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[ontolog-forum] Promoting invention and innovation

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 07 Apr 2012 02:12:51 -0400
Message-id: <4F7FDAE3.3030707@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Rich,    (01)

Thanks for pointing out that interview.  It is indeed thought
provoking. (For two footnotes about procedural issues, see below.)    (02)

> I found a terrific video interview with biologist Matt Ridley
> (one of my favorite pop biology authors) which explains some
> of the phenomenon in self interested activities.  Basically,
> his idea is that progress depends far more on the NUMBER of
> individuals in a group exchanging ideas than it does on any
> one GENIUS, or other appellation you might want to use to
> describe individuals who provide outlier services.    (03)

Following is an uncorrupted URL of the video:    (04)

   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyG8F62yB4Q    (05)

Some comments about Matt Ridley's talk:    (06)

  1. I strongly agree with him that innovation depends on having
     a sufficiently large population of people and a considerable
     amount of interchange among people from different cultures.    (07)

  2. Merchants traveling from town to town, port to port, or
     country to country are important.  But the traveling or
     trade, by itself, is only part of the story.  You also need
     travelers who do the innovating -- gurus, storytellers,
     explorers, adventurers, and people who have enough technical
     knowledge to recognize a good innovation when they see one.    (08)

  3. Ridley also mentioned the Arabs, who adapted, adopted, and
     transmitted many innovations from many cultures -- Greece,
     India, Africa, etc.  But he said that they stagnated because
     of "superstition".  That is too simplistic.    (09)

  4. Many scholars praise the Greeks for their fantastic innovations
     in philosophy, mathematics, logic, science, democracy, etc.
     But they don't emphasize one very important point:  *all* of
     the early Greek philosophers came from the colonies outside
     of Greece, not from Athens or other cities in the heartland.    (010)

  5. In fact, the first so-called "pre-Socratic" philosophers came
     from the Greek colonies in Anatolia, which were under the
     control of Persia at the time (6th century BC).  That was also
     close to the Silk Road, which brought merchants, soldiers, and
     storytellers from China to and from Europe.    (011)

  6. The philosophers from Anatolia include Thales, Anaximander,
     Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus.  Pythagoras
     left his native island of Samos and traveled to Egypt, where
     he was initiated into the Egyptian priesthood.  He later
     settled in the Greek colony of Croton in southern Italy.
     (By the way, I live in Croton on Hudson, New York.)
     Other early Greek philosophers from the colonies in Italy
     include Parmenides, Zeno, Empedocles (who proposed the
     four elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth).  Others
     came from miscellaneous Greek towns on the periphery.    (012)

  7. The first major Greek philosopher who was born in and
     stayed in Athens was Socrates.  It is significant that
     he was condemned to death for corrupting the morals of
     Athenian youth.  The philosophers from the colonies
     said many worse things about the Olympian gods, but they
     got away with it because the Persians and others couldn't
     care less about the Greek gods.  But the Athenians did.    (013)

There is much more to be said about all these issues, but one
point stands out:  the fundamentalists in every country and
every culture around the world are the ones that cause the
most stifling kind of stagnation.  That was true of the
Greeks in ancient times, and it is true of *every* religion
everywhere in the world.  (I won't name any modern ones,
because that would create endless debate.)    (014)

I'm not against all religions, by the way, when they are
taken in moderation.  But when any religion becomes frozen
as dogma, the culture goes downhill rapidly.    (015)

And by religion, I include Marxism and Capitalism. I would
even consider an uncritical idolization of Science as a
religion.  All of them have some good ideas, if taken in
moderation. But their fundamentalists are the most dangerous
threats to their own countries.    (016)

______________________________________________________________    (017)

Footnotes:    (018)

  1. The long URL you cited was cut off by your email handler.
     I had to do a bit of searching to find the above URL,
     but I suggest that you get a better email handler or
     change some settings on the one you use.    (019)

  2. I also changed the subject line to indicate the main topic
     of Ridley's talk.  It is tangentially related to self interest,
     but the main theme is the kinds of factors that promote or kill
     invention and innovation.    (020)

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