The Limits of Crowds

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I really don’t like anonymity in a wiki format. It’s an immature thrill, it’s like being a [graffiti] tagger instead of a real artist, where you get to go do something that affects collective experience but you don’t really have to take responsibility. We have to make sure digital culture encourages responsible mature individuals as well as collective market judgments. I think blogs do, Wikipedias don’t.

Jaron Lanier

The reason why Wikipedia works is, in fact, that it’s not a hive mind, it’s not everybody saying the same thing, it’s not Maoism… it’s exactly the opposite. It’s a group of individuals who are having an extended conversation in which they are trying to get past themselves so they can get to something they agree on and write it down. This is exactly what a hive mind is not.

David Weinberger

A few weeks ago, computer scientist and future-thinker Jaron Lanier wrote an essay called Digital Maosim about the dangers of a “new online collectivism.” If it wasn’t quite, in the words of Edge.org impresario John Brockman (for whom he’d written the essay), as if he’d “thrown a lit Molotov cocktail down towards Palo Alto from up in the Berkeley Hills,” it was pretty close:

The problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it’s been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it’s now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

Jaron Lanier, Digital Maosim

The essay has been batted around all over the blogosphere — and some of the batters have actually read it. Most people have focused on Lanier’s critique of Wikipedia, which is interesting and nuanced, but his argument is more far-ranging. Nearly every aspect of society — academia, business, pop culture, etc. — is endangered by the “fallacy of the infallible collective.” He moves from American Idol and “consensus web filters” to consulting companies and the culture of liability phobia, but his central thesis is clear: we’ve begun to trust, privilege, and rely on the wisdom of the collective over the wisdom of the individual… and the collective isn’t always wise.

What do you seek from the collective? What do you find there? When is the indivdual voice — yours or someone else’s — the only one that matters? And — here’s the rub — when is a collection of individual voices not a collective?

Jaron Lanier

Computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author at JaronLanier.com

Author, Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism, edge.org, 5/30/06

James Surowiecki

Author, The Wisdom of Crowds

Writer, Financial Page, The New Yorker

Ze Frank

Performance artist and comedian

zefrank.com

David Weinberger

Blogger, Joho the Blog

Co-author, The Cluetrain Manifesto

Author, Small Pieces, Loosely Joined

Chris’s 2003 Interview with David Weinberger


Comments

48 thoughts on “The Limits of Crowds

  1. found this on Wikipedia -Monty Python’s Life Of Brian-

    The movie’s critical moment seems to be when Brian speaks to a large crowd of his followers:

    Brian: ‘Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t NEED to follow ME, you don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re ALL individuals!’

    The Crowd: ‘Yes! We’re all individuals!’

    Brian: ‘You’re all different!’

    The Crowd: ‘Yes, we ARE all different!’

    Man in crowd: ‘I’m not…’

    The Crowd: ‘Shhh!’

  2. chilton1 — good quote! One of the classic movie moments of all time.

    I thought the essay was an ironic joke. Lanier’s beginning gripe is about Wikipedia identifying him as a “film director”– which, at the end of the piece is how the Edge editors label him as well.

    What, no hyperlinks? Lanier writes: “The New York Times, of all places, has recently published op-ed pieces supporting the pseudo-idea of intelligent design.” Really? I’ve searched the Opinion pages over the last year. Around a dozen mentioned intelligent design. None even came close to supporting it.

    Now, the crux of the essay is this: Lanier is reacting to a cyberspace of wikipedia and blogging– which are still lightyears away from his pioneering work in VR– and he figures it’s more original to play the skeptic. So he just unloads.

    As to our topic, Lanier takes shots at the “Wisdom of Crowds”– the concept of it, at least. There’s a fine book of that name by James Surowiecki, and it’s clear that Lanier never read it, just scoffed the cover. Lanier gamely points out that crowds are stupid when they act in behaviors that produce manias and bubbles– but had he got as far as Chapter 3 in Surowiecki’s book, he’d been introduced the preferred mathematical term of “cascades” and some of the academic research ongoing in the field.

    I had a similar flash of skepticism while researching my series The New Gatekeepers a year ago. Crowds troubled me as well– not the equivocating effects of Wikipedia, but the maddening rushes of the new “blogswarms” and their ability to drive news. I scratched out a few sentences on crowds until I realized I’d be a bad hack unless I cracked open Surowiecki’s book. The lesson I drew in Part 5 was how many blog boosters skipped the chapter on cascades as well. And I didn’t just pull that conclusion from the air. I checked all of the blog posts reflecting on not just Surowiecki’s talk at a tech conference, but on his book as well.

    I guess this whole episode reflects how little progress we’ve made. In a world of blog posts of a few hundred words, somebody posts a 5,000-word screed that provides little in the way of original research (and zero hyperlinks) and it becomes a conversation topic.

    And that’s the shame of crowds.

  3. Forums for open exchange can generate surprisingly effective and creative solutions. But ironically, the forums are not so much a collective solution (something that arises like magic from a group process) but just a good way to let individuals contribute the best ideas they have. Such forums can streamline participation so that individuals can quickly come up with ideas.

    But the collective doesn’t always recognize the value of what the individuals have come up with. Some projects are coming up with the notion that a combination of open forums and hand-picked experts may work best. Look at the Community Patent project, for instance (http://dotank.nyls.edu/communitypatent/). It began with a pretty idealistic design, come-one-come-all. Now it collects ideas from all comers, but narrows the process down to a few experts after the ideas have been collected.

  4. “we’ve begun to trust, privilege, and rely on the wisdom of the collective over the wisdom of the individual… and the collective isn’t always wise.”

    Individuals aren’t always wise either.

    Jaron Lanier says at the beginning of his article, “The hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring.� I guess he has never played music in a band where the collective groove equals more than the sum of the parts. He must have never played soccer either.

    I’ve worked with activist groups using consensus process. It can be a very cumbersome mode of group decision-making and does not work with every group. Yet, the beauty of consensus decision-making when it does work is that every individual in the group has a voice in the process. Whether a group decision is any more likely to be misguided than a lone individual’s decision I won’t venture to guess as all are prone to human frailty but in group consensus runaway ego’s are kept in check and responsibility for decisions made is shared. When the group does move forward after coming to consensus it does so with greater unity and commitment than if orders have been handed down from on high.

    One of the modern French philosophers, I think it was Deleuze, wrote about the Rhizome phenomena that allows for a non-hierarchical rising of ideas and actions from multiple points of origin. I believe he saw the 1968 Paris uprising in these terms. It is a horizontal rather than vertical structure of movement. I think a free and open internet relates to this model.

    I haven’t heard anything about Howard Rheingold for years but he might be an interesting guest for this show.

  5. Lanier seems to assume that an information source should be somehow wise and infallible. But why should it? I can’t imagine going to a source like Wikipedia for anything really important without cross-checking against other sources. I thought that my stance came out of my postmodern constructivist worldview. But my wife teaches composition at the local University, and she says that Wikipedia is not acceptable as a citation in graded coursework.

    Thanks, chilton1, for pointing out Lanier’s byline weirdness. I was beginning to think that he was being intentionally ironic and that I was simply not cool enough to know that.

  6. Cave– methinks it was I who pointed out the byline oddity. Wikipedia may not be acceptable as a citation in academia, but a California has had no qualms about that.

    peggysue– you are onto something in that there are different types of group dynamics. Soccer is different than a band, and both are different from Wikipedia. Lanier’s essay wends through five thousand words without even giving a nod to any serviceable work in the area. I’m just surprised so many of the digerati troubled themselves to respond to it.

    Also, FYI, I met up with Howard Rheingold when he was in town the other week. And he is working on a wiki-based– oops, collaboratively edited– curriculum.

  7. peggysue & JonG – is it possible that groups become less wise – falling to the lowest common denominator when they get over a certain size? I don’t know if the Dunbar research can help think about this or not:

    http://www.lifewithalacrity.com/2004/03/the_dunbar_numb.html

    In his research the ideal human group is approximately 150. But it is lower if the group is not physically close.

    Now, he’s talking about groups functioning well and maintaining cohesion. I don’t know how this translates to effecting ‘wisdom’.

    I think most people repress their individual thinking when in a large crowd. People are often afraid to voice a dissenting view when they feel singular within a mass. Certainly, there is a reason for the term “mob mentality.”On a business scale, you can see people getting to know one another and operating in a flat decision-making model. Though, I still think it requires good ‘leadership’, it’s simply a different kind. The leader(s) don’t make unilateral decisions, but ensure that people are respected and safe. They have to be vigilant about that to prevent behind the scenes jockeying and peer pressure from upending the truly democratic process. And this takes a lot of work in the form of relationship processing. (And, if the business has investors, ultimately, there is a point of accountability that cannot be given to the entire employee group.)

    How does all this relate to an internet society? I’m not sure. Individuals are posting in mostly individual environments. Groups are virtual. And I don’t know how much effort is expended in processing the nature of the group versus the ‘work’ of the group. Certainly, the content on the internet is woven more and more into our social fabric. I’m not sure if the fibers are polyester or silk, though. No doubt some of each. You can only know by putting it to the ‘burn test’, I suppose.

  8. Allison, “is it possible that groups become less wise”

    Remember Beatlemania? I didn’t go to concerts when I was a kid so I didn’t get to experience it but I had girlfriends who did. I was equal parts horrified and jealous that I didn’t get to totally lose it in emotional hysteria over the fab four. I think in this case of mob mentality if there was any wisdom to it, it was the wisdom of the entire body of the population finding an emotional outlet through the hysteria of young teenage girls. Lynch mobs then would be the darker side of this sort of mass hysteria. In both cases these are purely emotional responses to societal problems.

    But, I would say from my own experience that a group going through a formal consensus process (as opposed to a Beatlmania free for all) is as a whole wiser than the separate individuals involved. The group sees from more perspectives. The process becomes more difficult in a larger group and requires a skillful facilitator. But this is a formal learned process. Going back to the Rhizome idea of interconnected ideas and actions rising from multiple points simultaneously, I think this model fits best with the Internet. I think it illustrates the phenomena of an idea whose time has come. Maybe it relates to the hundredth monkey idea. Evolutionary wisdom?

    I confess I looked over Lanier’s essay very quickly. His use of the words “stupid and boring� in his introduction set a tone I knew I didn’t want to spend much time with and in my opinion deserve an equally childish response like “neener neener that’s what you are�.

    Jon: glad to know Howard Rheingold is still around.

  9. Andy Oram wrote:

    “But the collective doesn’t always recognize the value of what the individuals have come up with.�

    I worked in a collective where this happened much too commonly. The collective sometimes improved its industriousness when meeting with and listening to advice…

    A.O.: “Some projects are coming up with the notion that a combination of open forums and hand-picked experts may work best.�

    …but too often in our collective, the advice was resented. The collective was proud of itself and resentful of ‘experts’, or anyone who claimed to have sure-fire solutions to the problems we faced in working as a collective in a cut-throat capitalist industry. If enough members of the collective muttered their resentment articulately, the advice was ignored and the collective’s chance to improve its industriousness failed.

    How this applies to tonight’s topic: those of a collective who articulate best will garner the most adherents, especially if they have communication skills that gratify rather than abrade.

    How this doesn’t apply: internet collectives, which this show seems to be most concerned with, miss all the crucial input from body language, mood, and murmurs of approval and dissent that collectives meeting in real life rooms reply upon to develop a sense of consensus.

    Virtual collectives and real-life collectives share certain features and are vulnerable to many of the same failings, but differ substantially too.

  10. Allison wrote: “is it possible that groups become less wise – falling to the lowest common denominator when they get over a certain size?â€?

    My experience suggests both yes and no. When our collective was lean and mean, we listened to one another carefully because we respected one another’s work ethics and experiences. After core members of that tight group left for other work, we had to hire in more and less experienced co-workers. Our success in imparting the best of the collective’s historical work ethic depended largely on our success at perceiving the new problems as they developed, articulating our recognition, and then articulating a solution amenable to all.

    When we failed in this, the ‘lowest common denominator’ prevailed. Eventually, this LCD failing led to the closing of our business.

    But again: internet collectivities differ. Online writers have no way to augment their words with in-person charisma, as live speakers do.

    The question I’m wondering is whether this inability to apply normal human charms is a failing—or is it a great equalizer that deserves praise?

    Does it allow the collectivity to recognize the wisdom of those less blessed in looks and in their ‘live’ personalities?

  11. We’ve been educated to take information at face value, as long as it comes with a stamp of authority. But this is not how one ought to read Wikipedia (or anything for that matter). Sure, if you’re just coming for the quick fact or gloss, you might treat it like a conventional reference work, but to really read Wikipedia is to read an article in the context of its discussion and revision history, both of which are available in tabs above each article. Any critically engaged person knows that “truth” is an ongoing negotiation, and Wikipedia’s structure acknowledges this, and it lures you into the process.

    Wikipedia may not be an acceptable source for a student research paper (is any encyclopedia?), but this is not even the question. It’s the research you do in writing and editing Wikipedia that counts. Building Wikipedia is itself a kind of education, both in the subject at hand and in civil discourse. I’m waiting for teachers to realize that they can use Wikipedia, or something like it, to show students what it means to create knowledge, and to tie their research to a purpose: the creation and maintenance of a public page. In a way, we might never know how to read Wikipedia unless we’re also taking part in its construction. This is a new education of crowds: the education of the many by the many.

    We’ll be in trouble if we someday come to think of Wikipedia in the same way that we think of Britannica: as not needing to be questioned. It’s good that Wikipedia makes us wary. It keeps us on our toes, asking us to dig deeper. That makes us better readers.

    Best,

    Ben Vershbow

    The Institute for the Future of the Book (futureofthebook.org)

  12. Voila, and the guest list goes up. I’m bailing. I’d been trying to get another fellow on the program for a couple of months now, a scholar who’s been spending the last several years working on books related to social dynamics. Lanier writes a 5,000-word missive because somebody on Wikipedia called him a “film director” and that’s tonight’s topic. harumph.

    Do let me know that Lanier read Surowiecki’s book past the cover.

    (sorry I didn’t post it openly on “suggest a show” and just sent private messages to the staff. I’ll reconsider next time)

  13. I am having a problem with this discussion thus far.

    If crowds are wiser than individuals than the voice of the crowd will eventually overide the voice of individual authority.

    Personally, I like to see crowds and individuals poised in a dialectical relation with each challenging the other and offering us a sort of synthesis.

  14. Not that anyone’s asked me to apologize… I thought I’d just show some emotion for a change. And I don’t want to discourage anyone else from listening. There should be some good fireworks. It is an important topic.

  15. Correction:

    I am having a problem with this discussion thus far.

    If crowds are wiser than individuals than the voice of the crowd will eventually overide the voice of individual authority.

    Personally, I see crowds and individuals poised in a dialectical relation with each challenging the other and offering us a sort of synthesis.

  16. On the show there was a mention of following the keywords on blogs to see what is relevant. An interesting article on this topic from 23 June is *Blogosphere’s skew leaves web-watchers Flickr-faced*

    A key point from the article: Flickr gets lots of publicity, but Photobucket is is serving a much larger set of pictures. The blogs don’t always talk about what Internet users are really using.

  17. I really don’t see a black/white conflict here as far as the crowd versus individual issue. They (as poles) have always both conflicted and worked together, along with all the intermediaries along the spectrum. (agreeing with scribe5 there…)

    And, to comment on the esteemed guest, he seems to be joining in the “beat up Wikipedia” bandwagon without being well informed, and while “inventing” people’s so called response to it.

    Most writing on WP *is* signed, every change to a page is archived, and most of the people signing have user pages saying who they are.

    And I certainly wonder where this idea comes from that because the article itself has no “by line,” people take it as if Moses himself brought it down the mountainside.

  18. I see a distinction between the wisdom of the group and of the crowd. Good examples above about the former — decision-making, panels, open-source software.

    But the wisdom of the crowd only provides something “good enough”. I was struck by the comment on the show about the Silicon executive who thinks music will soon by synthesized by the collective. It might, but it will never be great music, just good enough for most folks, in the same way that the judgement of American Idol provides pop music that is good enough for most. If the “good enough” is the best we know, will we ever be able to do better?

    And isn’t that odd that a small jazz group can create genius, but 20 million voters can’t do any better than average?

  19. What about the collective stupidity of crowds?

    78% of the population supported the invasion of Iraq. In a recent poll of 1000 Americans exactly ONE PERSON could identify all 5 rights granted under the First Amendment, but 24% could identify all 5 Simpson family members. We have a huge federal budget deficit because Americans want all sorts of government services but they don’t want to pay the taxes to fund them. The vast majority have abysmally poor knowledge of geography, history, science, etc, and this is reflected in public policy. I could go on, but you get my point, I hope, that the collective seems a lot DUMBER than an intelligent, educated, thoughtful individual.

  20. Blogs, while democratic, seem to be mostly exercises in self-absorption. Why should I care what someone had for breakfast, or what their current iPod playlist is? As a music lover, I might care if I know the person is a respected music critic, or one of my favorite performers. But I would turn to other vetted sources first before some unknown entity. The huge amount of personal blogs lessens the impact of both the individual author, and the genre itself.

    On the other hand, Wikipedia seems to be more authoritative, whether it’s written by an anonymous collective or not. It may not be Britannica, but it is centralized and self-monitoring. The reader is aware when a posting is in question because it is clearly marked.

  21. Guttersnipe Alley was a good example of the depths a mob can sink too. One of the regulars even stooped to using the f-word.

  22. The conversation was a laugh.

    Four guys talking about crowds. (All males) Is the wisdom of crowds male or female? Is it old or young? Does it include the blind and the deaf or is only for the all seeing all hearing know it alls?

    Finally, I missed the crowd, such as it is, in this discussion. No phone calls from the great unwashed and no email communication.

  23. btw: if the crowd had voted on WW2 my guess is that we would all be speaking Deutch right now those who might have made it past the genetic censor.

  24. As you walk through an art museum, you realize how many of the wonderful things that you are looking at are the products of collectives.

    Chinese Ceramics of Song Dynasty, 960-1279 ( for example) were produced in collectives.These were areas of production and the wares were so named ( Cizou, Ru, Guan etc).. Anonymous individuals, groups, each perfected their art, an art handed down to them, in preparing the clay, wheel-throwing or moulding, making and applying glaze and finally the long arduous process of firing. Making a pot was a communal effort. There was no other way to achieve such wares. The beautiful wares, their forms, their glazes, that you see in our museums today are the products of a collective and are anonymous.

    So the community, the collective, stood on the shoulders of the achievements of those who innovated before them. They were also guided by the various and varying tastes of the court and the needs of society.

    http://www.asiasocietymuseum.org/region_results.asp?RegionID=4&CountryID=12&ChapterID=28

  25. On the other hand maybe my example above does not apply… as I describe what would be called here a “small group of experts”.

  26. ” Anonymous individuals, groups,…”

    Anonymous individuals are not the same as groups or collectives.

    Even in collectives it is individuals who are the real producers.

    Groups don’t think, it’s only the conceit of individuals that attributes a mind to crowds.

    Crowds have no existential reality.

  27. Another point:

    how anyone who can quote Emerson, that philosopher of anti-crowd, can extol the “wisdom” of crowds is beyond me.

  28. Yo, Scribe5. You didn’t do your homework. Check out the opening of Emerson’s essay on “History.” As in: “There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has be-fallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.”

    As I added in the homework you apparently didn’t master: “When [Emerson] speaks of “access to this universal mind,” he could be describing the leveling effect of Google search engines. He encompasses the idea of distributed intelligence, and the ideal of networked computers as a democracy of end-users.”

  29. Scribe5 writes:

    btw: if the crowd had voted on WW2 my guess is that we would all be speaking Deutch right now those who might have made it past the genetic censor.

    White House Spokesman Tony Snow mirrored these sentiments in a press conference last week, when he said, “If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, ‘Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?’”

    The Washington Post, Andrew Sullivan and Joshua Micah Marshall, as well as many other bloggers, followed a discussion of polling data conducted during World War II. The poll asked, “If Hitler offered to make peace now and would give up all land he has conquered, should we try to work out a peace or should we go on fighting until the German army is completely defeated?” 73 percent of respondents said that the U.S. should refuse peace.

    For further reading, consult these links: the Post article, by Al Kamen; the TPM post; the Daily Dish post; and the Mystery Pollster post.

  30. “Yo, Scribe5. You didn’t do your homework. Check out the opening of Emerson’s essay on “History.â€? As in: “Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has be-fallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.â€?

    Yes, Chris, he says the same thing in his essay “On nature.” He also says thought that

    ” There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.”

    The “one mind” open to all individuals is but potential. It is something not given to all individuals but only to those those who can rise above the mass of men.

    At the very least Emerson distinguishes between the crowd and “the poet.”

    Moreover to make his point Emerson goes on the speak of those who seek for what “is common to all …men” he uses the first person singular and not the voice of the crowd.

    “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.”

    It is the singular man (or woman) of which he speaks and not of the mass of men.

    Finally even in your example Emerson says:

    “There is one mind common to all individual men.” The focus is still on indivdual men and not on the collectivity.

    As to your point that:

    “As I added in the homework you apparently didn’t master: “When [Emerson] speaks of “access to this universal mind,â€? he could be describing the leveling effect of Google search engines. He encompasses the idea of distributed intelligence, and the ideal of networked computers as a democracy of end-users.â€?”

    I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    Emerson would be horrified at the idea that a engine of factoids could somehow elighten humanity.

    Besides, the notion of “distributive intelligence” only has meaning in a quantitative sense and not in a qualitative one.

    The crowd can predict what is put before it, it can select from what is given it . Though it cannot place before itself those options from which it must select. It can play the stock market but it can’t build a stock exchange ,or a business for that matter. To do that you need the rational mind of the individual.

  31. Henry Says:

    “White House Spokesman Tony Snow mirrored these sentiments in a press conference last week, when he said, “If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, ‘Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?’â€?”

    Henry, I purposefully didn’t speak of people’s attitudes after we got into WW2.

    As is usual with this White House they missed the point.

    What is at stake is what would we have done had The Japanese not bombed Pearl Harbour and had Hitler not declared war on the US in 1941.

    Remember that we didn’t declare war on Germany, they declared war on us.

    Most Americans in 1940 and in 1941 were dead set against our entering the war in Europe. Most war talk was blames on a “Jewish” lobby, or to use the language of the day a “Jewish conspiracy.”

  32. Chris,

    Emerson’s contemplation of the distribution of ideas and information is very much like the Jungian super-conscious. It also ties into the “100th Monkey” observation.

    I think we have here two or three different conversations about crowds and mass intelligence. One is about mobs. How people behave when a great number of them come together physically. (And, perhaps, virtually.)

    The second is about the decision making and discernment. How many people can be involved in a decision-making or creative process and still increase the quality of these activities.

    The third is about information sharing. Tonight’s show seems to be more about that. Is the presence of the internet increasing information sharing? I think we can safely say, yes. But is it improving the quality of the information that is shared? Hmmm…. There is a lot of spurious and questionable content. But I’m not sure if its really any worse than the word of mouth that has gone on since the beginning of time.

  33. My pipeline into the universal:

    I think you can read Emerson either way.

    Emerson: “It is the universal nature which gives worth to particular men and things”

    Which is Emerson emphasizing?

    The crowd can, but does not necessarily, rise to attain/embody that universal nature, nor does the individual though each have that potential thus:

    Emerson: he that is once admitted to the right of reason is made freeman of the whole estate

    and “what Plato has thought, he may think� (my bold and in other words not necessarily)

    “If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience..�

    But he also says you can explain man by all of history.

    Laniers’ essay had some good points but what it did best was inspire ( can crowds so inspire?) to make way for some good thinking on this including all the interesting responses on Edge.org. ( linked at the end).

    Allison- I also saw the similarity between Jung and Emerson on this point. I believe you mean the “collective unconscious� which also contains archetypes that exist before experience.

  34. If ONLY we had a better science of human behavior. I’ve often lamented the fact that, while chemistry, physics, and cell biology have made enormous strides in the last 50 years, the social sciences – sociology, psychology, economics, etc, are not demonstrably much more knowledgable than they were 50 years ago.

    BECAUSE – what would really move this discussion along would be a rigorous understanding of what SORTS of things crowds are good at. It’s clear that crowds are good at guessing the weight of large animals. It’s also clear that they have a remarkable capacity to get some things dramatically wrong – War in Iraq, Dot-Com bubble, Japanese real estate bubble, etc. But right now we have no way to predict WHICH things to trust the crowd about.

  35. plnelson Says:

    “If ONLY we had a better science of human behavior. …. It’s also clear that they have a remarkable capacity to get some things dramatically wrong – War in Iraq, Dot-Com bubble, Japanese real estate bubble, etc. But right now we have no way to predict WHICH things to trust the crowd about.”

    I don’t know plnelson – maybe these are examples where individuals or smaller groups (with agendas) manipulated large crowds. The Market is manipulated by interest groups as the occupation of Iraq certainly was…

    If the crowd was left to decide without false guidance -it is hard to imagine that the Iraq war would have occurred.

    A follow up show / discussion –

    The manipulation of crowds

    …..from ringleaders in football hooliganism to the WMD and other fear-mongering and greed-satisfying tactics of would-be crowd manipulators (such as that wielded by religious leaders of all sorts).

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