What is the Best Idea Ever?

Daniel Dennett and others have called Darwin’s theory of evolution the best idea anyone has ever had.  That means that all the ideas that Socrates, Da Vinci, Newton and Einstein ever had, plus all the ideas that everyone else has ever had are also rans.  It would be impossible to really justify such a claim objectively, but I will give my guess as to why it might be considered so, at least by luminaries in Western society.

My suggestion is that evolution is the first theory — in the scientific tradition — based on the principle of emergence.  That is, it looks at a system from the bottom up, starting with behavior at the micro level and yielding behavior at the macro level.

Regardless of the above, what gets your vote for the best idea ever?

  • Brady

    I think there are two types of ‘good ideas’. The first say something about fundamental, unseen forces. Copernicus, Newton, Maxwell, Darwin all fit here. The second say something about how to create/alter physical goods to do things that were previously impossible: paper, computers, batteries, printing presses, engines, wheels, iron, space shuttles, horses fit here. So you’ve got Laws and Technology. The cool thing about Darwin is that evolution fits fundamentally into both categories.

    Although I’m not sure who to credit, I think one could make the argument that organized religion was a pretty good idea. I’m not talking good in a moral sense or ignoring the associated negative consequences, but am referring to its power and utility (regardless of one’s own affinity for it). It seems easier to imagine a counterfactual world without organized religion than it is to imagine a counterfactual world without the other ideas mentioned. If religion doesn’t win, then it’s got to be something more fundamental like the ideas of ‘nation states’ or ‘cooperative social groups’.

  • Perhaps the best ideas are those not in the realm of science, but which probe the infinite vagaries of human motivation and social behavior.

    I think Brady’s idea of religion-as-good-idea may have been helpful in pre-industrial, pre-virtual culture, but today I’m not so sure. We seem to be emerging away from a false sense of certainty.

    The best ideas are always looking for better questions.

  • kevindick

    I’d say insurance is the best idea ever, if what you care about is living standards.

  • Daniel

    I tend to agree with Brady. Evolution is more a “property” (or “law”) of the world we live in. Religion and insurance are man made ideas/creations.

  • Dorian


  • Daniel

    Interchangeable parts