To understand ways in which collective intelligence can evolve to support the survival, adaptation, and flourishing of Homo sapiens, it helps to think across different timescales of analysis—and the broadest timescale of analysis we have identified here is the period within which living systems have been evolving, circa 3.5 billion years.
If our aim is to understand ways in which collective intelligence might evolve to support the survival, adaptation, and flourishing of Homo sapiens in the Holocene, we need to consider the fullness of the world we live in, and the wonderful complexity of our living system.
It’s true, individuals do possess the power to inspire the formation of teams, and teams can push the limits of systems thinking and coordinated systems action.
I heard a story recently. It reminded me of the need to broaden the scope of our thinking in relation to human intelligence:
A woman was relaxing by a river, enjoying the sights and sounds and fresh air, when suddenly she noticed a person upstream struggling to stay afloat in the water. She dived into the water, swam out as fast as she could, and helped the person ashore. Catching her breath after the rescue, she glanced upstream, only to spot another person adrift in the river. Again, she dived in, swam out, and rescued the person.
In the next five minutes, the woman rescued two more people. Standing by the river, exhausted and almost completely out of breath, she saw another person adrift in the water. She started walking upstream, along the river bank. A passerby asked her, “Aren’t you going to help him?”
The woman replied, “Not this time. I’m going upstream to see if I can do something about whatever is causing all these people to fall into the river”.
When it comes to the history of science, social scientists are often viewed by worldly, grey-bearded physicists as the new kids on the block – or, at best, a bunch of rowdy adolescents still trying to figure out their purpose in life.
Like many people, I hope for a better world. I hope for a world where there is less ignorance and violence and more wisdom and peace, less suffering and illness and more wellbeing and health, less closed-mindedness and selfishness and more open-mindedness and altruism. Like many people, I hope we can transcend egocentrism, embrace the fullness of life around us, and sustain the wonderful diversity of life on our planet. I hope that we can cultivate the ability to redesign our world such that there is greater collective freedom, equality, justice, democracy, sovereignty, and good governance of our global commons.
In December 2013, Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95. Tributes rang out all over the world. Mandela was an inspiration to millions, if not billions, of people. He gave voice to the oppressed; he demonstrated unsurpassed resilience and resolve as an advocate of freedom and democracy; and, most notably, he brokered a new peace and a new constitution for South Africa in the face of intense and sustained opposition.