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The Evolution of Ideas

        posted by , May 14, 2011

Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.
~ Alfred Whitney Griswold

The innovation of ideas looks something like this:

the evolution of ideas

Idea Combining

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
~George Bernard Shaw

Many ideas are the result of combining two existing ideas.

Idea Mutation

Half the musical ideas I’ve had have been accidental.
~ John Lennon

Many ideas are accidental mutations of existing ideas. When existing ideas are communicated — they are sometimes misinterpreted. Sometimes these misinterpretations end up being better than the original idea.

New Ideas

There is only one way in which a person acquires a new idea: by the combination or association of two or more ideas he already has into a new juxtaposition in such a manner as to discover a relationship among them of which he was not previously aware.
~ Francis A. Cartier

New ideas are not common. Almost all ideas are combinations or mutations. However, it is not impossible to have a new idea.


The brain is a commodity used to fertilize ideas. ~ Elbert Hubbard

Ideas are interpreted by individuals — every human mind is unique. Individuals decide how they feel about the idea. Ideas can also drive individuals to action.


Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery.
~Mark Amidon

Ideas are spread by communication — advances in technology have greatly increased the speed at which ideas are communicated.


Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.
~ Howard Aiken

People debate ideas — socialization greatly influences adoption of ideas. Technology has increased the speed at which ideas are socialized.

General Acceptance

Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Ideas that are generally accepted have influence over the future — and the cycle continues.


An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
~ Victor Hugo

The evolution of ideas does not imply that good ideas automatically make it into the future. If society is not ready for the idea: it will be rejected. Truly revolutionary ideas are often not recognized for many generations.

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