What is 'idea sex'?

Humans interact to produce new ideas just as we mate to create life, argues science writer Matt Ridley. It's called "idea sex"

Ideas have sex. That was just one of the theories espoused at a "blue-sky thinking" conference in the U.K. last month. The TEDGlobal conference, held in Oxford, England, hosts 60 speakers who have 18 minutes each to outline a "big idea" to an audience of 750 people. One of this year's speakers was Matt Ridley, who explained how ideas have sex. What is he talking about? (Watch Ridley explain idea sex at TED)

What is "idea sex"?

Matt Ridley, a British science writer, says that humans "mate" to produce new ideas just as we mate to reproduce. Sex is the act of sharing genetic material to create life and the next generation of the species. Similarly, says Ridley, human progress depends on sharing ideas that build on the accumulated store of human knowledge.

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What does this mean?

That ideas are not just the product of one intelligent individual, but the result of a "collective brain" of centuries of accumulated thought. IQ, says Ridley, is "completely irrelevant" in terms of human progress. "What's relevant to society is how well people are communicating their ideas, how they are co-operating, and not how clever the individuals are."

Hasn't that always been the case?

Yes, but now it is more relevant than ever. The internet and the rise of "cloud computing" has strengthened our ability to crowdsource ideas. Thanks to these technological advances, human progress is likely to move more quickly than ever before. And it's all thanks to idea sex.

What were some of TEDGlobal's other big ideas?

How a Muslim superhero could help change the world's perception of Islam; how children teach themselves; and how monkeys can help us understand our failing economy. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange also made a rare appearance to describe why the world needs his whistleblowing website.

What did the pundits make of idea sex?

This is one to think about next time you're working with colleagues in the office, says Adam Dachis at Lifehacker. "And if you're a freelancer on your own, maybe it's time to consider getting a work buddy." And if idea sex exists, there was a lot of it going on at TEDGlobal, says Carole Cadwalladr at The Guardian. In fact, it was a "Bacchanalian orgy of ideas." It's not so much idea sex as "idea porn. But with better production values."

Sources: The Guardian, TED.com, Lifehacker

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