頭疣豬,男人也知道他們無需耐心挖掘,以為獲得樹根,他們要做的只是確保自己獵到一頭疣豬,而牠夠大,足以分出一些來交換,雙方的生活水準都因此而獲得提昇,透過這種性別分工,這從何時開始發生?不清楚,但可能尼安德塔人並未如此做,他們是高度合作型的物種,極度聰穎的物種,至少,他們的大腦平均是大於你我,就今日在場各位而言,他們富有想像力,善葬亡者,他們可能還具有語言能力,因為我們知道他們擁有和我們一樣的 FOXP2 基因,這是由牛津大學所發現,所以,他們看起來似乎具有語言技能,他們是聰明的人種,我並未小看尼安德塔人,但沒有證據顯示他們會進行性別分工,沒有證據說明女性有採集的行為,看起來她們會和男人一起合作打獵,另一件事是沒有證據說明群體間有交換的行為,因為從尼安德塔人遺跡中發現的物件,像是他們製作的工具,總是取用當地的原料製成,例如,在高加索有處發現當地尼安德塔人所用工具的遺址,它們一直都是用當地的角岩製成,在同一山谷中還發現一些現代的人類遺體,年代是 30,000 年前的同一時期,有些石棺是以當地角岩製成,但更多,很多是由來自遠方的黑曜石製成,而當人類開始像這樣移動物品,那就證明群體之間有交換行為的發生,交易的歷史比農耕老上 10 倍,但人們不記得,人們以為交易是現代的產物,群體間的交易已不斷存在數十萬年的時間,最早的證據可追溯到 80 到 120,000 年之間的非洲,當時可看到黑曜石、碧玉及其他東西,在衣索比亞境內長程流動,還可看到貝殼,由牛津的一支團隊所發現,在內地被移動了 125 哩,從地中海的阿爾及利亞算起,那就是證據說明人們,已開始群體間的交易,而那會導致專工,如何得知長途移動,意謂著交易而非遷徙?可以觀察像原住民這類現代狩集者,他們在 Mt. Isa 這地方採集石斧,這類採集行為由 Kalkadoon 部落所掌控,他們之後和鄰居交易,換取像魟刺這類的東西,結果是石斧幾乎遍及全澳,所以工具的長程移動是一種交易的現象,而非遷移,砍斷人們的交易會發生什麼事?砍斷交易與專工的能力又會如何?答案是不只減緩科技的進展,而且還會得到反效果,舉例像塔斯馬尼亞,當海平面上升之後,塔斯馬尼亞在 10,000 年前成為孤島,住在島上的人們不但體驗到比澳洲本土人民較為緩慢的進展,他們更身受退化之苦,他們放棄製作石器的能力,也放棄了捕魚設備與製衣,因為約 4,000 的人口不足以維持專業的技能,而那卻是保有他們所擁有技能的條件,就像將在場各位放到荒島上,口袋中有多少東西,我們在 10,000 年後還能繼續製作,這未發生在火地群島,雖是類似的島,類似的人,但理由是因為火地群島與南美僅由較狹隘海峽隔開,海峽兩岸仍有交易接觸,10,000 年以來一直如此,塔斯馬尼亞則屬孤絕。
 
 
再回到這張圖片,自問,不只是由誰製作,供誰使用?還要問誰知道如何製作的方法?對於石斧錘,製作它的人知道如何製作,但有誰知道要如何製作電腦滑鼠?沒人,幾乎沒人知道,地球上幾乎沒有一個人知道如何製作電腦滑鼠,我是認真的,電腦滑鼠公司的總裁不知,他僅知要如何經營一家公司,組裝線上的工人不知,因為他們不知要如何探油,取油製造塑膠及一概流程,我們都僅知一些,但沒人知道全部,我當然是援引自一篇出名的論文,由 1950 年代經濟學家 Leonard Reed 所著,稱之為「我與鉛筆」,他在文中提到如何製作鉛筆及為何會沒人知道要如何製作鉛筆,因為組裝鉛筆的人們不知如何挖掘石墨,他們亦不知如何伐樹之類的事,而人類社會所達致的成果,透過交換與專工,是我們創造了做我們甚至不懂之事物的能力,這和語言不同,透過語言,我們必需轉移概念,我們才能彼此瞭解,但透過科技,我們實際上可以從事高於我們能力的事,我們已超越人類心智的能力來到一個非凡的境界,另外,這是其中一個理由,為何我對人類智商辯論不感興趣的地方,為何有些群體的智商比其他群體高,這一點都不相關,一個社會的意義有賴人們如何溝通他們的概念與他們合作的程度,而非其中個體的聰明程度,所以,我們已創造出,一種稱為集體大腦的東西,我們僅是整個網路中的一些節點,我們是這顆大腦中的神經元,是概念的互換,概念間的相遇與相交,是這個動作促使科技進步,遞增地,漸增地,然而,不好的事也會發生,未來,在我們繼續邁進之時,當然,我們將會體驗可怕的事,戰爭、蕭條、自然災害,可怕的事會發生在這個世紀,我很確定,我也同時確定,因為人們相交的連結關係,還有概念相遇與相交的能力會發展至前所未見的程度,我也很確定,科技將會再進步,所以生活水準將會再進步,因為有雲端、因為眾包(群體智慧),還有從我們已創造,由底層發聲的世界,其中不只是精英,還有每個人都能讓他們的概念相遇與相交,我們的確可以加速創新的速度,感謝聆聽(掌聲)。

以下為系統擷取之英文原文

About this talk

At TEDGlobal 2010, author Matt Ridley shows how, throughout history, the engine of human progress has been the meeting and mating of ideas to make new ideas. It's not important how clever individuals are, he says; what really matters is how smart the collective brain is.

About Matt Ridley

British author Matt Ridley argues that, through history, the engine of human progress and prosperity has been, and is, "ideas having sex with each other." Full bio and more links

Transcript

When I was a student here in Oxford in the 1970s, the future of the world was bleak. The population explosion was unstoppable. Global famine was inevitable. A cancer epidemic caused by chemicals in the environment was going to shorten our lives. The acid rain was falling on the forests. The desert was advancing by a mile or two a year. The oil was running out. And a nuclear winter would finish us off. None of those things happened. (Laughter) And astonishingly, if you look at what actually happened in my lifetime, the average per-capita income of the average person on the planet, in real terms, adjusted for inflation, has tripled. Lifespan is up by 30 percent in my lifetime. Child mortality is down by two-thirds. Per-capita food production is up by a third. And all this at a time when the population has doubled.

How did we achieve that -- whether you think it's a good thing or not -- How did we achieve that? How did we become the only species that becomes more prosperous as it becomes more populous? The size of the blob in this graph represents the size of the population. And the level of the graph represents GDP per capita. I think to answer that question you need to understand how human beings bring together their brains and enable their ideas to combine and recombine, to meet and, indeed, to mate. In other words, you need to understand how ideas have sex.

I want you to imagine how we got from making objects like this to making objects like this. These are both real objects. One is an [unclear] hand axe from half a million years ago of the kind made by Homo erectus. The other is obviously a computer mouse. They're both exactly the same size and shape to an uncanny degree. I've tried to work out which is bigger, and it's almost impossible. And that's because they're both designed to fit the human hand. They're both technologies. In the end, their similarity is not that interesting. It just tells you they were both designed to fit the human hand. The differences are what interest me. Because the one on the left was made to a pretty unvarying design for about a million years -- from one-and-a-half million years ago to half a million years ago. Homo erectus made the same tool for 30,000 generations. Of course there were a few changes, but tools changed slower than skeletons in those days. There was no progress, no innovation. It's an extraordinary phenomenon, but it's true. Whereas the object on the right is obsolete after five years. And there's another difference too, which is the object on the left is made from one substance. The object on the right is made from a confection of different substances, from silicon and metal and plastic and so on. And more than that, it's a confection of different ideas, the idea of plastic, the idea of a laser, the idea of transistors. They've all been combined together in this technology.

And it's this combination, this cumulative technology, that intrigues me. Because I think it's the secret to understanding what's happening in the world. My body's an accumulation of ideas too, the idea of skin cells, the idea of brain cells, the idea of liver cells. They've come together. How does evolution do cumulative, combinatorial things? Well, it uses sexual reproduction. In an asexual species, if you get two different mutations in different creatures, a green one and a red one, then one has to be better than the other. One goes extinct for the other to survive. But if you have a sexual species, then it's possible for an individual to inherit both mutations from different lineages. So what sex does is it enables the individual to draw upon the genetic innovations of the whole species. It's not confined to its own lineage.

What's the process that's having the same effect in cultural evolution as sex is having in biological evolution? And I think the answer is exchange, the habit of exchanging one thing for another. It's a unique human feature. No other animal does it. You can teach them in the laboratory to do a little bit of exchange. And indeed there's reciprocity in other animals. But the exchange of one object for another never happens. As Adam Smith said, "No made ever saw a dog make a fair exchange of a bone with another dog." (Laughter) You can have culture without exchange. You can have, as it were, asexual culture. Chimpanzees, killer whales, these kinds of creatures, they have culture. They teach each other traditions which are handed down from parent to offspring. In this case, chimpanzees teaching each other how to crack nuts with rocks. But the difference is that these cultures never expand, never grow, never accumulate, never become commoditorial. And the reason is because there is no sex, as it were, there is no exchange of ideas. Chimpanzee troops have different cultures in different troops. There's no exchange of ideas between them.

And why does exchange raise living standards? Well, the answer came from David Ricardo in 1817. And he has a stone age version of his story, although he told it in terms of trade between countries. Adam takes four hours to make a spear and three hours to make an axe. Oz takes one hour to make a spear and two hours to make an axe. So Oz is better at both spears and axes than Adam. He doesn't need Adam. He can make his own spears and axes. Well no, because if you think about it, if Oz makes two spears and Adam make two axes, and then they trade, then they will each have saved an hour of work. And the more they do this, the more true it's going to be. Because the more they do this, the better Adam is going to get at making axes, and the better Oz is going to get at making spears. So the gains from trade are only going to grow. And this is one of the beauties of exchange, is it actually creates the momentum for more specialization, which creates the momentum for more exchange and so on. Adam and Oz both saved an hour of time. That is prosperity, the saving of time in satisfying your needs.

Ask yourself how long you would have to work to provide for yourself and hour of reading light this evening to read a book by. If you had to start from scratch, let's say you go out into the countryside. You find a sheep. You kill it. You get the fat of of it. You render it down. You make a candle, etc. etc. How long is it going to take you? Quite a long time. How long do you actually have to work to earn an hour of reading light if you're on the average wage in Britain today? And the answer is about half a second. Back in 1950, you would have had to work for eight seconds on the average wage to acquire that much light. And that's seven and a half seconds of prosperity that you've gained. Since 1950, as it were. Because that's seven and a half seconds in which you can do something else. Or you can acquire another good or service. And back in 1880, it would have been 15 minutes to earn that amount of light from the average wage. Back in 1800, you'd have had to work six hours to earn a candle that could burn for an hour. In other words, the average person on the average wage could not afford a candle in 1800.

Go back to this image to this image of the axe and the mouse, and ask yourself: "Who made them and for who?" The stone axe was made by someone for himself. It was self-sufficiency. We call that poverty these days. But the object on the right was made for me by other people. How many other people? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? You know, I think it's probably millions. Because you've to include the man who grew the coffee, which was brewed for the man who was on the oil rig, who was drilling for oil, which was going to be made into the plastic, etc. They were all working for me, to make a mouse for me. And that's the way society works. That's what we've achieved as a species.

In the old days, if you were rich, you literally had people working for you. That's how you got to be rich; you employed them. Louis XIV had a lot of people working for him. They made his silly outfits, like this. (Laughter) And they did his silly hairstyles, or whatever. He had 498 people to prepare his dinner every night. But a modern tourist going around the palace of Versailles and looking at Louis XIV's pictures, he has 498 people doing his dinner tonight too. They're in bistros and cafes and restaurants and shops all over Paris. And they're all ready to serve you at an hour's notice with an excellent meal that's probably got higher quality than Louis XIV even had. And that's what we've done, because we're all working for each other. We're able to draw upon specialization and exchange to raise each other's living standards.

Now, you do get other animals working for each other too. Ants are a classic example; workers work for queens and queens work for workers. But there's a big difference, which is that it only happens within the colony. There's no working for each other across the colonies. And the reason for that is because there's a reproductive division of labor. That is to say, they specialize with respect to reproduction. The queen does it all. In our species, we don't like doing that. It's the one thing we insist on doing for ourselves, is reproduction. (Laughter) Even in England, we don't leave reproduction to the Queen.

(Applause)

So when did this habit start? And how long has it been going on? And what does it mean? Well, I think, probably, the oldest version of this is probably the sexual division of labor. But I've got no evidence for that. It just looks like the first thing we did was work male for female and female for male. It all hunter gatherer societies today, there's a foraging division of labor between, on the whole, hunting males and gathering females. It isn't always quite that simple. But there's a distinction between specialized roles between males and females. And the beauty of this system is that it benefits both sides. The woman knows that, in the Hadzas' case here -- digging roots to share with men in exchange for meat -- she knows that all she has to do to get access to protein is to dig some extra roots and trade them for meat. And she doesn't have to go on an exhausting hunt and try and kill a warthog. And the man knows that he doesn't have to do any digging to get roots. All he has to do is make sure that when he kills a warthog it's big enough to share some. And so both sides raise each other's standards of living through the sexual division of labor.

When did this happen? We don't know, but it's possible that neanderthals didn't do this. They were a highly cooperative species. They were a highly intelligent species. Their brains on average, by the end, were bigger than yours and mine in this room today. They were imaginative. They buried their dead. They had language probably, because we know they had the FOXP2 gene of the same kind as us, which was discovered here in Oxford. And it looks like they probably had linguistic skills. They were brilliant people. I'm not dissing the neanderthals. But there's no evidence of a sexual division of labor. There's no evidence of gathering behavior by females. It looks like the females were cooperative hunters with the men. And the other thing there's no evidence for is exchange between groups. Because the objects that you find in neanderthal remains, the tools they made, are always made from local materials. For example, in the Caucasus there's a site where you find local neanderthal tools. They're always made from local churt. In the same valley there are modern human remains from about the same date, 30,000 years ago. And some of those are from local churt, but more -- but many of them are made from obsidian from a long way away. And when human beings began moving objects around like this, it was evidence that they were exchanging between groups.

Trade is 10 times as old as farming. People forget that. People think of trade as a modern thing. Exchange between groups has been going on for a hundred thousand years. And the early evidence for it crops up somewhere between 80 and 120,000 years ago in Africa, when you see obsidian and jasper and other things moving long distances in Ethiopia. You also see seashells -- as discovered by a team here in Oxford -- moving 125 miles inland from the Mediterranean in Algeria. And that's evidence that people have started exchanging between groups. And that will have led to specialization.

How do you know that long-distance movement means trade rather than migration? Well, you look at modern hunter gatherers like aboriginals, who quarried for stone axes at a place called Mt. Isa, which was a quarry owned by the Kalkadoon tribe. They traded them with their neighbors for things like stingray barbs. And the consequence was that stone axes ended up over a large part of Australia. So long-distance movement of tools is a sign of trade, not migration.

What happens when you cut people off from exchange, from the ability to exchange and specialize? And the answer is that, not only do you slow down technological progress, you can actually throw it into reverse. An example is Tasmania. When the sea level rose, and Tasmania became an island 10,000 years ago, the people on it, not only experienced slower progress than people on the mainland, they actually experienced regress. They gave up the ability to make stone tools and fishing equipment and clothing because the population of about 4,000 people was simply not large enough to maintain the specialized skills necessary to keep the technology they had. It's as if the people in this room were plunked on a desert island. How many of the things in our pockets could we continue to make after 10,000 years? It didn't happen in Tierra del Fuego -- similar island, similar people. The reason, because Tierra del Fuego is separated from South America by a much narrower straight. And there was trading contact across that straight throughout 10,000 years. The Tasmanians were isolated.

Go back to this image again and ask yourself, not only who made it and for who, but who knew how to make it. In the case of the stone axe, the man who made it knew how to make it. But who knows how to make a computer mouse? Nobody, literally nobody. There is nobody on the planet who knows how to make a computer mouse. I mean this quite seriously. The president of the computer mouse company doesn't know. He just knows how to run a company. The person on the assembly line doesn't know because he doesn't know how to drill an oil well to get oil out to make plastic, and so on. We all know little bits, but none of us knows the whole.

I am of course quoting from a famous essay by Leonard Reed, the economist in the 1950s, called "I, Pencil" in which he wrote about how a pencil came to be made, and how nobody knows even how to make a pencil, because the people who assemble it don't know how to mine graphite. And they don't know how to fell trees and that kind of thing. And what we've done in human society, through exchange and specialization, is we've created the ability to do things that we don't even understand. It's not the same with language. With language we have to transfer ideas that we understand with each other. But with technology, we can actually do things that are beyond our capabilities.

We've gone beyond the capacity of the human mind to an extraordinary degree. And by the way, that's one of the reasons that I'm not interested in the debate about I.Q., about whether some groups have higher I.Q.s that other groups. It's completely irrelevant. What's relevant to a society is how well people are communicating their ideas, and how well they're cooperating, not how clever their individuals are. So we've created something called the collective brain. We're just the nodes in the network. We're the neurons in this brain. It's the interchange of ideas, the meeting and mating of ideas between them, that is causing technological progress, incrementally, bit by bit. However, bad things happen. And in the future, as we go forward, we will, of course experience terrible things. There will be wars; there will be depressions; there will be natural disasters. Awful things will happen in this century, I'm absolutely sure. But I'm also that, because of the connections people are mating, and the ability of ideas to meet and to mate as never before. I'm also sure that technology will advance, and therefore living standards will advance. Because through the cloud, through crowd sourcing, through the bottom-up world that we've created, where not just the elites, but everybody is able to have their ideas and make them meet and mate, we are surely accelerating the rate of innovation.

Thank you.

(Applause)


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Anonymous, 2014-04-15 06:58:49
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Anonymous, 2014-04-15 06:55:13
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我,铅笔不是我与铅笔
Anonymous, 2012-03-10 18:21:18
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是路易十四,不是路易十六
Anonymous, 2012-01-29 14:21:37
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看到其他同仁的留言,念想早日熟通英语,成为一个国际人,并能为他人和社会多做一点贡献!
cowrycen, 2010-10-29 15:56:19
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我也十分想为别人做点什么。
yes, 2010-10-17 18:32:35
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workonet, 2010-09-30 12:13:43

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