Collective Behavior as a Crisis Discipline

Seventeen researchers who specialize in widely different fields argue in a paper published in PNAS this week that our lack of understanding about the collective behavioral effects of new technology is a danger to democracy and scientific progress. They make the case for the study of technology’s large-scale impact on society as a “crisis discipline.”

Humanity faces global and existential threats including climate change, ecosystem degradation, and the prospect of nuclear war. We likewise face a number of other challenges that impact our wellbeing, including racism, disease, famine, and economic inequality. Our success at facing these challenges depends on our global social dynamics in a modern and technologically connected world. Given our evolved tendencies combined with the impact of technology and population growth, there is no reason to believe that human social dynamics will be sustainable or conducive to wellbeing if left unmanaged.

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Given that the impacts of communication technology on patterns of behavior cross the lines that divide academic disciplines, a transdisciplinary synthesis and approach to managing our collective behavior are required. Between the complexity of our social systems, the specter of ongoing human suffering, and the urgency required to avert catastrophe, we must face these challenges in the absence of a complete model or full understanding (14, 134). In this way, the field of human collective behavior must join the ranks of other crisis disciplines such as medicine, conservation biology, and climate science (20).

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A consolidated transdisciplinary approach to understanding and managing human collective behavior will be a monumental challenge, yet it is a necessary one.

Bak-Coleman, Joseph B., Mark Alfano, Wolfram Barfuss, Carl T. Bergstrom, Miguel A. Centeno, Iain D. Couzin, Jonathan F. Donges, et al. ‘Stewardship of Global Collective Behavior’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118, no. 27 (6 July 2021). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2025764118.

Understanding collective intelligence to deal with “todo al carajo”.

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Featured Image: See quoted post

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