Emergence

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Abstract

In this paper I first list a number of areas in which recent research seems to reinforce the need to follow through on activities identified in Simonetta Magari’s article (Magari, Cavaleri 2009). A careful review of research in these areas would lead us into deeply mysterious psychological processes and underline the need to change the most fundamental assumptions on which modern psychology is built. Unfortunately, I am in no position to undertake this review.

Accordingly, I have settled for the lesser objective of discussing (i) the problems posed by the phenomenon of emergence; (ii) the dominant role that networks of external social forces play in determining behaviour (and the way these networks of social forces perpetuate and elaborate themselves), and (iii) the emergence of a network of negative social forces which seems to have the future of mankind and the planet in its grip.

I start by showing that one of the most important uses of the slippery word “intelligence” is to refer to an emergent property of a group. Groups can, to a greater or lesser extent, harness (or neglect and destroy) the diverse talents available to them to create cultures of intelligence or enterprise on the one hand and despondency and conflict on the other.

Whereas we, as a species, currently have the highest levels of individual intelligence ever, it seems that we have the lowest levels of collective intelligence ever.

But group and individual characteristics are not the only things transformed by networks of social forces. Time after time we see that well intentioned social action is transformed into its opposite by networks of social forces.

A systemogram of the social forces which transform the “educational” system into its opposite is then used as a basis for a discussion of the role of social forces more generally.

Two issues then stare one in the face. One is that our governance systems are ill equipped to promoting the kind of experimentation and societal learning that is needed…especially to enable us to survive as a species. The other is the dominance of the “sociological” forces pressing unrelentingly toward the societal hierarchy and division that is leading us so forcefully toward our self-destruction.

Unexpectedly, therefore, it emerges that two key tasks for psychologists, qua psychologists, are (i) to contribute to the design of a societal management system which will act more effectively in the long term public interest – that is to say, in the interests of maintaining life itself – and (ii) to map the network of social forces which are driving us so relentlessly toward our own extinction.

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