Cognitive neuroscience perspective on collective intelligence

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Group minds

Hamilton's (1963) "inclusive fit", Tollefsen's (2006) "collective mind," and Kosslyn's (2006) social prosthetic system (SPS) argue that, to an individual, a group mind that leverages others' capabilities and knowledge is a value asset. Kosslyn bases the argument on neuroscience, in which a mind is partially hard-wired and partially adaptive to the environment. In an environment in which the social circle can be relied upon, an individual's mind and identity extends beyond her own brain. Kosslyn contends that this is consistent with the observation that there are few stable traits. Much of how we behave, such as honesty and being orderly, depends on the environment (see Mischel (1976). Others participate in one's SPS because: (1) they share the same goal, or (2) the relationship is reciprocal, even if there is a time difference.

The theory has several implications:

  • It suggests that we are motivated to improve ourselves, not only to help ourselves, but to help others who might later on help us.
  • Diversity (beyond one's relatives, but of an invested SPS) is an essential, not a luxury, to procreate our collective gene pool.
  • We are motivated to proselytize our beliefs, in an effort to build our SPS.
  • Individuals may sacrifice themselves at the expense of the collective. Or as in a Chinese adage: "sacrifice my little me, complete my big me").

Some issues with this theory include:

  • Unspecified implications in some areas. For instance, Kosslyn gives the example that a man may take revenge on his wife's murderer because that could increase the former's value in his SPS. But "precisely the same motivation could lead others not to perform an act of vengeance—it all depends…"
  • There does not seem to be important considerations of value in the eyes of others. Kosslyn gives the example of an amateur who invests in learning how to paint, motivated by the hope that someone who might someday needs that skill. There ought presumably to be some weighing of the probability that amateurish painting will be needed and its valuation at the time of need, which depends on the competition at that time. It is hard to see how this computation is a main motivation for an amateur learning to paint.

Kosslyn's Harvard GroupBrain Project continues work on this.

See also

Harvard GroupBrain Project

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