The natural selection of an idea

Taleb’s new book Antifragile has an awesome passage that efficiently explains the idea of why there is so much knowledge in the natural world (like mystic medicine or truisms/rules of thumb that have been passed on from generation to generation). 

It’s the idea that when there were so many small tribes across the lands, they were all like little testing pots of explanations or remedies for things. They may have thought that some plants cured some ailment but in reality they had no idea why. We are wired to see patterns even in random noise, which allows us to identify patterns early on, using little information. We err on the side of early recognition, not assured accuracy.

And so it were the tribes that got things right (via what was mostly trial and error, though they thought they were recognizing patterns, most of time which were non-existent) that did better than those that didn’t.

It’s not that ideas experience natural selection. It’s that the people carrying good ideas do better than their neighbours and so over time will accumulate knowledge and reproduce more. It’s a beautiful example of natural knowledge gained through trial and error. And Taleb speaks to it wonderfully.


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