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Johnnie Hughes on the Evolution of Ideas

A recent fascinating KERA Think podcast interview with Johnnie Hughes, The Evolution of Ideas, discusses his book On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves). He has some great ideas about … ideas and their origin, function, and evolution. The interview is great, and the books sounds interesting–I intend to buy it. In the interview he discusses four types of creatures. He gives an example of the relative success, and effect of natural selection on, animals trying to cross a busy road:

  • Darwinian creatures: such as a jellyfish. Their behavior is pre-programmed;
  • Creatures that operate by instinct but it can learn;
  • “Popperian” creatures (like chickens) that have little model of the world and can crudely plan;
  • “Dennettian” creatures (after philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, who has a model of intelligence), who can communicate rationally, swap information, trade ideas, learn, etc. The other three types inherit genes; we can inherit, trade, ideas and information.

This interested me because of my focus, in studying intellectual property law and its intersection with ideas and the role of ideas in human action and the economy, e.g. in my recent talk Intellectual Property and Economic Development. It also called to mind some of Hans Hoppe’s recent thoughts on the role of human intelligence in helping humanity evolve to the point of intelligence sufficient to escape the Malthusian trap (discussed in Advanced Graduate Seminar, Tuesday, July 26, 2011).

Speaking of tepees, he mentions that one advantages of these lightweight, collapsible tents is that they could easily be carried–initially by dogs, before Europeans brought horses over–hence the origin of the expression “dog days.” Hunh. Not sure he has the origin of that expression right, but interesting hypothesis.

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