Ideas exist in an ecology of ideas. This ecology is a fascinating study in so many ways. Ideas breed, evolve, become extinct, open up new environments, and create new elements in existing environments.
Some ideas are predatory, some are grazers, and things like Micro ideas at exactly the same way as microbes and viruses, adding synergies, infecting other ideas, and more. There are gigantic ideas and symbiosis-based ideas, flying ideas and borrowing ideas.
The first thing you learn about the ecology of ideas is that it is a particularly complex environment. Some ideas are virtually inorganic; they don’t do much, but they are used as the basis of what happens around them. Other ideas are entirely organic, and need to interact with other organic ideas. (Social media is a good example of organic ideas – Ideas generated to perform functions, and designed to interact directly with other ideas, perspectives, and mindsets.)
Evolution in the ecology of ideas
From my own experience, I have seen my ideas open up environments which I didn’t even know existed. Some ideas were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, like expecting a whale to play table tennis. Other ideas evolved into completely different ideas, mainly because they had to it, not because of any particular outbreaks of insight on my part.
Many ideas function like crops – They are created specifically to be harvested, like books, music, entertainment, and other staples. These crops, naturally, create an additional environment of pests, and the ideas of working dynamics in their handling and management.
The evolution of ideas is a very interesting process. Depending on the nature of the idea, and the environment in which it is placed, you can see the evolutionary forces working for or against ideas. Like the very first genetically modified potatoes, which when first exposed to a real environment promptly died, the evolutionary process is the survival process for ideas. The next obvious part of the evolutionary process, is naturally the interaction with other ideas. Some ideas are hostile to each other, others work well together, and some basically crowd out existing ideas. “Invasive ideas” work very much the same way as invasive species, and also act as evolutionary drivers.
Interestingly also, the abolition of ideas naturally includes speciation – The creation of new species of the same idea, usually adapted to a particular environment. Global media is a form of speciation of ideas, largely based on the idea of trying to be different and stand out. This is a basic marketing principle, but it’s also a very important evolutionary principle – Adaption to an environment.
For ideas, marketing is roughly the equivalent of eating. An idea exists in so far as it is functional. Ideas which generate rewards or other benefits naturally prosper; ideas which don’t either wither away or go into stasis.
The stasis response, in fact, is the usual state of a lot of ideas which are ahead of their time. They cannot actually be applied at the moment, but they will be useful later and will have a life in future. In many cases, the environment itself has to evolve in order for them to be functional. The necessary conditions, nutrients, and interactions must exist before these ideas can actually have a life of their own.
Almost the exact opposite of stasis is the range of “infectious ideas”. These ideas may be short lived, but they have a massive impact on culture, people’s reactions to situations, and other real-life operational values. Infectious ideas spread and naturally mutate, very much like the old communications workshop message exchange.
The critical difference is that the spread of infectious ideas tends to be a little bit more careful and targeted. An infectious idea by definition is an idea which is relevant to those to whom it is spread. The ideas may mutate slightly in the course of being transmitted, but they also mutate in terms of their interpretation. Rumors, gossip, hearsay, and off-the-cuff responses can all generate infectious ideas very easily.
Facts, also, can generate infectious ideas very quickly. The infection acts as a stimulant to a response in both micro and macro terms. Individual responses may vary, but the macro response tends to develop a range of common factors. One of the reasons for this is that ideas are invariably challenged by different environments.
For example – An idea in accountancy may become an accepted practice, but have instant caveats in business and commerce, specializing in some areas and not operating in others. The same idea, applied to politics may have a very brief existence, before simply being replaced with other infectious ideas. It may also become an article of faith, depending on the mindsets of the political environment.
Exploratory ideas are raised virtually different class of ideas. These ideas do not naturally intrude on existing environments, but can create new environments. The internet is a case in point. It became an infectious idea simply because it was functional, not because it was necessarily a vast jump in logic. It barely existed 20 years ago, now it is indispensable.
Exploratory ideas also open up new logic, which naturally mass produces new ideas. Say you invented a new art form; the logic and ideas required to use the new art form cannot be the same as old ideas. There may be some similarities, but this is a new medium, and therefore a new environment. Ideas must therefore evolve to work in this environment.
The old saying “There’s no such thing as an original idea” may well go down in history as the stupidest statement ever made by anyone on any subject. In practice, all ideas must have new elements in them to meet new situations. They may be derived from old logic and old ideas, but they can’t actually be the same thing in a new situation; therefore, they are new in terms of application. Minor evolutions over time, can produce whole new species of ideas with almost nothing in common with their original source.
Truly new ideas, in fact, are largely synthesized from the fact that the old ideas don’t work and can’t deliver useful functional solutions. They simply can’t be applied; therefore, new ideas are required to meet needs. It is a virtually unconscious process, with or without conscious logic. Suddenly, the new idea makes sense.
Similarly, if a type of bird runs out of its natural foods, it has to try eating whatever is available. This actually is a very natural, more or less inevitable process. If you don’t have the money to buy the food you want, you have to make do with whatever is available within your means.
The same thing very much applies to thinking of any kind. To get anywhere with meeting needs, you have to come up with ideas that can do what you need them to do.
It’s interesting to note that many of the best ideas seem to come from almost effortless, but very accurate thinking. A joke may set off a whole chain of ideas quite easily and painlessly. Stolid number crunching and painstaking rational thought may simply cause mental constipation and generate no ideas at all.
I think that the natural process, which is obviously more efficient, is the more realistic scenario for the ecology of ideas. Ideas are naturally generated, it’s simply a question of which mental environment they are in which decides their ecological niched and evolutionary potential.
Practical exercise in the ecology of ideas
A good practical exercise in this regard is to use lateral thinking – Try thinking the exact opposite of your opinions on a particular subject. Now see where the logic goes, and what new ideas are instantly generated as you try to oppose your own thinking. Note the new conceptual environment and the new issues created.
I’ve suggested this exercise because I did it myself a year or so ago, and to my utter disgust, came up with exactly the same viewpoint I already had, but after processing it through a completely different range of ideas. That won’t necessarily be the result of this exercise; but it does prove that ideas do create new and different ideas, sometimes from totally different origins.