Welcome to Living Ideas

Essays on the evolution, spread, and historical impact of ideas.

“Living ideas”, the title of this publication, has an intentional double meaning.

One comes from taking ourselves to be the implied subject. We are the ones living our ideas, often in ways we don’t realize. By this, I mean we often underappreciate how much our lives are the product of our ideas, beliefs, and other acquired cultural elements — and how much changing our minds can change what happens to us.

Another meaning arises from ideas as the subject, where they are the ones doing the living. And this is something I mean in a close-to-literal way; ideas “live” in the sense that they self-replicate, mutate, are subject to natural selection and differential survival, evolve, spread, and die out.

The Roadmap

The goal of this publication is to use the concept of living ideas to help us become more effective citizens and thinkers about the world by helping us understand:

  • Why consensus beliefs can sometimes be obviously wrong or harmful

  • How culture impacts the differential survival and success of groups

  • Why certain historical outcomes can only be understood by taking a “meme’s eye view” of history

  • How competition between ideas gives rise to superviral memes that rapidly spread and alter the course of societies that they infect

  • How intolerant minorities of opinion are sometimes able to wield outsized influence in open societies

  • How totalitarian ideologies hijack societies and restructure them for the singular purpose of their own propagation

  • Why freedom of thought and expression is historically rare & precarious

Among other topics. I will approach these topics with 3 critical questions always in mind:

  1. How do ideas evolve? What can we learn from looking at ideas and cultures as packages of “memes" (i.e. Darwinian replicators), and how can this help us understand the truth and usefulness of ideas?

  2. Why do they spread? Do cultures, ideas, and other memetic packages propagate only because of their truth or usefulness for the people who hold them, or for other reasons related to their own memetic prerogatives?

  3. What are their consequences? How can a cultural evolutionary lens help us more accurately understand the nature and outcomes of societies and civilizations?

The Author

My name is Sachin Maini.

Since 2017, I’ve been the content lead at NFX, a seed-stage Silicon Valley venture firm, where I deeply studied and helped write essays on topics like network effectsmarketplacesnetwork sciencethe startup ecosystemfundraising, and innovation.

I’ve also contributed to Forbes on topics like the societal impact of live streaming technology, and was the lead researcher for the book Your Happiness Was Hacked.

My formal academic background in European History and Classics, but in this publication, I draw from diverse fields including complexity science, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, memetics, and the history of philosophy.