It is a bit weird that it is much more easy to write things in the unstructured and undemanding link stream i e my Tumblr feed, than to write things here. I will try to change that…
For some time I have been thinking about the role of destruction in change processes. That lead me e g to reread Asimov’s Foundation, which I referred to some time ago in this blog.
One of the “natural laws” of civilizational collapse is that there seems to be a causal relation between a civilizational collapse and knowledge destruction. For example when Rome or the Mayan civilization fell, the whole people (which of course didn’t die off and disappear) rather quickly also lost much of their knowledge and skills. Everything from mathematical, engineering and astronomical knowledge to a long row of artistic skills and more advanced farming skills seems to have quickly deteriorated and disappeared as a direct consequence of the fall a common organization.
It is obvious that there is a causal explanation that knowledge destruction could lead to societal collapse, but I am not asking that. My question concern the opposite direction of that causal link: why knowledge destruction follows societal collapse.
Maybe it is obvious to you, but to me this is really a riddle. Why does this happen and what mechanisms are in play here? Why can’t e g a small group of people harbor key pieces of the knowledge and continue to develop it?
When watching a video of a recent and very interesting and insightful talk by Dr Anders Sandberg about Cloud Superintelligence, one possible piece of that puzzle suddenly fell into place. He showed in a clear way why many average people, connected to each other, can create extraordinary results even if there is quite a lot of noise in the system. He basically states that there is a direct relation between the number of individuals communicating to each other and collective group intelligence.
The purpose of his talk is to explain why the cloud is actually creating superintelligence, which we can see in e g wikipedia, but by going that path he also explains how and why communicating groups is achieving better results. And that there is a knee on the curve when the communicating groups are too small and don’t achieve the same level of result.
To me this suggests that the major, and perhaps only, important factor for explaining the loss of knowledge due to societal collapse is that larger groups of people is being scattered into many smaller communicating groups, which, just because they consists of a smaller number of communicating individuals, is losing a lot of their collaborative group intelligence. As a consequence they probably take much worse collaborative decisions when it e g comes to electing leaders, who to collaborate with or how to use the available resources in the best way.
Watch Anders’ talk for yourself and listen to his explanation:
Another consequence of this concerns, if it is true, not the past, but the future and not just that we are on our way to create a Collaborative Superintelligence: modern communication technology (read “the Internet”) might for the first time in history provide us with a capacity to, even if our societies are structurally collapsing, continue communication in sufficiently large groups, which in turn most likely will let us maintain our knowledge and collaborative IQ.
I e IF we succeed in protecting our global communication infrastructure from the defenders of national security (which most often mean their own position of power)…
If anyone is interested in the theories why civilizations fall I can recommend the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond and of course the important book about group intelligence: Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.