Monday, January 02, 2006

The compromise of collective intelligence?

It is interesting to look at the contemporary life extension and collaborative intelligence chatter through the example of octospider species as described by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee in Rama Revealed (1995, the third book in the Rama trilogy).

The octospiders, a more advanced species than humans, ingest a substance to prevent the onset of puberty. This stifles aggression, sexual desire and ambition and triggers an orderly society working effectively toward common goals. Another result is that lifespans are doubled.

Stifled aggression and a neutralized sex drive (e.g.; auto-controlled emotion) sound potentially helpful, but is anything lost in the stifling of ambition? To gauge a loss from stifling the positive aspects of ambition (e.g.; motivation), it would be necessary to know the meta-goal or primary motivator of the octospiders (e.g.; the surrogate to happiness as the general highest goal of humans), but this is not made clear.

Three of the most interesting issues pointed up by the octospiders example are:

1. What is the role and value of the individual? What is the value of individual intelligence? Studies show that a group of people pooling their efforts towards a goal does better than any one individual. But individual intelligences seem to be a pre-condition for the collective intelligence. With the advent of collective intelligence, does individual intelligence become less strived for and less important? A spark of creativity seems to be a unique and paramount quality of the human individual which should be preserved and extended no matter what the form of future intelligence.

2. The usual debate concerning the role of emotions and drives in intelligence; e.g.; can intelligence occur without emotions and sensory drives (narrowly, is intelligence possible in a non-human substrate?) At first blush and non-anthropomorphically, the answer is probably yes. At the broader level, the question would be what do emotion and drive provide to intelligence and the answer is feedback and maybe something else; the next question is how else could that feedback or other quality be provided by a non-emotion mechanism.

3. Is sacrifice necessary for collective intelligence? The naive promise of collective intelligence is that it is more not trade-offs (like the privacy security continuum). The octospiders example frames collective intelligence as a trade-off between individual expression and peaceful collectively engaged existence. Since the octospiders' meta-goal is not clear, collective intelligence may be a compromise for that species. For the human species, with its current premium on individuality (even in non-Western cultures), any form of collective intelligence which means giving up something would be perceived as a compromise whose benefits would be closely questioned.

Would the pace of progress slow without individualistic drives? It seems that so much of human progress to date has been a function of males seeking status; to be effective, other models for progress will probably dramatically restructure most facets of the complexities and dynamics of human society.


Anonymous said...

I am currently reading "Rama Revealed", having already read the first 3 books of the Rama series.
I found this concept of the Octopsider society very interesting, and it raises a lot of possible scientific, biological and even philisofical questions.
My first thought was: "Is agressivity truely a direct effect of our sexual drive / hormones?"...
There are many sexually active non-aggressive human males all over the planet, right?
And for the more aggressive people... would they truly become passive by hormone treatment?

As for sacrifice being necessary for collective intelligence, at first glance, in my opinion, it would certaily be a trade-off, at least for creative/artistic component, ...
I mean, does anyone believe Shakespear would ever write Romeo & Juliet if he did feel love?
And would anyone (without a sex drive) waste time to see a play that talked about feelings which they couldn't possibly have experienced or comprehend?

I am still halfway through the book, therfore can not comment more on it,... but the concept of this Octospider society was so deeply impressed in my mind that I decided to find some references on the Net. ...
Maybe I'll come back her for a second post once I've finished reading this fascineting book.

LaBlogga said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thank you for sharing your detailed thoughts. The Octospider society is indeed fascinating. I have a friend at UC Santa Cruz researching neuro-plasticity with exactly some of the same postulates, that there may be some interesting unforeseen human capabilities if puberty onset could be "managed."

I think dialing down human aggressiveness via hormone management will be quite interesting. It is an evolutionary anachronism these days.