The ratchet is the Great Asymmetry...

...says evolutionist Steven Jay Gould. This is the remarkable ability of evolution to create a bit more, on average, than it destroys. Against the great drain of entropy, life ratchets up irreversible gains. The Great Asymmetry is rooted in webs, in tightly interlinked entities, in self-reinforcing feedback, in coevolution, and in the many loops of increasing returns that fill an ecosystem. Because every new species in life cocreates a niche for yet other new species to occupy, because every additional organism presents a chance for other organisms to live upon it, the cumulative total multiplies up faster than the inputs add up; thus the perennial one-way surplus of opportunities.

We call the Great Asymmetry in human affairs "the economy." It too is packed with networks of webs that multiply outputs faster than inputs. Therefore, on average, it fills up faster than it leaks. Over the long run, this slight bias in favor of creation can yield a world worth 4 quadrillion dollars.



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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK