Ideas by Groups vs Individuals

There’s a class of ideas that I would describe as “systemically coherent”. I.e. Fully baked. These ideas reside within ecosystems of other ideas, composing a plausible comprehensive vision of a future state.Not easy to do this — you have to understand a lot of different domains: theory and operation, present position and velocity, historical trajectory (and you need to be able to read between the lines of history… which is always merely an interpretation through someone else’s mind’s eye). And there’s inevitably black swan type behaviors which looked like nothing pre-event but ultimately consumed the entire storyline. And everything follows some probabilistic model.

Some individuals have been able to grasp narrow slices of the future within the capacities of their minds. Nikola Tesla is an archetype — known for prototyping his inventions entirely in his mind, and only after many virtual simulations, building the final article which functioned just as he expected.

These individuals develop an extraordinarily accurate and coherent set of models for how things work. And I would guess they are all constrained via visual feedback systems. I.e. They visualize the thing they’re imagining, and inspect how it responds to various manipulations. The visual feedback is the only way to transfer the amount of information needed for this mind’s eye approach to work.

Narrowness must necessarily characterize the efforts of the individual idea-maker — time is a natural limiter to the task of cultivating each detail of the idea to its perfection.

Now groups…

Groups, of course, are composed of individuals, so multiple individuals working in parallel is a reasonable starting point for modeling groups.

There are, however, several interesting ways that humans interact that enhance that simple model:

1. People change how attention is directed. If somebody just comes and sits down in your office, doing nothing but sitting there — there’s still a change in your attention. Only by imposing a mental block on the knowledge of that person’s presence — either effortfully or automatically by way of habit — will that person’s effect on your attention be diminished. And if they’re not just sitting there but rather talking… about something interesting… or about you… that clearly increases the intensity of the effect on attention.

If we were to model attention as a vector field — like the magnetic field around a 2-pole bar magnet — the presence of another person is like another magnetic pole in that system. And the resultant vector field is dramatically warped — possibly even dominated by the new pole.

An ideal magnetic vector field can be achieved by adding or removing magnetic poles of different intensities… and you can imagine adding or removing people to optimize a human attention vector field. Different activities would require different attention vector fields, so the optimal configuration of people would be task-dependent.

E.g. If the task is to dig a ditch, it is critical to have a group. Without a group, the individual attention wanders to higher-order planes of thought. With a group, there is continuous feedback: “We are a group. We are all digging this ditch. I am part of the group. I dig my part of the ditch.”

Naturally, we would also need to consider the effects of sociopathies at the individual and group level… later.

2. The effect of people on individual attention can be designed toward many different ends. In the above ditch-digging example, a collection of minds might induce individual conformity and ease the boredom which would naturally plague an individual and diminish likelihood of task completion.

Another collection of minds might act as the sensors and actuators on a rocket, which keep it flying straight in the midst of turbulent airflow. I.e. Each individual relies on the capabilities of the other members of the group in order to focus on its own specialty. Another analogy: It is very difficult to climb up a flat wall — not so difficult to climb 2+ walls facing each other. 2+ minds facing each other can give birth to an idea none could have summoned individually.

3. The capabilities of the individuals in a group cannot be harvested without well-tuned interfaces between group members. The full package of communication includes the quality of mental models being externalized, the precision and concision of words and imagery used to represent those models, the emotional packages in which the words are ferried, the tonal modulation and gestures used to express those emotions, and the clarity of the audio/visual medium to express it all from transmitter to receiver.

4. Well-designed attention vector fields + interpersonal interfaces are then augmented or attenuated by environmental factors. E.g. Cluttered vs clean work spaces, High vs Low noise environments, etc. Individuals can more or less control their environments, but not so with groups, necessitating a careful design of rules. All systems of rules fail, but the better ones fail gracefully. I.e. There is no cascading fall-out from the failure — the system maintains a state of control.

5. The group is always changing, so the next design question addresses the dimension of time. How will the group change over time to ensure perpetuity of the work-in-process and the group’s defining vision and mission? There are many historical examples to initiate our model-building. Sculptures, monuments, and other public artworks have long been used as a medium for inducing remembrance. External memory stores preserve historical narratives. Naturally, those narratives get simplified and often deified over time, and that requires its own control system. However, the technique remains useful for perpetuating a vision through time. Oral re-telling or visual re-enactment of those stories presents a potentially more dynamic medium. The combination of static artifacts/monuments and dynamic re-tellings could serve to ensure ongoing critical re-evaluation of the vision and its historical legacy.

6. Humans bond. And those bonds perform work on the system. A mother protects her child at cost to herself (and possibly others). Families are incubators for the young. Communities work together to improve and sustain their joint living conditions. Under certain circumstances, strangers will form quick bonds and protect each other from harm — typically under high-stress, often in the pursuit of a high-emotion, shared goal. Even rivals will unite when necessary.

Plenty of biological explanations for the phenomenon, but there are more interesting questions… What is the capability signature of a bonded group and how is it distinct from an unbonded group? For now, we might just say a bonded group is *more* capable than an unbonded one. As a pop culture reference, the entire premise of the MCU blockbuster The Avengers was that an unbonded group could accomplish very little while a bonded group could do the seemingly impossible. And that bond was, in fact, orchestrated by the group’s architect, depicted making machiavellian use of the unfolding events.

Bootcamps and other physically-demanding environments are designed to produce, among other things, camaraderie. Abstracting from that example, we would surmise that human bonds form primarily by way of shared suffering.

Shared suffering in service to a shared cause is even better. Hence Race for the CureĀ® and other such inventions.

Interestingly, the positive affective feedback loop resulting from interpersonal bonding can lead to a misattribution of goodness to any event of shared suffering in service to a shared cause. Like warfare. War is hell, and yet many servicemembers miss it afterward. The bonds that form between warriors seem to transcend their hellish context.

On the civilian side of things, the premise of the reality show Survivor was televised, extended competition between teams. Shared cause was simple: beat the opposing team and win the prize. Corporate team-building exercises seek to reproduce the same effect on a limited scale.

The group designer must then consider, given particular constraints, how to induce bonding within the group.

More later…

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