Re: Who are we?

Virginia Postrel: Well I think that there is a drive in human beings, and perhaps in some of our ancestors . . . ape ancestors as well . . . There’s something that happens to human beings where there is a kind of dissatisfaction. Where it can be as simple as a tool that doesn’t work very well, and you modify it so it works better. There is sort of a drive to make incremental improvements. And it could be, you know, you really hate the way your parents behaved towards you. So when you have kids you’re gonna do it a different way. And maybe it’s better and maybe it’s worse. And your kids then do it a different way. And it can be as simple as modifying recipes. It can be as big as, you know, writing the U.S. Constitution and sort of creating a new country. And there’s a learning process that takes place with that. It’s a lot of modest changes and experiments that add up over time to major progress. And you don’t necessarily know where you’re headed. There’s a writer named Henry Patrosky who’s a civil engineering professor at Duke. And he writes about the evolution of technical things . . . of objects and artifacts. And he has this great phrase: “Form follows failure” which is of course a play on “Form follows function.” And his idea is when you have an artifact, as soon as it exists, you find the things that you don’t like about it. And the existence of the initial artifact allows you to innovate and say, “Oh well, this is how we’d like to improve it.” And I think that’s a process that goes far beyond artifacts. It is how we get technological improvements, but it is not the only way. So that’s . . . That doesn’t account for everything of how we’ve done all this, but that’s a lot of it.

 

There is a drive to make incremental improvements.

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