Matt Ridley – The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

Matt Ridley – The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice races against a red queen. They have to run faster and  faster just to stay where they are. This paradox is a common analogy in science books to the point of being a cliché. But it got that way for a reason. Predators and prey are constantly evolving sharper teeth, adaptive defense strategies, hunting techniques, camouflage, new ways to exploit food sources, and more. The result of all this effort and adaptation is to keep survival rates pretty much the same. A similar red queen story can be told about our immune systems, which must constantly adapt to fight microbes, who are themselves constantly adapting to keep up with our immune systems.

Ridley, a top-notch science writer and something of a polymath, develops the red queen conceit as well as anybody. While The Rational Optimist is his best book, The Red Queen takes a strong second place. Red queen stories, Ridley notes, also appear in public policy, such as in arms races, where governments spend billions of dollars per year building weapons and researching new ones. This is all so they can keep geopolitical dynamics more or less the same as they are now. Elections are the same way, as billions of dollars get spent every cycle for just a few percentage points swing one or the other, which can easily be reversed the next time around. In the private sector, companies have to adapt and innovate just to keep the doors open.


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