At Edge.org, Thomas W. Malone explains that in order to have a smart group of people you need more than a bunch of smart individuals.
We thought that there might be such a factor, but that it would really just be essentially the intelligence of the individual people in the group. What we found was that the average and the maximum intelligence of the individual group members was correlated, but only moderately correlated, with the collective intelligence of the group as a whole.
If it’s not just putting a bunch of smart people in a group that makes the group smart, what is it? . . . . [T]hree factors . . . were significantly correlated with the collective intelligence of the group.
The first was the average social perceptiveness of the group members. We measured social perceptiveness in this case using a test developed essentially to measure autism. It’s called the “Reading the Mind and the Eyes Test”. It works by letting people look at pictures of other people’s eyes and try to guess what emotions those people are feeling. People who are good at that work well in groups. When you have a group with a bunch of people like that, the group as a whole is more intelligent.
The second factor we found was the evenness of conversational turn taking. In other words, groups where one person dominated the conversation were, on average, less intelligent than groups where the speaking was more evenly distributed among the different group members.
Finally, and most surprisingly to us, we found that the collective intelligence of the group was significantly correlated with the percentage of women in the group. More women were correlated with a more intelligent group. Interestingly, this last result is not just a diversity result. It’s not just saying that you need groups with some men and some women. It looks like that it’s a more or less linear trend. That is, more women are better all the way up to all women. It is also important to realize that this gender effect is largely statistically mediated by the social perceptiveness effect. In other words, it was known before we did our work that women on average scored higher on this measure of social perceptiveness than men.
. . . The most intelligent person is not the one who’s best at doing any specific task, but it’s the one who’s best at picking up new things quickly. That’s essentially the definition we used for defining intelligence at the level of groups as well. We said that a group is intelligent if it’s able to perform well on a wide range of different tasks. It was actually performance that we were looking at.
When I read Malone’s comment about the importance of social perceptiveness, I thought about many of the unproductive groups of which I’ve been a part. Quite often there are a couple people who dominate the talking, people who lack this perceptiveness. The result is that a lot of the quieter folks, many of them with heads full of ideas, never get a chance to talk.
Why is Malone focused on group intelligence?
[W]e want to understand how the world works, and in particular, how the world of groups of people and computers work together. How human societies and human networks work. Second, we want to help businesses, governments and other kinds of organizations know how to work better themselves. How can we create more intelligent organizations, more intelligent businesses, more intelligent governments, more intelligent societies? . . . [W]e are trying to understand how our whole world and society is evolving in a way that I think is making us more collectively intelligent.
Now I suspect that I’m about to over-extend Malone’s findings, but I do suspect that the national conversations we have are subject to these principles too. Two things that we sorely lack when “discussing” national issues as a nation are social perceptiveness and turn taking. What we actually have are a few loud-mouthed players, enabled by big money. They run roughshod over most of us, and they use their wealth to hog the national media. When this happens, it doesn’t matter that there are lots of smart people in this country, because they aren’t getting an opportunity to function as part of a group. As Amy Goodman often says, national conversations should occur at the equivalent of a big table, with all of us having a seat at the table. Throw in the relative lack of women’s voices in that conversation, and we are far from that ideal, for the reasons pointed out by Malone.
Okay, I confess, I did not watch the debate between Obama and Romney. In my opinion, it doesn’t count for much. I’ve been listening to both sides now since last spring and I’ve made my decision, so exactly what good would listening to the debate do me? Or for a committed Romney supporter, for that matter? None to speak of.
So, observation number one: I’ve never known anyone who changed their vote because of something in the debates. [More . . . ]
Fascinating story about parties crowded with somebodies thrown by an utterly dysfunctional couple, Albrecht Muth and Viola Drath. You’ll love this in the New York Times story if you are a forensic psychologist.
Muth, in other words, perfected the methodology for his social Ponzi scheme. For parties, he would start with bait. He theorized that Drath’s ties to Nebraska’s representatives in Washington — Senator Chuck Hagel, in particular — would bring in other politicians. Muth would also approach military officials attached to the embassies, who he knew were often lonely figures in town; he understood that their attendance would help him attract foreign-policy columnists. “The whole Western alliance was represented,” according to Roland Flamini, a former Time correspondent. In a 2010 e-mail to Drath, Muth explicitly detailed his approach: “You meet someone of import, check him out, determine [if] he can be of use, you make him yours. At some point you must decide whether to run him as a useful idiot, he not catching on as to who you are and what you do.”
Contrary to what so many of us want to believe, humans are not wired to act only as individuals; we are also wired to be intensely social. In his March 14, 2012 TED presentation, Jonathan Haidt characterized humans as half-bee. We aren’t completely socially integrated like bees–our social side clashes with our individualistic side. These two aspects of what it means to be human—our proud individualism and our craving to meld our selves with each other in large social groupings–often conflict with each other. As a result, human “hives” (the many types of human social groupings) don’t run as smoothly as the hives of true bees. Haidt argues that the scientific study of this inner-conflict offers us powerful insights into such things as religion, existential angst and warmongering.
Haidt began his 18-minute talk by asking for a show of hands. How many people in the audience consider themselves to be “religious?” Only a few raised their hands, yet a strong majority of the audience members declared themselves to be “spiritual.” Why is it that that so many people who don’t consider themselves to be religious do consider themselves to be spiritual?
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I considered writing something about the recent primaries in Michigan and Arizona, in advance of Super Tuesday, but things have become so mind-numbingly bizarre I’m not sure I’d have anything relevant to say, at least not about this particular election cycle. As a personal observation, I’d like to say that any of the Republican candidates [...]
At the end of a social event on the weekend before Mardi Gras, a casual friend asked a surprising question. I was bedecked with beads, primarily in purple and gold. This Catholic friend comes up and says something like, “Why are you all dressed up for the Christian holiday? Don’t you believe that anyone who believes in God is stupid?”
Dumbfounded. It took me a moment to parse this and compose a reply. As we were all heading out the door, I didn’t have time to fully answer all the implied misconceptions. So I said something on the order of, “I don’t think that; I know many smart people who are faithful.”
Let me first detail a minor misconception. Sociologically, rituals are important. Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday, also Shrove Tuesday) was adopted by Christians from the earlier Carnival, and Saturnalia before that. It is a long standing late winter festival ending the season of harvest plenty in the days when food preservation was limited, and entering the lean period of rationing until the spring produce appeared (greens, lambs, milk, etc). And festivities are fun, whatever the nominal purpose. The Holy Roman church had so successfully rebranded all the pagan festivals that most Christians are unaware of the deeper not-Jesus purpose behind them, even as they embrace all the pre-Christian trappings.
But the big issue is the perception that I, an an atheist, think that Christians (the majority faith at present time and place) are stupid. Many converted Atheists do vehemently decry their former faith and deride its practitioners, as do Dawkins and Hitchens. My parents converted from religious to irreligious, and so I was raised without a particular god and with their lower expectations of people of faith. But that didn’t stick.
I grew up as a closeted atheist. On Sunday mornings I was dragged to a secular Sunday School where I had to wear jacket and tie from the age of 5. It didn’t fool my church going peers. I opted for the less hated liberal-Jew label that try to explain that all invisible friends seemed equally improbable to me. I endured various epithets in public schools hurled at non-Christians by the God fearing. But as I grew older and my peers become more reasonable, I started talking to them about such things.
I was actually less surprised to find people of deep faith at my fairly-high-standards college than I was to find sports fans. One of my closest college friends was a Young Earth, Born Again sort. I admit that I would sometimes light his fuse in a room full of geology or astronomy types, just to see to what heights his rationalizations could wax. (Anyone else visualizing Ceiling wax?)
I have also been reading arguments from both sides of the God conjecture since puberty. The problem is not whether one side is smarter, but which is the set of assumptions on which their sense of reality rests. Either cause and effect are real and the universe is knowable through a continuing and contentious process of observation, documentation, and modeling (science), or else the continually meddling god of Christianity is possible, as was declared by ancient authority. The majority of the American founders were Deists who believed that if there was a creator God, he did not meddle in the day-to-day affairs of men. I can accept that God, but still don’t believe in it. Cosmologists and astronomers are pushing his creative acts farther and farther to the margins.
So although I acknowledge the high correlation between less-learned people and deep faith, I do not assume that having faith implies that people are stupid.
I wonder sometimes how a modern conservative maintains.
Romney has won the New Hampshire primary. All the buzz now is how he’s going to have a much tougher fight in South Carolina, primarily because of the religious and social conservatives who will see him as “not conservative enough.” There is a consortium of social conservatives meeting this week in Texas to discuss ways to stop him, to elevate someone more to their liking to the nomination. And right there I have to wonder at what it means anymore to be a conservative.
I grew up, probably as many people my age did, thinking of conservatism as essentially penurious and a bit militaristic. Stodgy, stuffy, proper. But mainly pennypinching. A tendency to not do something rather than go forward with something that might not be a sure thing.
I suppose some of the social aspect was there, too, but in politics that didn’t seem important. I came of age with an idea of fiscal conservatism as the primary trait.
That doesn’t square with the recent past. The current GOP—say since Ronny Reagan came to power—has been anything but fiscally conservative, although what they have spent money on has lent them an aura of responsible, hardnosed governance. Mainly the military, but also subsidies for businesses. But something has distorted them since 1981 and has turned them into bigger government spenders than the Democrats ever were. (This is not open to dispute, at least not when broken down by administrations. Republican presidents have overseen massive increases in the deficit as opposed to Democratic administrations that have as often overseen sizable decreases in the deficit, even to the point of balancing the federal budget. You may interpret or spin this any way you like, but voting trends seem to support that the choices Republican presidents have made in this regard have been supported by Republican congressmen even after said presidents have left office.)
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