Saturday, November 18, 2006

important things you should think about

I listened to this radio show on NPR yesterday about organizational systems with no leaders. Like ants and bees. (You're thinking, 'But wait! Ants and bees have queens!' -- They sure do, but queens are just egg factories, not leaders.) Each individual ant, for instance, isn't particularly smart. But somehow, mysteriously, all the ants working together manage to do really smart things. It's almost as though the relation of all the ants working together creates a meta-intelligence that can't be pinned to any one ant or otherwise located in space. It just is.

It's the same in our brains. Where, I ask you, is the thought you're thinking right now? Where is the you that you think you are? The thought isn't located anywhere and neither is the you. The thoughts and the you only exist within the relationships among neurons in your brain. Like a billion little ants, scrambling around in your head, no one neuron holds the thought. The thought only comes from the workings of all the neurons together.

Deep, don't you think? Yeah. Totally. And if ants work this way and neurons work this way, what about large groups of people? Isn't it possible that in a large group of people (or maybe even in a small group...) something mysterious is happening within the interaction itself that is creating a meta-effect that is bigger and broader than any one of us is able to see or comprehend? Already there is evidence to suggest this is the case.

For example, the scientist who invented Eugenics (a sweet guy who really loved people...) had this theory that if you got a lot of dumb people together the sum of their parts would be super-extra dumb. So he went to this carnival in a rural community and watched as a carnival guy asked a crowd to guess the weight of an ox. The crowd made guesses, the person who came the closest won a prize, and everyone left.

When it was all said and done, the Eugenics guy went to the carnival guy and asked if he could have all the slips that the guesses were written on. He then added them all up and came up with the mean average. It was one pound off from the actual weight of the ox and way closer than any individual guesser could've been. Interesting, no? You can try it with a jar of jellybeans. Ask all your friends to guess, then get the mean average of the guesses and see if it isn't alarmingly close to the right answer and much closer than any individual guessed.

Is this just a parlor trick? Maybe. What are the practical applications? I don't know. But it's interesting. At least, I thought so. I have a lot more to say about it, but I need to go do homework, so I'll leave you all to mull it over then maybe I'll write some more about it later. But remind me to explain the reverse-karma theory of bees gathering pollen. It's really cool.


Post a Comment

<< Home