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Wisdom, tyranny and stupidity

September 8, 2006

Thanks to Sarah Jones via John Mallony for this article which has some great examples and research references one of which I quote below

Bernard Nijstad, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, explains that if you take a group of 12 people and have half brainstorm together on a topic while the other six go it alone, all 12 will usually agree that the group experience was more productive–even though those working alone almost always end up with more good ideas.

It reminded me of my earlier blog on the issue of debate and dialogue and also several concerns about the status of truth on the Wikipedia. Surowiecki on large group decision making also comes into play here.

I think this brings to the fore a key principle of Cognitive Edge, namely that of bounded applicability and also a dual theme to which I constantly return in my own writings namely the criticality of context and the false promise of universal recipes. The evangelical promotion of knowledge, world cafes etc privileges consensus over knowledge if taken to excess. Surowiecki in one of the better popular science books properly describes the conditions under which a crowd can be wise which involves the participants being unaware of the overall subject, but dealing with aspects of the problem. We use ritual dissent in specific contexts to improve sense-making. I use the Wikipedia a lot, but I don’t and will never fully trust it, neither do I think it should replace books and refereed journals. Mass validation of truth has generally been exploited by tyrants in the past and a tyranny can be collective as well as individual.

A near messianic adoption of a single approach is a sin: often of commission, frequently of omission. Both as students of Dogma will know are equal in nature. So stand up and be counted!

PS: I have been absent from the blogosphere for most of this week for which my apologies. My mind has been elsewhere with the scattering of my parents ashes which aside from the emotional aspects also involved two six hour drives in the same day and a consequent degree of exhaustion. I will blog on that event early next week when I get get my mind around what I want to say.

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