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Collective Learning

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

Collective Learning (coined by David Christian)

Below is Kandel’s writing as related to CL. 

Eric Kandel: Although the size and structure of the human brain have not changed since Homo sapiens first appeared in East Africa… the learning capability of individual human beings and their historical memory have grown over the centuries through shared learning—that is, through the transmission of culture. Cultural evolution, a nonbiological mode of adaptation, acts in parallel with biological evolution as the means of transmitting knowledge of the past and adaptive behaviour across generations. All human accomplishments, from antiquity to modern times, are products of a shared memory accumulated over centuries. 


There seems like an interplay between evolutionary learning, (I.e., Darwinian based Natural Selection as small genetic mutations create successful adaptations to a changing natural environment) and collective learning. 

It also seems that CL is increasing efficiency based on information technology (I.e., the internet)

How will higher rate of CL relate to EL?  EL is notoriously slow, locked in to serial birth / reproduce / death cycle. Will distortions be created?  Will human biology associated with EL be a hindrance to the speed / adaptation of CL?

Human nature is very slow to change, but the tools get much cooler. 

The danger of (and to) humanity is as the balance of human cognitive collective learning exceeds evolutionary learning, humanities’ ability to collectively manage its learning is diminished without the benefit of evolution.  In effect, humans struggle to deal with their inventions because their biology is slow to respond. 


——- = 1 ,


steady, very slow growth environment existing for most of human history


——- > 1 ,


higher growth environment, especially since Industrial Revolution, where information grows faster than human ability to translate to useful knowledge. 

For example, consider social media. Conceptually, a wonderful platform to connect people and ideas that may not have connected. The increased communication may lead to wonderful outcomes from the increased collaboration. However, social media has devolved, in part, because of how sm disrupts an individual’s attention. 

Much of the attention disruption occurs via SM interaction with the neurotransmitter dopamine. The is the same neuro mechanism, via likes (and related), as is found in other addiction related vices like smoking, drinking, drugs, and gambling. 

Dopamine is generally associated with pleasure and reward, evolutionarily related to reproduction. Clearly, neurotransmitters have been slow to evolve and are being hijacked by the SM companies. 

See intro to The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver for a nice history (from Gutenberg Printing Press) of CL. 

Also - Silver quotes:

We face danger whenever information growth outpaces our understanding of how to process.”

In many ways, we are our greatest technological constraint. The slow and steady march of human evolution has fallen out of step with technological progress: evolution occurs on millennial time scales, whereas processing power doubles roughly every other year.” (Moore’s Law - . By the way, before Intel’s Gordon Moore’s 1965 prediction, John von Neumann said in 1955 “…overall capacity” of computers had “nearly doubled every year since 1945.” (See The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann)

From Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

Much of our problem comes from the fact that we have evolved out of such a habitat faster, much faster, than our genes. Even worse, our genes have not changed at all.”

Richard Dawkins, in his book The Self Gene, has an intriguing chapter on Memes (chapter 11). It suggests to me that genetic (EL) and memetic evolution (CL) is a dynamic process. Also, since memetic evolution is faster, it likely influences genetic evolution by altering the long term human environment. (Like our culture, laws, morals, religions, etc)

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