Sexual Selection

Term
An aspect of natural selection that explains the role of sex in driving the selection process. It asserts that organisms who are most likely to pass on their genes are those who prioritize their own reproductive success over other motives. Consequently, the surviving organisms are those who’ve engaged in behavior that has ensured successful reproduction.
Explanation
“One of Charles Darwin’s more obscure ideas that animals’ mates can act like horse breeders, consistently selecting certain types and so changing the race. This theory, known as sexual selection, was ignored for many years after Darwin’s death and has only recently come back into vogue. Its principal insight is that the goal of an animal is not just to survive but to breed. Indeed, where breeding and survival come into conflict, it is breeding that takes precedence; for example, salmon starve to death while breeding. And breeding in sexual species, consists of finding an appropriate partner and persuading it to part with a package of genes. This goal is so central to life that it has influence design not only of the body but of the psyche. Simply put, anything that increases reproductive success will spread at the expense of anything that does not — even if it threaten survival” (20, The Red Queen)
Source
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Algorithmic Process

Framework
A process that whenever it’s instantiated can logically be relied upon to produce a predictable result.
There are three key features to it:
1) Substrate Neutrality: The results are due to the logic of the process, not the powers causing the process. Prescribed steps must be followed exactly for a process to be considered to be algorithmic.
2) Underlying Mindlessness: An idiot or computer has to be capable of performing the tasks. The recipes have to be very simply written in manner that is exceedingly easy to understand and follow.
3) Guaranteed Results: The process should yield anticipated results if operated without missteps.
Explanation
“An algorithm is a certain sort of formal process that can be counted on — logically — to yield a certain sort of result whenever it is ‘run’ or instantiated” (50, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Adjacent Possibility

Term
“This theory proposes that biological systems are able to morph into more complex systems by making incremental, relatively less energy consuming changes in their make up.” (Wired)
Explanation
 “ The scientist Stuart Kauffman has a suggestive name for the set of all those first-order combinations: ‘the adjacent possible.’ The phrase captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation. In the case of prebiotic chemistry, the adjacent possible defines all those molecular reactions that were directly achievable in the primordial soup. Sunflowers and mosquitoes and brains exist outside that circle of possibility. The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.
The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace. “ (Wall Street Journal)
Source
Stuart Kauffman

Red Queen Theory

Term

Organisms must evolve not merely to combat static environmental circumstances but also as part of their perpetual arms race against competitors, disease, and parasites. This theory accounts for why sexual creatures outlast asexual creatures: it’s in the battle against competitors, disease , and parasites that the upside of genetic diversity begins to outweigh the downside.

Explanation

“Sex, according to the Red Queen theory, has nothing to do with adapting to the inanimate world – becoming bigger or better camouflaged or more tolerant of the cold or better at flying – but is all about combating the enemy that fights back.

Biologists have persistently overestimated the importance of physical causes of premature death rather than biological ones. In virtually any account of evolution, drought, frost, wind, or starvation looms large as the enemy of life. The great struggle, we are told, is to adapt to these conditions. Marvels of physical adaptation – the camel’s hump, the polar bear’s fur, the rotifer’s boil-resistant tun – are held to be among evolution’s greatest achievements. The first ecological theories of sex were all directed at explaining this adaptability to the physical environment. But with tangled bank, a different theme has begun to be heard, and in the Red Queen’s march it is the dominant tune. The things that kill animals or prevent them from reproducing are only rarely physical factors. Far more often other creatures are involved – parasites, predators, and competitors. A water flea that is starving in a crowded pond is the victim not of food shortage but of competition. Predators and parasites probably cause most of the world’s deaths, directly or indirectly. When a tree falls in the forest, it has usually been weakened by a fungus. When a herring meets its end, it is usually the mouth of a bigger fish or in a net. What killed your ancestors two centuries or more ago? Smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, plague, scarlet fever, diarrhea. Starvation or accidents may have weakened people, but infection killed them” (65, The Red Queen)

Source

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Operating Leverage

Term

A measurement of how a company incurs costs as its sales grow. If a company’s costs are fixed, its profitability will increase with each additional sale.

3rd Party Definition

“Operating leverage is a measurement of the degree to which a firm or project incurs a combination of fixed and variable costs. A business that makes sales providing a very high gross margin and fewer fixed costs and variable costs has much leverage. The higher the degree of operating leverage, the greater the potential danger from forecasting risk, where a relatively small error in forecasting sales can be magnified into large errors in cash flow projections.” (Investopedia)

Explanation

“Specifically, I’m talking about what’s known as “operating leverage”: the greater your percentage of costs that are fixed, the more operating leverage you have, which means the greater return you earn on every additional sale. To take an extreme example, consider Stratechery: I have extreme operating leverage, because the vast majority of my costs (time spent writing, reading, and researching primarily) are fixed; were I to accurately measure the profitability of an individual subscriber I would need to account for the value of that time and spread it evenly across my subscriber base and subtract each subscriber’s share of that cost — along with (marginal) credit card fees — from the $10/month (or $8.33/month for annual subscribers) fee. My leverage comes from the fact that adding an additional subscriber doesn’t increase that fixed cost at all: instead, one more subscriber makes every other subscriber more profitable, because the fixed cost is spread more broadly.” (Stratechery)

Source

Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Vital Delusion

Term
A vital delusion is a belief that a person clings to as a manner of making their existence seem meaningful. It ‘vital’ in that when the delusion fails or is undermined, the individual immediately pursues another belief to take its place.
 
Explanation
“G.K. Chesterton said, when people stop believing in something, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. It cannot be a coincidence that the decline in Christian worship in Europe has been accompanied by the rise in all sorts of other superstitions and cults, including those of Freud, Marx, and Gaia” (269, The Evolution of Everythiing)
Source
The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley

The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection

Principle
The false belief that a tool that provides some benefit provides more benefit than harm in the aggregate.
Explanation
“The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection: You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.” (186, Deep Work)
“You might reply that value is value: If you can find some extra benefit in using a service like Facebook — even if its small — then why not use it? I call this way of thinking the any-benefit mind-set, as it identifies any possible benefit as sufficient justification for using a network tool in more detail…
     The problem with this approach, of course is that it ignores all the negatives that come along with the tools in question. These services are engineered to be addictive — robbing time and attention from activities that more directly support your professional and personal goals (such as deep work)…The use of network tools can be harmful. If you don’t attempt to weight the pros against the cons, but instead use any glimpse of some personal benefit as justification for unrestrained use of a tool, then you’re unwittingly crippling your ability to succeed in the world of knowledge work” (186-7, Deep Work)
Source
Deep Work by Cal Newport

Teleology

Principle

Explanation of the purpose of phenomena, beyond efficient, formal, and material causes. It is the directive principle or goal behind a phenomena.

Explanation

A teleological explanation: ” A teleological explanation is one that explains the existence or occurrence of something by citing a goal or a purpose that is served by the thing. ” (24, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)

Source

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Comparative Advantage

Term

“The ability of an individual or group to carry out a particular economic activity (such as making a specific product) more efficiently than another activity.” (Oxford Dictionary of English)

Investopedia explanation

“The essence of this law can be illustrated with a simple example. Imagine that you are a skilled cabinetmaker as well as a gifted painter. It takes you a day to build a cabinet or a day to paint a picture. In the local economy, paintings sell for $400 and cabinets go for $350. Your neighbor also shares the same skill sets, but it takes him a day and a half to build a cabinet and three days to complete a painting. You have an absolute advantage over your neighbor in both areas, so you should try to outproduce him across the board, right? Wrong.

Here’s why: If you flip between painting and cabinetmaking over a six-day work week, you would produce three paintings and three cabinets worth $2,250. If your neighbor embarked upon the same work schedule, he would produce one painting and two cabinets worth $1,100. There would be a total of four paintings and five cabinets produced: a total of nine production units. If, however, you were to choose to focus on painting, the area where you have the greatest comparative advantage and the most profit, and leave cabinetmaking to your neighbor, something magical would happen. You would produce six paintings worth $2,400 per week, while your neighbor would produce four cabinets worth $1,400, bringing the total to 10 production units. In real terms, both you and your neighbor would be richer for specializing – and the local economy is one production unit the better for it.” (Investopedia)

Source

Investopedia

Laplace Determinism

Principle

The present is the cause of the future and the effect of the past. If one were capable of calculating every effect of every cause, he would be able to understand and predict every effect in the universe.

Explanation

“It fell to Pierre-Simon Laplace…to take Newtonism to its logical conclusion. Laplace argued that the present state of the universe was ‘the effect of its past and the cause of its future’. If an intellect were powerful enough to calculate every effect of every cause, then ‘nothing would be uncertain and the future like the past would be present before its eyes’. ” (17, The Evolution of Everything)

Source

The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley