Matt Ridley

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Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, DL, FRSL, FMedSci (born 7 February 1958), known commonly as Matt Ridley, is a British journalist who has written several popular science books. He is also a businessman and a Conservative member of the House of Lords.

Quotes[edit]

The Red Queen (1993)[edit]

  • Everything can be inherited except sterility.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • Reproducing sexually must improve an individual´s reproductive success or else sex would not persist... It is increasingly hard to understand how human beings came to be so clever without considering sexual competition.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • The idea that we were designed by our past was the principal insight of Charles Darwin. He was the first to realize that you can abandon divine creation of species without abandoning the argument from design.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • ...then the study of human nature must have profound implications for the study of history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and politics. Each of those disciplines is an attempt to understand human behaviour, and if the underlying universals of human behaviour are product of evolution, then it is vitally important to understand what the evolutionary pressures were.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • In behavior, as in appearance, every human individual is unique.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • It is no harder to explain than a game of cards. There are aces and kings and twos and threes in any deck of cards. A lucky player is dealt a high-scoring hand, but none of his cards is unique. Elsewhere in the room are others with the same kinds of cards in their hands. But even with just thirteen kinds of cards, every hand is different and some are spectacularly better than others. Sex is merely the dealer, generating unique hands from the same monotonous deck of genetic cards shared by the whole species.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • People are attracted to people of high reproductive and genetic potential -the healthy, the fit and the powerful. The consequences of this fact, which goes under the name of sexual selection, are bizarre in the extreme.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • When a neo-Darwinian asks 'Why?' he is really asking 'How did this come about?' He is a historian.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • One of the peculiar features of history is that time always erodes advantage. Every invention sooner or later erodes advantage. Every invention sooner or later leads to a counter-invention.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • In history, and in evolution, progress is always a futile, Sisyphean struggle to stay in the same relative place by getting ever better at things. Cars move through the congested streets of London no faster than horse-drawn carriages.
    • Ch. 1. Human Nature
  • I asked John Maynard Smith, one of the first people to pose the question 'Why sex?', whether he still thought some new explanation was needed. 'No. We have the answers. We cannot agree on them, that is all.'
    • Ch. 2. The Enigma
  • So sex equals genetic mixing.'
    • Ch. 2. The Enigma
  • ...nobody has told the coelancath, a fish that lives off Madagascar and looks exactly like its ancestors of 300 million years ago, that it has broken some law by not evolving.
    • Ch. 2. The Enigma
  • Evolving is not a goal but a means to solving a problem.
    • Ch. 2. The Enigma
  • Nicholas Humphrey, a Cambridge psychologist, was the first to see clearly the solution to this puzzle. We use our intellects not to solve practical problems, but to outwit each other. Deceiving people, detecting deceit, understanding people's motives, manipulating people -these are what the intellect is used for. So what matters is not how clever and crafty you are, but how much cleverer and craftier than other people. The value of intellect is infinite. Selection within the species is always going to be more important than selection between the species.
    • Ch. 2. The Enigma
  • As one of Kondrashov's critics put it, sex is a 'cumbersome strange tool to have evolved fro a housekeeping role'
    • Ch. 3
  • In chess or in football, the tactic that proves most effective is soon the one that people learn easily to block. Every innovation in attack is soon countered by another in defence.
    • Ch. 3
  • Computer viruses have since become a worldwide problem. It begins to look as if parasites are inevitable in any system of life.
    • Ch. 3
  • He (Thomas Ray) had discovered that the notion of a host-parasite arms race is one of the most basic and unavoidable consequences of evolution.
    • Ch. 3
  • The longer your generation time, the more genetic mixing you need to combat your parasite.
    • Ch. 3
  • It is sometimes hard even for biologists to remember that sex is merely a genetic joint venture.
    • Ch. 3
  • Therefore, broadly speaking, males invest less and seek quantity of mates, while females invest more and seek quality of mates.
    • Ch. 3
  • Females choose; their choosiness is inherited; they prefer exaggerated ornaments; exaggerated ornaments are a burden to males.
    • Ch. 5
  • ...the males best at seduction tend to be the best at other things as well.
    • Ch. 5
  • Advertising works. Brand names are better known if advertised with sexy or alluring pictures, and better-known brands sell better. Why does it work? Because the price the consumer would have to pay in ignoring the subliminal message is just to high. Better to be fooled into buying the second best ice-cream than go to all the bother of educating yourself into the ability to resist salesmen.
    • Ch. 5
  • As every bird-watcher knows, the beauty of a bird's song is inversely correlated with the colourfulness of its plumage.
    • Ch. 5
  • Such 'habituation´is just a property of the way brains work; our senses, and those of grackles, notice novelty and change, not steady states. The female preference did not evolve: it just is that way.
    • Ch. 5
  • Evolution is more about reproduction of the fittest than survival of the fittest; every creature on earth is the product of a series of historical battles between parasites and hosts, between genes and other genes, between members of the same species, between members of one gender in competitions for members of the other gender.
    • Ch. 5
  • Life is a Sisyphean race, run ever faster towards a finishing line that is merely the start of the next race.
    • Ch. 5
  • ...compare mankind with other animals that share our highly social habits: with colonial birds, monkeys and dolphins. As we shall see, the lesson they teach is that we are designed for a system of monogamy plagued by adultery.
    • Ch. 5
  • ...conditioning usually reinforces instinct rather than overrides it.
    • Ch. 6
  • Evolution does not lead to Utopia. It leads to a land in which what is best for a man may be worst for another man, or what is best for a woman may be worst for a man.
    • Ch. 6
  • Wealth and power are means to women; women are means to genetic eternity.
    • Ch. 7

Genome (1999)[edit]

All quotes from the trade paperback edition, published in October 2000 by Perennial, ISBN 0-06-093290-2, 1st printing

  • I think knowledge is a blessing, not a curse. This is especially true in the case of genetic knowledge.
    • Foreward (p. 3)
  • There are genes that have not changed much since the very first single-celled creatures populated the primeval ooze. There are genes that were developed when our ancestors were worm-like. There are genes that must have first appeared when our ancestors were fish. There are genes that exist in their present form only because of recent epidemics of disease. And there are genes that can be used to write the history of human migrations in the last few thousand years. From four billion years ago to just a few hundred years ago, the genome has been a sort of autobiography for our species, recording the important events as they occurred.
    • Introduction (p. 5)
  • If I read the genome out to you at the rate of one word per second for eight hours a day, it would take me a century. If I wrote out the human genome, one letter per millimetre, my text would be as long as the River Danube. This is a gigantic document, an immense book, a recipe of extravagant length, and it all fits inside the microscopic nucleus of a tiny cell that fits easily upon the head of a pin.
    • Introduction (p. 7)
  • Almost everything in the body, from hair to hormones, is either made of proteins or made by them.
    • Introduction (p. 9)
  • Human beings accumulate about one hundred mutations per generation.
    • Introduction (p. 10)
  • All rules have exceptions (including this one).
    • Introduction (p. 10)
  • Life is a slippery thing to define, but it consists of two very different skills: the ability to replicate, and the ability to create order.
    • Chapter 1 “Life” (p. 12)
  • That life is chemistry is true but boring, like saying that football is physics.
    • Chapter 1 “Life” (p. 15)
  • Life consists of the interplay of two kinds of chemicals: proteins and DNA.
    • Chapter 1 “Life” (p. 17)
  • This means—and religious people might find this a useful argument—that there was only one creation, one single event when life was born. Of course, that life might have been born on a different planet and seeded here by spacecraft, or there might even have been thousands of kinds of life at first, but only Luca survived in the ruthless free-for-all of the primeval soup. But until the genetic code was cracked in the 1960s, we did not know what we now know: that all life is one; seaweed is your distant cousin and anthrax one of your advanced relatives. The unity of life is an empirical fact. Erasmus Darwin was outrageously close to the mark: ‘One and the same kind of living filaments has been the cause of all organic life.’
    • Chapter 1 “Life” (p. 22)
  • The pope notwithstanding, the human species is by no means the pinnacle of evolution. Evolution has no pinnacle and there is no such thing as evolutionary progress.
    • Chapter 2 “Species” (p. 24)
  • Human beings are of course unique. They have, perched between their ears, the most complicated biological machine on the planet. But complexity is not everything, and it is not the goal of evolution. Every species on the planet is unique. Uniqueness is a commodity in oversupply.
    • Chapter 2 “Species” (p. 25)
  • There is no bone in the chimpanzee body that I do not share. There is no known chemical in the chimpanzee brain that cannot be found in the human brain. There is no known part of the immune system, the digestive system, the vascular system, the lymph system or the nervous system that we have and chimpanzees do not, or vice versa.
    • Chapter 2 “Species” (p. 29)
  • It was this division of labour among specialists, unique to our species, that was the key to our ecological success, because it allowed the growth of technology.
    • Chapter 2 “Species” (pp. 34-35)
  • In other words, a record of our past is etched into our genes.
    • Chapter 2 “Species” (p. 35)
  • Genes are recipes for both anatomy and behaviour.
    • Chapter 2 “Species” (p. 37)
  • A month after the Watson-Crick structure was published, Britain crowned a new queen and a British expedition conquered Mount Everest on the same day. Apart from a small piece in the News Chronicle, the double helix did not make the newspapers. Today most scientists consider it the most momentous discovery of the century, if not the millennium.
    • Chapter 3 “History” (p. 50)
  • No horoscope matches this accuracy. No theory of human causality, Freudian, Marxist, Christian or animist, has ever been so precise. No prophet in the Old Testament, no entrail-gazing oracle in ancient Greece, no crystal-ball gipsy clairvoyant on the pier at Bognor Regis ever pretended to tell people exactly when their lives would fall apart, let alone got it right. We are dealing here with a prophecy of terrifying, cruel and inflexible truth.
  • No study of the causes of intelligence has failed to find a substantial heritability.
    • Chapter 6 “Intelligence” (p. 82)
  • But the astonishing result (of IQ testing) is the correlation between the scores of adopted children reared together: zero. Being in the same family has no discernible effect on IQ at all.
    • Chapter 6 “Intelligence” (p. 83)
  • As you grow up, you gradually express your own innate intelligence and leave behind the influences stamped on you by others. You select the environments that suit your innate tendencies, rather than adjusting your innate tendencies to the environments you find yourself in. This proves two vital things: that genetic influences are not frozen at conception and that environmental influences are not inexorably cumulative. Heritability does not mean immutability.
    • Chapter 6 “Intelligence” (pp. 84-85)
  • In egalitarian societies, genes matter more.
    • Chapter 6 “Intelligence” (p. 86)
  • Nobody doubts that genes can shape anatomy. The idea that they also shape behaviour takes a lot more swallowing.
    • Chapter 7 “Instinct” (p. 91)
  • No matter that the social sciences set about reinventing much more alarming forms of determinism to take the place of the genetic form: the parental determinism of Freud; the socio-economic determinism of Marx; the determinism of Lenin; the peer-pressure cultural determinism of Franz Boas and Margaret Mead; the stimulus-response determinism of John Watson and B. F. Skinner; the linguistic determinism of of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. In one of the great diversions of all time, for nearly a century social scientists managed to persuade thinkers of many kinds that biological causality was determinism while environmental causality preserved free will; and that animals had instincts, but human beings did not.
    • Chapter 7 “Instinct” (p. 92)
  • The conclusions of both behaviour genetics and evolutionary psychology remain distinctly unpalatable to many non-scientists, whose main objection is a superficially reasonable argument from incredulity. How can a gene, a stretch of DNA ‘letters’, cause a behaviour? What conceivable mechanism could link a recipe for a protein with an ability to learn the rule for making the past tense in English? I admit that this seems at first sight a mighty leap, requiring more faith than reason. But it need not be, because the genetics of behaviour is, at root, no different from the genetics of embryonic development…The idea of genes for behaviour is no more strange than the idea of genes for development. Both are mind-boggling, but nature has never found human incomprehension a reason for changing her methods.
    • Chapter 7 “Instinct” (p. 106; ellipsis represents a brief elision)
  • If you still thought evolution was about the good of the species, stop thinking so right now.
    • Chapter X and Y “Conflict” (p. 113)
  • Sexual relations are driven not by what is good, in evolutionary terms, for men or for women, but for their chromosomes. The ability to seduce a woman was good for Y chromosomes in the past; the ability to resist seduction by a man was good for X chromosomes in the past.
    • Chapter X and Y “Conflict” (p. 115)
  • The genome is littered, one might almost say clogged, with the equivalent of computer viruses, selfish, parasitic stretches of letters which exist for the pure and simple reason that they are good at getting themselves duplicated. We are full of digital chain letters and warnings about marmalade.
    • Chapter 8 “Self-Interest” (p. 127)
  • Genes do indeed behave as if they have selfish goals, not consciously, but retrospectively: genes that behave in this way thrive and genes that don’t don’t.
    • Chapter 8 “Self-Interest” (p. 128)
  • Judges were never very good at science.
    • Chapter 9 “Disease” (p. 136)
  • The main purpose of most genes in the human genome is regulating the expression of other genes in the genome.
    • Chapter 10 “Stress” (p. 150)
  • It underscores yet again the fact that what we call personality is to a considerable degree a question of brain chemistry.
    • Chapter 11 “Personality” (p. 172)
  • The evolutionary implication is that we are descended from a common ancestor with flies which used the same way of defining the pattern of the embryo more than 530 million years ago, and that the mechanism was so good that all this dead creature’s descendants have hung on to it.
    • Chapter 12 “Self-Assembly” (p. 178)
  • What is true of mice is just as true of people. Flies and people are just variations on a theme of how to build a body that was laid down in some worm-like creature in the Cambrian period. They still retain the same genes doing the same job. Of course, there are differences; if there are not, we would look like flies. But the differences are surprisingly subtle.
    • Chapter 12 “Self-Assembly” (p. 179)
  • These two processes—linguistic philology and genetic phylogeny—are converging upon a common theme: the history of human migrations.
    • Chapter 13 “Pre-History” (p. 185)
  • This led to a neat generalization, which is so tidy it ought to be true and probably would be if physicists ran the world: every animal has roughly the same number of heartbeats per lifetime. An elephant lives longer than a mouse, but its pulse rate is so much slower that, measured in heartbeats, they both live lives of the same length.
    • Chapter 14 “Immortality” (p. 200)
  • Natural selection has designed all parts of our bodies to last just long enough to see our children into independence, no more.
    • Chapter 14 “Immortality” (p. 202)
  • The question is not whether nurture has a role to play, because nobody of any sense has ever gone on record as denying that it does, but whether nature has a role to play at all. When my one-year-old daughter discovered a plastic baby in a toy pram one day while I was writing this chapter, she let out the kinds of delighted squeals that her brother had reserved at the same age for passing tractors. Like many parents, I found it hard to believe that this was purely because of some unconscious social conditioning that we had imposed. Boys and girls have systematically different interests from the very beginning of autonomous behaviour.
    • Chapter 15 “Sex” (p. 217)
  • Held up as a proof of socially constructed gender roles, he proved the exact opposite: that nature does play a role in gender. The evidence from zoology has always pointed that way: male behaviour is systemically different from female behaviour in most species and the difference has an innate component. The brain is an organ with innate gender. The evidence from the genome, from imprinted genes and genes for sex-linked behaviours, now points to the same conclusion.
    • Chapter 15 “Sex” (p. 218)
  • The subject of learning lies in the provinces of neuroscience and psychology. It is the opposite of instinct. Instinct is generically-determined behaviour; learning is behaviour modified by experience.
    • Chapter 16 “Memory” (p. 220)
  • Just as we underestimate the degree to which human brains rely upon instincts, so we have generally underestimated the degree to which other animals are capable of learning.
    • Chapter 16 “Memory” (p. 222)
  • I have a hard time imagining how my memory of the meaning of the word ‘volado’ consists of some strengthened synaptic connections between a few neurons. It is distinctly mind-boggling. Yet far from having removed the mystery from the problem by reducing it to the molecular level, I feel that scientists have opened before me a new and intriguing mystery, the mystery of trying to imagine how connections between nerve cells not only provide the mechanism of memory but are memory. It is every bit as thrilling a mystery as quantum physics, and a great deal more thrilling than Ouija boards and flying saucers.
    • Chapter 16 “Memory” (p. 227)
  • The story of p53 and the oncogenes, like much of my book, challenges the argument that genetic research is necessarily dangerous and should be curtailed. The story also strongly challenges the view that ‘reductionist’ science, which takes systems apart to understand them, is flawed and futile. Oncology, the medical study of whole cancers, diligent, brilliant and massively endowed though it was, achieved terribly little in comparison with what has already been achieved in a few years by a reductionist, genetic approach.
    • Chapter 17 “Death” (p. 240)
  • The politicisation of the issue has had absurd results.
    • Chapter 18 “Cures” (p. 253; referring to genetic engineering)
  • The fuel on which science runs is ignorance. Science is like a hungry furnace that must be fed logs from the forests of ignorance that surround us. In the process, the clearing we call knowledge expands, but the more it expands, the longer its perimeter and the more ignorance comes into view.
    • Chapter 20 “Politics” (p. 271)
  • A true scientist is bored by knowledge; it is the assault on ignorance that motivates him—the mysteries that previous discoveries have revealed.
    • Chapter 20 “Politics” (p. 271)
  • At its birth eugenics was not a politicised science; it was a science-ised political creed.
    • Chapter 21 “Eugenics” (p. 288)
  • In Sigmund Freud’s psychology, John Watson’s behaviourism and Margaret Mead’s anthropology, nurture-determinism by parents was never tested, only assumed. Yet the evidence, from twin studies, from the children of immigrants and from adoption studies, is now staring us in the face: people get their personalities from their genes and from their peers, not from their parents.
    • Chapter 22 “Free Will” (pp. 305-306)
  • Culture is transmitted autonomously from each children’s peer group to the next and not from parent to child—which is why, for example, the move towards greater adult sexual equality has had zero effect on willing sexual segregation in the playground. As every parent knows, children prefer to imitate peers than parents. Psychology, like sociology and anthropology, has been dominated by those with a strong antipathy to genetic explanations; it can no longer sustain such ignorance.
    • Chapter 22 “Free Will” (pp. 306-307)
  • So there is no escape from determinism by appealing to socialization. Either effects have causes or they do not. If I’m timid because of something that happened to me when I was young, that event is no less deterministic than a gene for timidity. The greater mistake is not to equate determinism with genes, but to mistake determinism for inevitability.
    • Chapter 22 “Free Will” (p. 307)
  • Determinism looks backwards to the causes of the present state, not forward to the consequences.
    • Chapter 22 “Free Will” (p. 307)
  • Yet the myth persists that genetic determinism is a more implacable kind of fate than social determinism.
    • Chapter 22 “Free Will” (p. 308)
  • Full responsibility for one’s actions is a necessary fiction without which the law would flounder, but it is a fiction all the same. To the extent that you act in character you are responsible for your actions; yet acting in character is merely expressing the many determinisms that caused your character.
    • Chapter 22 “Free Will” (p. 309)
  • This interaction of genetic and external influences makes my behaviour unpredictable, but not undetermined.
    • Chapter 22 “Free Will” (p. 312)
  • Freedom lies in expressing your own determinism, not somebody else’s. It is not the determinism that makes a difference, but the ownership. If freedom is what we prefer, then it is preferable to be determined by forces that originate in ourselves and not in others.
    • Chapter 22 “Free Will” (p. 313)

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010)[edit]

  • Rational optimism holds that the world will pull out of the current crisis because of the way that markets in goods, services and ideas allow human beings to exchange and specialise honestly for the betterment of all. So this is not a book of unthinking praise or condemnation of all markets, but it is an inquiry into how the market process of exchange and specialisation is older and fairer than many think and gives a vast reason for optimism about the future of the human race. Above all, it is a book about the benefits of change. I find that my disagreement is mostly with reactionaries of all political colours: blue ones who dislike cultural change, red ones who dislike economic change and green ones who dislike technological change.
    • Prologue When ideas have sex

External links[edit]

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