Tag Archives: collective cognition

Could collective cognition be manipulated?

After my last post I wondered if the term “collective cognition” is already in use, and a quick Google search shows me the answer is yes. The next question: could it be manipulated? Also yes. Here are a few “teaser” sites for further exploration. But I’m going to resist the temptation to follow my curiosity because I have a backlog of writing projects . . . including novel revisions.

Since at least 2001, corporate strategists have been studying the manipulation of collective cognition. For example, here is the abstract to an article by John Mezias in the journal Long Range Planning, “Changing Collective Cognition: A Process Model for Strategic Change.”

Firms face increasing pressures to modify their strategies and adjust to rapidly changing environmental threats and opportunities. Yet strategic reorientations are difficult to achieve, especially as most methods fail to recognize the cognitive aspects of change. While some methods such as facilitated workshops have become increasingly popular to help top management teams better facilitate strategic change, these have largely evolved on the basis of successful experience rather than on an understanding of cognitive processes. This paper seeks to fill this gap, by drawing both upon theoretical literature and experience with successful change facilitation practices from Europe and the US. Its focus is on the cognitive aspects of strategic orientation and provides a practical guide to those who use this process.

In other words, when corporate leadership wants to make a change to strategic organization, this article is recommending also changing collective thought processes.

Here’s an outline of topics covered:

  1.  Introduction
  2.  From theory to practice
  3.  From the individual to the collective
  4. Changing collective cognition
  5. Problems with recognizing a need for change
  6. Problems with mobilizing change forces
  7. Problems with overcoming change barriers
  8. Unlearning, learning and cognitive reorientation
  9. The facilitated Change Workshop
  10. Summary and conclusion

But why stop with changing collective cognition within a single corporation, when the world is full of potential customers and policymakers? That’s definitely happening within the field of education. Corporately funded think tanks are pushing messages, for instance, that public schools are failing, and encouraging people to become “change agents.”

And what do you know, the manipulation of social media is indeed being studied. This from “Mnemonic convergence in social networks: the emergent properties of cognition at a collective level” by Coman, Alin, et al, published 2016 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

 Here we report results on the formation of collective memories in laboratory-created communities. We manipulated conversational network structure in a series of real-time, computer-mediated interactions in fourteen 10-member communities. . . . The social-interactionist approach proposed herein points to optimal strategies for spreading information in social networks and provides a framework for measuring and forging collective memories in communities of individuals.

Apparently they built collective memories out of nothing? Well, if that capability is available, somebody’s going to use it.

And that’s quite enough dystopia for one day. I am an optimistic person, though, and I do believe there are utopian solutions that involve intentional, democratic, and compassionate attention to collective cognition.

 

-Kristin

(Picture is from Doctor Who: “The Lie of the Land,” featuring aliens who had the power to manipulate collective memory provided one person gave consent.)

doctor who lie of the land

From Doctor Who “The Lie of the Land”

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Musings on collective cognition

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is Carl Jung’s concept of a collective unconscious and the omission of a complementary term, collective consciousness. The emerging fields of AI and of rapid transmission of thoughts by social media is making the idea more and more interesting all the time.

Many people in different fields are working on the question of defining things like cognition, sentience, consciousness, and so forth, and in different fields. I haven’t studied anything deeply but I get bits and pieces now and again, like the concept that human consciousness/identity/”I” is simply an illusion made up by a vastly more complex brain. If that’s the case, then perhaps a single voice could pipe up, such as an artificial intelligence, call itself the mind of the world, and convince others that only it has the power of speech. And maybe that would be a collective consciousness.

So I think about weird things like that.

Or perhaps humanity has always had not one but many collective consciousnesses, with some dominating the conversation and others forced to remain silent. The ones on top would be, for instance, news outlets, celebrities, and respected authors.

In that case, what effect is social media having? Is another collective consciousness rising to the surface, as when people use hashtags such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, quickly followed by #notme and #bluelivesmatter. If so, it’s based in humanity but it’s also inhuman. It’s an emergent consciousness.

Depending on how you define consciousness (cognitive scientists disagree), this is an overreach. But maybe collective cognition is a safer and less new-age concept.

Here’s Wikipedia’s current definition of cognition: “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses”. This definition leaves out the question of “who or what is doing the thinking,” because we’ve always assumed it to be a human or other animal. Maybe it’s time to question that.

Back to the idea that maybe social media and artificial intelligence could give rise to collective consciousness, we had better be damn sure that what we are building, accidentally at the moment, serves the interests of humanity and the Earth.

Then connecting that concept to the idea “the medium is the message” — that is, if you communicated the same idea over the TV, radio, or speech, the media you used would make a much larger difference than the idea you were expressing — our social media platforms impact our collective cognition.

Connecting that idea to Facebook in particular, it just changed its algorithms for what kinds of posts get higher in our news feeds. It’s a good idea to do something, since social media encouraged fake news, which helped swing a presidential election, but there will inevitably be unexpected side effects. We need to watch them.

Now, taking that idea and putting it into a crystal ball, what is likely to happen in the near future? What kinds of positive change are likely and which impossible? Well, in the absence of a catastrophic failure of technology (could happen), there’s no going back. Social media is with us to stay.

The one thing we can  impact is who owns it.

So that’s it, a tour of my musings. Like the image I’m featuring, they turn the ways we typically view the world on its side. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

-Kristin

(Image features a sideways view of the globe.)

600px-atcan_globe-webm

Daniel R. Strebe, March 27, 2015, from Wikimedia Commons