The Roots of Progress

A letter on optimism

I’m continuing my conversation about progress and sustainability with Andrew Glover on Letter. My latest letter is on optimism. Excerpt:

When the human mind understands galactic rotation, the periodic table, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, chemical enzymes, the structure of the cell, the evolution of species—when it has solved problems not only in energy, but in transportation, infrastructure, agriculture, medicine, materials and manufacturing, supply chains and logistics, communication and computation, finance and management—why do you think we can’t learn the knowledge we need and solve the problems facing us today? How many more examples do you need to increase your confidence in human ingenuity?

Perhaps one could look at this incredible track record and count it a lucky historical accident, not to be repeated—if there were no deeper, philosophic way to understand how it came about and what could keep it going. But there is: human beings are, again in Deutsch’s words, “universal explainers”. Reason, the conceptual faculty, gives us the upper hand in any contest, even though Nature starts out with the home-field advantage.

Read the full letter here.

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