I have a long article in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal.
It tries to explain how
the sophistication of the modern world
lies not in individual intelligence or imagination. It is a
collective enterprise. Nobody-literally nobody-knows how to make
the pencil on my desk (as the economist Leonard Read once pointed
out), let alone the computer on which I am writing. The knowledge
of how to design, mine, fell, extract, synthesize, combine,
manufacture and market these things is fragmented among thousands,
sometimes millions of heads. Once human progress started, it was no
longer limited by the size of human brains. Intelligence became
collective and cumulative.
This explains why human beings suddenly experienced explosive
progress after 45,000 years ago, following millions of years of
culture that changes no faster than genes:
Dense populations don’t produce
innovation in other species. They only do so in human beings,
because only human beings indulge in regular exchange of different
items among unrelated, unmated individuals and even among
strangers. So here is the answer to the puzzle of human takeoff. It
was caused by the invention of a collective brain itself made
possible by the invention of exchange.
This is an idea that has been slowly crystallising among
anthropologists and archeologists for a while. I am trying to pull
the threads together, as I do in my book.
Some nice lightbulb images: