This is another post about an intervention of M.Pagel, this time on Edge. The guy sums up a great deal of ideas I always saw as obvious and adds interesting insights about the nature of intelligence that fit nicely with my view of the world. I do share many of his views.
Are we more stupid now than in the past?
Well, he admits that stupidity has always been around (copiers always existed) but the very fact that people were isolated from each other (i.e., no media/routes/planes to connect them) they were basically living in small groups. if you have 100 small bands of 10 individuals, you’ll need at least one creative (innovator) mind per band (he argues for more than one, as the number of creative minds per band is inversely proportional to the number of individuals, at least before any equilibrium is reached) so that you end up with (at least) 100 creative people (or 10%) but if you have a huge group of 100×10 individuals you might well do with only 1 creative mind (or 0.01%). Larger groups favor copiers and this is why there’s more stupidity now than in the past; there are less small groups and more big ones.
We can see this phenomenon in technology for instance. How many laptop companies are there? and which ones innovate? Basically everything from design to new trends and concepts is done by a bunch of companies in the world, the rest are blindly copying! I’m pretty sure that If we isolate all the companies from each other, they would come up with much more new designs, ideas and concepts. It is insightful to think that the larger the group the less diverse it becomes, we have never been in a group as large as the one we are in right now.. yet, we have very few choices. In the whole internet, google is almost the only search engine we use, wikipedia the only encyclopedia, facebook for social media, etc.
Another point he didn’t comment (maybe it’s in the book) and which I think is very important in this kind of dynamics is: group theory !
No no.. I’m not talking about that fascinating branch of mathematematics. I’m thinking of this hidden (and deeply stupid) force that exists in large groups and tends to minimize the amount of differences between individuals, I used to call it ‘the stupidity potential well’, after I had my first course on Schrödinger potential wells because it is very similar to it. People in groups do not want you to be different, to think different, or to innovate. There’s a mediocrity well that pulls you down. That’s why people who want to create usually have to exile themselves (geographically or internally) to get rid of this paralyzing effect.
How many innovators do you know ?
in the sense of people who have their own ideas as independent as it can be from the background? I know very few people like this and surprisingly not necessarily physicists or scientists (there’s a lot of copying and stupidity in modern physics due to demographic factors). Most people will just comment on the same piece of news, have the same ‘mood of the time’, the same kind of reflex that are imposed at certain times, etc. It’s boring and irritating but this does a great job to keep society going.
Finally, some food for thought: at the heart of creativity lies knowledge, which is based on language. Can we ever be original when we use a language that has a finite set of words and fixed rules ?