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1103 Group Mind

1103 Group Mind

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Published by Richard Ostrofsky

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Published by: Richard Ostrofsky on Feb 17, 2012
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10/08/2013

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Group Mind
from Richard Ostrofskyof Second Thoughts Bookstore (now closed)www.secthoughts.comquill@travel-net.comMarch, 2011A fantasy: Somewhere in your body, a single cell (let's call her Suzie), justone among about fifty trillion others, achieves a breakthrough of consciousness, coming to perceive and understand that the system she is part of has a collective mind of its own. Sadly, as often in such cases, her neighbors were sure she had gone insane. "How could you be right?"Suzie's fellow cells demanded. "We are autonomous beings, each one of us, acting on the conditions we find around us. It's true that sometimes weseem to be cooperating toward some larger purpose, but that is just amanner of speaking – an outcome of what we are doing separately. Howcould all of us together (different as we are) want or know or intendanything no one of us can imagine?"But the little cell was sure she was right, and set out to prove her point,devising all sorts of statistical indices and running numerous opinion pollsto study her world and its properties as a whole. What she quicklyrealized, however, was that her first problem was really a philosophicalone: just to explain what it would mean for a group of individuals (withseparate minds of their own) to comprise a collective mind together. Shehad to define what she wanted to study, and get others to accept her definition.Well, what does it mean? We humans feel that we have minds, andmostly agree that Suzie was right; but her question is still a difficult one:What does it mean for a group of entities (or any system) to be a mind?When we look closely at this matter, it turns out that there can be nosimple answer because mind is not an all-or-nothing proposition – not thesort of thing that you either have or lack. We have various capabilities inmind when we speak of minds. Here are just a few of the things we meanwhen we speak about our own:To begin with, we think of a mind as framing and acting upon somerepresentation of its world. That representation might be almost as localand limited as that of a single cell in our bodies, or it might be as broadand rich as Einstein's conception of the whole universe. No matter. Mindat every scale must collect and work with information about itself and itsworld. To be part of a group-mind, as Suzie thinks she is, would involvehaving access to and being guided by some version and subset of the
 
information available to the whole.Second, minds act from purposes, intentions, driven by suggestionsand reasons rather than by mechanical causes. Mere things move becausesomething pushes or pulls them. Minds move because they have somereason to do so, one that prevails over competing reasons to do nothing, or do something else. Individual members (like our friend Suzie) of anygroup mind would be guided and constrained in some way, perhapswithout their even knowing it, to contribute to that mind's collective purpose. At the very least, a group mind would provide the over-allcontext in which its components find their places and do their individual jobs. This contextual binding, as we might call it, might be very strict or fairly loose and lenient – up to a point.The simplest minds take in whatever comes at them that they areequipped to receive and respond to. More sophisticated ones are capableof collective
attention
– that is to say, of allocating – even of 
voluntarilydirecting 
– their resources of parsing and interpretation toward somematter of interest. But why are some things more interesting than others,and why is anything of interest in the particular way that it is? Humanshave a special sub-system (the
affect 
system as it is called) to recognizewhat is of collective interest to all those trillions of cells – for example,whether something is to be ignored or fought, fled from, eaten, or investigated further. Human groups make similar decisions collectively,with or without specialized sub-systems – e.g. the politicians, the media – to help them do it. They have collective emotions, feelings and moods,rustling through their networks at any point in time.Any mind will need todefend itself from potential overload of information, if only by clinging to blissful ignorance of stuff it doesn't need to know. Our groups do that, justlike individuals.Yet another attribute of 
 some
minds, and characteristically of humanones, is the faculty of 'time-binding' (as Korzybski called it): our capability to represent a remembered past, an envisioned future or afantasy of either in 'the mind's eye' of consciousness.Once upon a time, it was thought that only behavior could be studiedscientifically – that mind as such could not be studied at all. Today, mindis being studied with rigor and brilliant success, but the field's centralquestion is not and never will be a purely scientific one. Some people stillregard the notion of 'unconscious mind' as a contradiction in terms. Some people still argue that only humans have true minds – that animals are justorganic machines.Against such views, the whole drift of modern psychology and computer science has been to broaden and muddle our concept of mind: to recognize many distinct capabilities or 'faculties' of 
minding 
, but no such 'thing' as a mind – only bodies with brains, goingabout their business, which involves an extraordinary and characteristicsensitivity to the world around them. To the extent that we can and do

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