Discover more from Muthukrishna Lab
The Wright Brothers, Collective Brain, and Progress Since the Industrial Revolution
Episode 2 of In the Field with Michael Muthukrishna
The second video of my series In the Field with Michael Muthukrishna is also on innovation - the invention of the airplane, shot in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Brothers are a wonderful example of the power of diverse backgrounds and collective brain thinking. These two bicycle mechanics figured out that flying was more about balance than power. Just 16 years later, we flew across the Atlantic. Today, hurtling through the air at unimaginable speeds is blasé.
Transcript below the video.
You can pre-order my book here: www.atheoryofeveryone.com.
BREAKING NEWS WHILE I WROTE THIS - Just got an altert, the finished copies with the UK cover dropped!
As always, if you like these videos and want to help tell your friends about the book, please subscribe and share this post.
I'm here in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Or actually about three miles south in Kill Devil Hills, where in 1903, two bicycle mechanics Wilbur and Orville Wright first flew the Wright flier. They're weren’t the only people working on heavier than air flight. And they relied on a collective brain of other people's designs, other people's discoveries and other people's knowledge.
They had minds prepared as bicycle mechanics, believing that the key to flight wasn't in the power of the engine, as other people believed. But in the balance, much like riding a bike. They had a moment of serendipitous discovery when playing with an inner bicycle tube where they realized that they could create a flexible wing, much like a bird. In other words, they had all seven Secrets of Innovation COMPASS.
Will and Orv weren't the first to fly. But among the many people working on the problem, they were the first to achieve controlled, powered, heavier than air flight, and they became the most skilled pilots of the time. This was five years before Henry Ford would introduce the first affordable cars, the Model T in 1908.
So what were two men from Dayton, Ohio, doing in the Outer Banks in North Carolina? They came here because they wanted to give the flier the best chance of flying. They spoke to a meteorologist who told them that at Kill Devil Hills they would find a hill for their gliders and flat ground for the for the Wright flier. There also find some sand dunes for them to land on. Many people had died trying to fly and they would find the steady wind that's blowing around me from that first 12 second 120 foot or 36 meter flight.
They and the rest of our collective brain would continue to innovate such that 16 years later, in 1919, we had the first flight across the Atlantic. In just 60 years, Russians would put Yuri Gagarin in space. And just six years later, in 1969, Americans would put Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on the moon. Today, hurtling through the air in a metal tube at unimaginable speeds is almost blasé.
The Wright Brothers achievement is just one example of the astonishing progress that we have made since the Industrial Revolution. There has been an almost vertical takeoff in wealth, energy capture, population size, size of countries or polities, child survival rates, human rights innovations, or just about any other indication of progress and social development. Or as Ian Morris so nicely put at the time, since the Industrial Revolution has made a mockery of all the drama of the world's earlier history. The fall of the Roman Empire, the violent conquests of Genghis Khan, the devastation of the Black Death, the innovations of the Renaissance, and the discoveries of the scientific revolution, and much more of what you covered in high school history are mere blips, completely dwarfed by the enormous progress since the 18th century.
What will we achieve in the 21st century and beyond? That depends on what we do and what we choose today. Not long after the first moon landing. Since the early 1970s, innovation has stagnated. My book explains the way that cultural evolution, cultural-group selection, energy and the Four Laws of Life come together to explain how we got here and where we're going. Or at least where we could go.