I have been researching great thinkers and how they have shaped the world. I have also been trying to prove that the act of reading helps to generate or even stimulate great ideas. Great thinkers do not operate within a vacuum, they rely on the works of others, and often expand the original thought and take the world further. Charles Darwin and British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace independently arrived at similar theories of Natural Selection in the mid-1800s after reading Essay on the Principle of Population by British pastor Thomas Malthus.

Darwin defines natural selection as the “preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variation.” So what does this all mean? Darwin further adds, “Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection, and would be left a fluctuating element, as perhaps we see in the species called polymorphic… Natural selection can act only by taking advantage of slight variations; she can never take a leap, but must advance by the shortest steps.”

This book wasn’t the easiest to read, and I found it quite “dry”. But, in my quest to find out where really good ideas come from, I made the sacrifice and slogged through it. I have selected fives ideas from On Natural Selection. For the five ideas below, how can you use them in different contexts to resolve/understand modern day problems?

Five Good Ideas

When a plant or animal is placed in a new country amongst new competitors, though the climate may be exactly the same as its former home, yet the conditions of its life will generally be changed in an essential manner. If we wished to increase its average numbers in its new home, we should have to modify it in a different way to what we should have done in its native country; for we should have to give it some advantage over a different set of competitors or enemies. Individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind When a species, owing to highly favourable circumstances, increases inordinately in numbers in a small tract, epidemics often ensue The more diversified the descendants from any one species become in structure, constitution, and habits, by so much will they be better enabled to seize on many and widely diversified places in the polity of nature, and so be enabled to increase in numbers Natural selection is working behind the scenes all the time throughout the world whenever the opportunity arises. It works to improve each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. You cannot see these slow changes taking place, until after a long period of time has elapsed, we see that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were

We could take idea number two and look at it in the context of education. It’s a reasonable assumption to make that people who are more educated have a better chance of succeeding than those who have less education. Or, for that same idea, we could say, someone who has an idea and knows how to take action, will be more successful than someone who has ideas but do nothing about them. Success in this context is not restricted to financial success. Why don’t you take one of the above five ideas and see what new ideas you can generate?

I recommend On Natural Selection because I am sure that you will come up with your own five ideas. This is not a book that you would read for entertainment, but it will certainly stretch you.

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