Pic c/o Terranova
Great piece in last week’s NS about the swarm intelligence of bees, likening it to the operation of the brain (as we understand it now).
Thing that has become clear to me amid all the clamour of the recent debates around Duncan Watts’ stuff on Influencers and how behaviour spreads through populations is this: we connect intelligence with one unit of mental processing – one brain. We find it hard to understand how good (no, not always the absolute best but mostly good enough) solutions can be generated by more than one brain or indeed by lots of bodies and no brains.
We see intelligence almost entirely as a feature of individual agents: IQ tests are of one agent’s intellectual abilities; EQ of one agents emotional ones etc etc. When we ascribe intelligence to a group we tend to mean that all of the individuals who make up the group are intelligent, rather than meaning that collectively the group is intelligent. That’s why “swarm” or “group” intelligence seems so interesting: it breaks our rules of what intelligence is.
But have you noticed how we have to keep putting the individual back in: deep down we can’t believe in intelligence in any other mode. To make ourselves feel better we go back to our individual intelligence rule: some folk are smarter than others; some are less smart than these…so (deep breath) therefore the former must be doing something to the latter. Bingo! Influencer model!