The Roots of Progress


In reverse chronological order (most recent at the top):

Todd Nief

February 24, 2020 · 1 hour, 14 minutes

“Progress” sounds like a good thing – in fact it’s almost embedded in the definition of the word. However, as a mad-at-the-world, angst-ridden teen, I was opposed to progress. Pretty funny how that works out.

Jason Crawford has been studying the stories behind some of our most game-changing yet under-appreciated innovations like the bicycle, the process of refining steel, and why we use alternating current in our electrical grids.⁠ And, he’s been posting his finds on his blog The Roots of Progress.

Jason and I have a conversation in which we disabuse my 16-year-old self of some misguided beliefs, and we also dig into both the small-scale and large-scale dynamics or our societies that actually stimulate innovation.

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Brown Political Review

Nick Whitaker · February 23, 2020

A brief excerpt:

Nick: What do you think you could learn from when you’re actually engaging physically with the traditional material processes?

Jason: There’s a lot of things you can learn. I mean, the reason I took the weaving class was that I wanted to understand how a loom works and I figured the best way to understand it would be to use one and to learn how to use one. The first time I looked at even a simple handloom, it just seemed super complicated. I was at this machine thinking “Why does it have all these parts? Why does it have all these pieces and all these things going everywhere?” I couldn’t quite grasp the complexity of it. Now, once I’ve actually used one, I now know what every part is, and how they work together.

But another thing I’ve gotten from doing these crafts is just a sense of the challenge. I took a spinning class, so I had wool that had been carded and straightened for me, but had not been spun into thread. And, I actually spun thread on a drop spindle. One of the things that drove home for me was just how much of a skill it is, in your motor skill and muscle memory. If you’re a beginner like I was and you’re spinning your first thread, your thread sucks. It’s really poor quality. It’s super lumpy. It has a really inconsistent thickness. It’s the kind of thing where you look at it and you’re like, “Oh God, I would not want to make any cloth out of this crappy piece of thread that I just spun.” It really gives you an appreciation for how much skill people must have built up and how much human capital was required.

Read the transcript (no audio).


Tyler Willis · February 23, 2020 · 1 hour, 42 minutes

Jason is a rationalist to the core and in this discussion, we discussed the meta behind his work more than he traditionally covers. We talked about history, his beliefs and background, his motivations, and the ways that the progress movement may evolve. We also covered some of the tactical work he’s done over the past 3 years.

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Building Tomorrow

Paul Matzko and Aaron Ross Powell · February 20, 2020 · 1 hour, 3 minutes

It’s easy to assume that things naturally improve. After all, in our lifetimes technology has advanced, life expectancies have risen, and standards of living have improved. Yet in historical terms, progress is a relatively new phenomenon, only invented a few centuries ago. And the danger is that if we take the idea of progress for granted, we might slow or even reverse the rate of progress. That would be a disaster given that we have an obligation to leave a society to future generations that is in better shape than we received it. Technologist Jason Crawford joins the show to talk about the ethical obligation to pursue progress.

Listen or read the transcript on the show page or find it on iTunes.

Idea Machines

Ben Reinhardt · February 16, 2020 · 1 hour, 4 minutes

Ben has thought deeply about many topics related to progress, and in this interview, we were able to get straight to the heart of many issues. In particular, we covered the importance of funding mechanisms, the effect of culture, and how to build a culture of progress. Recommended.

Only Everything

Caleb Hirsch · February 14, 2020 · 1 hour, 4 minutes

Caleb is an old friend and we chatted about progress and perfectionism. Listen on the show page.

Agora Politics

Alex Murshak · February 10, 2020 · 53 minutes

Discussed stagnation and low-hanging fruit; lines of progress that were cut off, such as in insecticides, nuclear power, and supersonic passenger jets; and the ideas of free will and agency and their relation to progress.

The Troubadour Magazine

Kirk Barbera · February 5, 2020 · 1 hour, 38 minutes

The Troubadour typically covers the arts; this was a wide-ranging conversation at the intersection (or perhaps the union?) of my and Kirk’s areas. In addition to some of my usual topics, we touched on progress in ancient Greece, and the relation of art to progress. Watch it on Facebook.


Ash Milton · January 27, 2020 · 1 hour, 48 minutes

A long, involved conversation; we went deep on issues of political and social philosophy.

Market Power

Craig Palsson · January 23, 2020 · 33 minutes

In addition to many topics familiar to readers of this blog, this one touches on my own research process, and what someone can take away from progress studies if they are interested in contributing to human progress itself.

That's BS

Jordan Myers · October 26, 2019 · 49 minutes

This one got more philosophical than usual and covered more of human pre-history. It was fun, check out the video above or the audio version on

Venture Stories

Erik Torenberg · October 17, 2019 · 54 minutes

Listen to “The Roots of Progress with Robert Tracinski and Jason Crawford” on Spreaker.

Covers everything from “sustainability” to what it felt like to live under the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War.

Self in Society

Ari Armstrong · September 17, 2019 · 1 hour, 20 minutes

Covering progress studies, Malthus, the steam engine, Haber-Bosch, “liquid rock”, textile production, plastic, and of course the bicycle:

You can also listen via iTunes or YouTube.