Daily Archive: February 2, 2017

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The Evolution of Everything

The Internet evolved in a very literal sense of the word. Its details emerged gradually by trial and error. Sure, it depends on particular inventions, like computing, communications, and packet switching. But there was an inevitability about these emerging when and where they did. Take search engines. When Google came into existence in 1996, there were already more than 20 search engines on the market.

Likewise, when Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in the 1870s, he was one of 23 different people who independently had the same idea. The progress of technology and science are inexorable. Even Einstein, had he been run over by a Swiss tram before thinking of relativity, was dispensable: Hendrik Lorentz would soon have discovered relativity. Patents and Nobel prizes give a false impression of how discovery works.

The same is true of the English language, which is changing all the time not because of linguistic inventors but by a form of trial and error. Words like “prevaricate” and “oversight” have changed their meaning in recent years. Words that are used frequently get shortened — watch how quickly “e-cigarette” shrinks to “e-cig” or “vape” in the coming years. This happens not because some obscure committee in London decides on what should happen to English, but spontaneously.

Or take money. The gradual emergence of standardized coinage to replace barter, of paper money to replace coins, of electronic transfers to replace paper, and (next, perhaps) of block-chain bitcoins to replace bank-certified money, is a process that nobody directs, commands, or controls. It evolves.

Yet we remain psychologically resistant to this message. Just as we are instinctively reluctant to believe that weather is random, that thunderstorms are not driven by malevolent deities punishing us for our sins (or for using fossil fuels), so we are obsessed with seeing top-down causes of bottom-up phenomena.

From: The Evolution of Everything – Powell’s Books

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