Snowden: Humans are not ants, agents or angels

Cognitive Edge‘s Dave Snowden argues convincingly in his latest blog post that “Humans are not ants, agents or angels“, or in other words that human complex adaptive systems are different from systems “in the physical world, or that of all animals without the capacity for metaphor based language”. He has found a very ingenious was of summarizing the difference in the following way:

“In respect of the individual human complex systems are differentiated by:

  • Intention […]
  • Identity is fluid for humans, we move between them with ease, often triggered by ritual and are capable of acting in several simultaneously.
  • Intuition or as Prusak calls it compressed experience, references the way the human brain builds patterns of actual and vicarious (stories) experiences to allow rapid decision making under conditions of uncertainty.

In respect of the collective aspects of human interaction with other humans, their environments and ideas, complex adaptive systems are distinguished by:

  • Cognition in this aspect means the distributed aspects of human intelligence and consciousness, our ability to interact with others to create entities that are more than the sum of the parts, and critically to formalise that capability (wisdom of crowds, crews etc.)
  • Constraint references the ability to create/evolve social systems that provide constrains on actions, and also (through myths etc) on the way we think and act.
  • Coherence is not only an important new concept in the area of evidence based strategy, but it relates to the human capacity to collectively reason about reason.”

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