Podcast quote: humans’ biggest superpower

The TED Interview has been an interesting little series to work through. Chris Anderson talks with people who have given TED talks to delve a little deeper into their content.

Through this, I listened to a “bonus episode” (not found on the site linked above, but accessible through a podcast app) of Ezra Klein interviewing him on his own show (link also not available on his website). The following quote is long but it says so much about our current times. This is Anderson speaking. (And it’s much more delightful to listen to him speak than to read it—go listen to it!)

In theory, ideas are these beautiful things that are the ownership of every human being. It is a complete miracle that an idea that is invented in one mind can spread to others and the other minds it spreads to, in principle, can be in people of a different color, a different religion, a different race, a different part of the world, rich or poor. Ideas belong to everyone at a very deep level. And yet today, we’re in danger of them not doing that because we are shutting down channels of communication with each other.

For an idea to spread, for it to move from one mind to another, there has to be an openness in the receiving mind. And you know when you think about it, we’ve evolved with this wonderful ability to be skeptical. It’s an incredibly important ability. You walk around in the world and you’re constantly getting input from, signals from other people, people will say things, you’ll have advertisements thrown at you. You have to be skeptical. If you responded positively to every incoming signal, you would very soon have no money and no control of your life at all. And so, it’s incredibly important to be skeptical, but to actually learn something, you have to be open, and the decision as to whether that steel door of skepticism slams down or opens up is therefore of huge consequence.

What’s happening in the current environment where these little weaponized text messages that we send each other on Twitter and Facebook and so forth, coupled with a partisan media environment offline and probably lots of other things, but we are tribalizing each other. We are simplifying the question about skepticism into a very simple one: is this person on my side? It’s becoming easier and easier to predict from knowing one thing about someone, possibly even just how they look, what they believe about a bunch of other things. And if we think, “No, that’s not me,” then the steel door slams down and no matter what the person says, probably, nothing will be learned or communicated. And that is an absolute crying tragedy and civilizational-threatening if that were to continue.

That is humans throwing away their single biggest super power, the single biggest miracle that has allowed us get to where we are, which is this sharing of knowledge, we are throwing away because we’re losing trust in each other.

(I see this happening in an “I’m not sharing because I don’t want other people to make money/get credit” way, also.)

Oddly, shortly after listening to the one quoted above, I listened to an episode of Freakonomics. I thought the second half of it tied in with this really nicely. If you listen to both, let me know how they connect for you.

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