Mark Pagel: We, humans, fantastic “karaoke singers”

“We are all singing somebody else’s songs.” With this image, Mark Pagel, evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK, describes how difficult it is to be innovators. “We are followers, not innovators.” He is the author of a book on the subject called ‘Wired for Culture. The Natural History of Human Cooperation.’ EuroScientist met him at the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin in November 2013, where he gave an inspiring talk dedicated to “Breaking the wall of collective stupidity – how evolutionary biology explains creativity.”

He argues that “as a species, we are innovative – but not as individuals.” And the reason for this is because of “our collective mind.”

“Innovation comes because of our copying from each other,” he explains in the podcast interview to the EuroScientist. “The very fact I can copy you means I can steal your ideas.” But this is positive, he believes, “so good ideas sweep through populations of humans.” But in order to avoid people concealing their good inventions “we had to work a system of cooperation where we exchange ideas.”

And what about internet and social media? They can certainly “favour the flow of ideas,” he says, but they can also make us “passive”. If acquiring knowledge is too easy, he thinks, this knowledge will not be embedded in those who learn and we might lose it.

The full podcast is available below:

Featured image credit: Falling Walls, 2013

Go back to the Special Issue: Open Innovation

Luca Tancredi Barone

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