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Collective Intelligence and Human Culture

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E.O.  Wilson adds, “Human beings are enmeshed in social networks.  Like the proverbial fish in the sea, we find it difficult to conceive of any place different from this mental environment we have evolved.  From infancy we are predisposed to read the intention of others, and quick to cooperate if there is even a trace of shared interest.”   Wilson attributes our success as a species to our social nature, saying, “Humans, it appears, are successful not because of an elevated general intelligence that addresses all challenges but because they are born to be specialists in social skills.  By cooperating through the communication and the reading of intention, groups accomplish far more than the effort of any one solitary person.”  Wilson notes that the primary and crucial difference between human cognition and that of other animal species is our ability to collaborate to achieve shared goals and intentions.  Our need to collaborate is an imperative for our species.  Wilson writes, “the human specialty is intentionality, fashioned from an extremely large working memory.  We have become the experts at mind reading, and the world champions at inventing culture.  We not only interact intensely with one another, as do other animals with advanced social organizations, but to a unique degree we have added the urge to collaborate.”

We who live in Western civilization, especially in the United States of America, have a strong tradition of individualism.  We speak admiringly of the “self-made man,” and at times seem to emulate a cult of the individual.  However, we did not make ourselves, and even the mind which thinks such thoughts originates and exists in a collective.  Recognition of and integration of that concept into our individual and collective psyches will have a profound influence on the human condition.

Photo Credit: Meaghan Farren Smith

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