For instance, this one.
I just read an article in Scientific American called The Origins of Creativity, by Heather Pringle. It goes back to the first inventions of early man. The interesting new finding from the article isn’t so much that those people had to have the mental capacity, the quantity and quality of brain cells, to think up new ways of doing things. That goes without saying. No, the interesting thing is a new computer modelling study which shows that for any invention to become part of the general culture, the population had to be fairly large. If someone in a tiny isolated tribe made a big discovery, it would have little chance of finding it’s way through the general population of isolated tribes. But in a large group, any useful new invention would be picked up and spread rapidly. And a large group would likely spread it to other large groups. The computer modelling correctly predicted when these cultural changes would begin happening in Africa.
Inventions don’t just travel as ideas in the minds of individual travellers, but also, as the increasing populations push against each other, wars and the wash of empires spread them like waves do driftwood on a shallow beach. Acceleration.
Until we get to the present, when virtually all populations on the earth are interrelating, and inventions are not only increasing exponentially, but are leaving no one to live in the bliss of ignorance. The hottest selling inventions now are the ones which actually do the transmitting. Nearly every citizen of the planet, for instance, has access to a cell phone. And, increasingly, to the internet. And to everything else.
And the faster the inventions move into the jean pockets of the hunter-gatherers in Borneo and the villagers in the Andes, the more densely packed are the inventions in those pockets, by virtue of the ever-increasing power of cheap mini-computers.
What the picture is showing is that it is probably not coincidence that, by the time all of the usable Earth is populated and known about by most everybody, invention is also accelerating up the exponential curve.
I really like this idea. Way back then, when we were few, we were animals, no matter the size of our brains. But we weren’t just any animals. We were social animals. And, being social, population density is a huge factor. We’re chatterboxes. We pass on information. Now, as the exponential curve of inventions begins to rise faster and faster, we are finding ever-faster ways of talking.
But, in the present day, this big picture is beginning to show its limits.
Population increase is slowing in many places, not increasing exponentially. So maybe population is no longer the factor it was. We’re beyond that. No matter how far apart we are today, we are as close as electricity can make us.
The rest of my picture’s limit shows itself when I try to exptrapolate technological development from the present into the future. By which I mean, if technology really is increasing exponentially, then at some point in the not-too-distant future it will essentially spring into being all at once. At least relative to the rate of inventions at present. Okay, that’s nonsense. It can’t happen, for one reason because, no matter how fast we invent, or how far we have spread through the galaxy in that year or hundred years, and no matter how powerful are the computers we do it all with, time will keep on plodding forward. So even if invention is accelerating vertically, there will still be another million years after that. What the heck will we be doing during that time? That’s impossible to imagine so we’ve reached the outside boundary of the picture.
In reality, though, we’ll never get to the vertical rise. The earth is due for a nuclear war first.