Thursday, June 17, 2010

Difference Between Humans and Animals, Part VII

In the first post of this series I suggested that trade, maybe I was right. From the Economist Magazine:
humans are the only species capable of innovation. Other animals use tools, and some ants, for example, do specialise at certain tasks. But these skills are not cumulative, and the animals in question do not improve their technologies from generation to generation. Only man innovates continuously.

But what makes us unique?

Some have suggested that perhaps it is the chemistry of big brains that leads us to tinker. Others that man’s mastery of language or his capacity for imitation and social learning hold the key. Mr Ridley, a zoologist by training, weighs up these arguments but insists, in the end, that the explanation lies not within man’s brain but outside: innovation is a collective phenomenon. The way man’s collective brain grows, he says cheekily, is by “ideas having sex”.

His own theory is, in a way, the glorious offspring that would result if Charles Darwin’s ideas were mated with those of Adam Smith. Trade, Mr Ridley insists, is the spark that lit the fire of human imagination, as it made possible not only the exchange of goods, but also the exchange of ideas. Trade also encouraged specialisation, since it rewarded individuals and communities who focus on areas of comparative advantage. Such specialists, in contrast with their generalist rivals or ancestors, had the time and the incentive to develop better methods and technologies to do their tasks.
Not only is our ability to hold this new information increasing, but the internet allows the storage and dispersion like never before. Here's part one, two, three, four, five, and six of this continuing series.

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