Collective Intelligence and the Future of Consciousness

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“To solve our current, complex problems involving a large number of people and organizations in varying environments, a new form of collective intelligence is required. It emerges especially via digital media: the Collective Intelligence called “holomidal.” It would function as in small groups, in constant interaction to allow everyone to act taking into account others, but by doing so in large numbers. I make the assumption that such form of intelligence develops thanks to and with another level of consciousness. It is therefore to exchange with people who explore the future of consciousness.” — Pierre Lévy

According to Professor Lévy, holomidal CI comes into being in the Internet age, following such stages of CI as swarm (insects), original (tribes), and pyramidal (armies, corporations).

Thanks to the electronic media of communication, collaboration, and coordination of action, people in large groups can, indeed, act and interact, informed by the recorded knowledge and experience of everyone else. Participating in and witnessing those actions and interactions, we are participating in and witnessing in a shared cognition that can be distributed locally and/or globally. Exercising our distributed mind, we are both creating and being created by an emergent collective consciousness, at the same time.

Let’s take the simple example of a Google search, where you enter the search statement “enclosure of the commons.” Before you even hit the Return key, the page already displays some other key terms related to yours, which people were looking for, thus giving you some hints about how you may refine your search in any direction appealing to you. As you type, you will see words appearing below the search box:

  • enclosure of the commons definition
  • enclosure of the commons in england
  • enclosure of the commons economics
  • enclosure of the commons under capitalism

You may accept one of the suggestions or feeling inspired by it, modify your own search. If you do the latter, it will show up as an option for the next seeker of information about this subject

But that’s not all. After you, hit Return, on the top of the page you get a snippet that includes a summary of the answer to your question and below it, a list of other questions related to yours, which people around the world are addressing (in zillions of websites, forum conversations, encyclopedias, government documents, academic research papers, etc.). For example:

  • What was the Enclosure Act?
  • Why was the Enclosure Act passed in England?
  • What does enclosure have to do with the industrial revolution?
  •  What was the cause of the enclosure movement?
  •  How do you use “enclosure” in a sentence?

If you click on any of the questions, you will see below it another snippet summarizing and programmatically extracted from the webpage the most pertinent to it according to Google’s algorithms.

One can marvel at the genius of software engineers producing them but I’m even more impressed by humanity’s general intellect, another term for collective intelligence seen through the lens of political economy, where it refers to the productive force of the social mind that has been evolving throughout the millennia. All of humankind’s technical and scientific knowledge is part of it.

As I wrote in Collective Intelligence and Collective Leadership, the distinction “general intellect” lets us realize a fuller meaning of “collective intelligence,” seen in the long view, in the broad sweeps of social evolution, past and future included. It may be unbeknownst to us, but when we do the search described above, we interact with (a product of) humankind’s general intellect.

What does all that have to do with the future of consciousness? Let’s see what the Phoenix Generation has to say about it:

“This new model of communication and connection can be said to be rewiring our thinking and behaviour patterns. We are becoming accustomed to dealing with multiple connections rather than single ones, and to becoming immersed in varied and diverse relations and not just one-on-one dialogues. In turn we are being exposed to, and impacted by, a myriad of viewpoints, beliefs, identities and experiences. Within these models of self-expression each person is being called forth to respond and engage with the outside world not in fear or with anxiety but with healthy, creative and positive energies.”

The shift of learning from the sage-on-the stage to learning from each other, where the “other” is frequently the unknown multitudes, is also stimulating the firing of neurons in the global brain.

When our individual and planetary psyche dance together, they co-inspire, and the “emerging energy patterns are likely to have traits of a feminine consciousness, using energies that work through relationships… ; that seek to nurture co-operation; and that are nourished themselves through compassion and loving connections. ” — Kingsley L. Dennis, in Phoenix Generation

Well, that’s one of the possibilities and certainly the one that is more attractive than the alternative, the domination of our attention and choices, by the mega-corporations for the sake of profit and by “big brother” states serving them. Which one will prevail is up to us!

To allow these “big picture” thoughts to make a real difference in your everyday life, try each or any of these questions (and their embedded practice) on for a week:

How would your quality of life be affected if, at the end of  your search journey,  you could get answer to a question that really matters to you and can be asked with 10 words or less?

How would your desire to give back more grow if, from time to time, you could visualize and empathize with not only the long chain of people who put your food on the table, but also with the long chain of those who put food for thought on your screen?

p.s. This mini-essay is an abbreviated summary of my contemplation over the Pierre Lévy interview that has arrived in my inbox, this morning. In it, I signal rather than cover a number of topics. The more of you indicate an interest in any of them, in the comments, the more likely that I will elaborate on it in subsequent pieces.


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(289) Pierre Lévy talks about Collective Intelligence at Senac – YouTube

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5 Biomimicry Principles for Collective Intelligence – Integritus Prime

I’ve been reading my esteemed colleague Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker’s Teeming: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World for the past few weeks. The book is so ri…

Source: 5 Biomimicry Principles for Collective Intelligence – Integritus Prime

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Design for collective intelligence: pop-up communities in MOOCs | SpringerLink

Many current authors point toward the heightening of networked individualism and how this affects community creation and engagement. This trend poses strong challenges to the potential beneficial effe

Source: Design for collective intelligence: pop-up communities in MOOCs | SpringerLink

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Collective intelligence as humanity’s biggest challenge | Nesta

Can collective intelligence change our world? How drawing on both the brain power of other people and machines could help us thrive.

Source: Collective intelligence as humanity’s biggest challenge | Nesta

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The Next Platform

This seminal essay by Pierre Lévy, a thought leader in the field of collective intelligence states, “the next platform weaves five functions together: curation, creation, communication, transaction and immersion.


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Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World

“A new field of collective intelligence has emerged in the last few years, prompted by a wave of digital technologies that make it possible for organizations and societies to think at large scale. This “bigger mind”–human and machine capabilities working together–has the potential to solve the great challenges of our time. So why do smart technologies not automatically lead to smart results? Gathering insights from diverse fields, including philosophy, computer science, and biology, Big Mind reveals how collective intelligence can guide corporations, governments, universities, and societies to make the most of human brains and digital technologies. Geoff Mulgan explores how collective intelligence has to be consciously organized and orchestrated in order to harness its powers. He looks at recent experiments mobilizing millions of people to solve problems, and at groundbreaking technology like Google Maps and Dove satellites. He also considers why organizations full of smart people and machines can make foolish mistakes–from investment banks losing billions to intelligence agencies misjudging geopolitical events–and shows how to avoid them. Highlighting differences between environments that stimulate intelligence and those that blunt it, Mulgan shows how human and machine intelligence could solve challenges in business, climate change, democracy, and public health. But for that to happen we’ll need radically new professions, institutions, and ways of thinking. Informed by the latest work on data, web platforms, and artificial intelligence, Big Mind shows how collective intelligence could help us survive and thrive.”


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