Collective Intelligence is Rewiring not just the Planet, but our Brains

A 6/23/09 article in New Scientist reports on “the first evidence that tool use alters the body map.”  That is, researchers have found that a human brain’s internal map of the body is adjusted to account for a tool that extends the body’s reach.  Researchers were excited to note that this means that a transplanted hand or a prosthetic limb would similarly be incorporated into the ‘body map’ inside the brain.  This is an important example of the plasticity of the brain.

What struck me about this article is the implication for collective intelligence and collective consciousness:

The more we use tools that embody collective intelligence, and tools that increase our awareness and use of the perceptions, knowledge and experiences of people in other parts of the world, the bigger and bigger becomes our brains’ “body map” — and “self map”.

As social media are evolving, they are becoming more and more tools for getting things done, visualizing and then solving complex problems, finding answers, getting support we need, etc.   A key is the shift from passive viewing of world events on nightly television news (which had its own expansive effects), to a much more intimate using of collective intelligence, and participating in it.

We are physically evolving into a new species – by rewiring our brains to encompass tools for accessing and using collective intelligence.

The two principles that shine through when collective intelligence becomes collective consciousness are:

The Whole is more than the sum of the parts.


The Whole is contained in the parts.

The gradual rewiring of human brains to encompass more and more of the whole species and planet is the physical embodiment of this second principle.

(Confession:  Whenever I write something like this, which I seem to like to do, I often hear an internal chorus of “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but now what?”  The “but now what” is the interesting part.)


6 Responses to “Collective Intelligence is Rewiring not just the Planet, but our Brains”

  1. 1 Stuart French June 29, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    After watching our young Inline Hockey players, I have suspected this finding for some time. The way they learn to use the stick is beyond tool control, it is like it is an extension of their body. This becomes more evident when you ask a 15yo expert to teach a newer player and they struggle because they haven’t thought about “how” they do it, they just do what feels right to make the puck move.

    I started noticing this years ago when I worked with a Chinese/Malaysian couple who always ate with chopsticks.

    I agree that this effect of tools on our brain likely extends into the use of communications tools and this plasticity would extend over time from a personal cognitive efect to a group cultural effect. Is there any KM or Cog Science Masters Research students out there that want to prove or disprove this theory? 🙂

  2. 2 Rawn Shah June 29, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    I think this is jumping from the facts of physical tools per the New Scientist article to logical tools like social software.

    Just like we keep motor skills, speech and smell in very different parts of the brain, you can’t simply jump the logic of taking the physical tool to a mental level that way. I don’t think that NewScientist article applies in this way to collective intelligence.



  3. 3 Steve Ardire June 30, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Hi Duncan,

    I agree with Rawn that it’s not the New Scientist article or social software that’s the key tool or driver.

    Semantic driven business intelligence will be the key tool and driver to harness collective intelligence by increasing our awareness and use of perceptions, knowledge, experiences and so on.

    I’m completing a whitepaper for an early stage software startup that has such a tool 😉

  4. 4 duncanwork July 1, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for comments. I also agree that the New Scientist article didn’t constitute *scientific proof* that participating in collective intelligence experiences, using CI and social media tools, etc., will change our brains. I took the leap! and used the New Scientist article as an inspiring analogy.

    But it’s not really an outlandish leap. It’s almost a given that experiences change our nervous systems. So I liked using the analogy of use of tools changing the “body map” to imply that use of collective intelligence experiences is changing our “self map.” That is, to suggest that as collective intelligence increases, our currently bounded selves will keep expanding, and more and more of the “whole” (systems, humanity, planet, etc.) will be much more part of who we are, as a self, and as a whole.

  5. 5 Kre Alkalyn Pro January 25, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Hi, good day. Wonderful post. You have gained a new subscriber. Pleasee continue this great work and I look forward to more of your great blog posts.

  6. 6 AainaA March 9, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Consciousness in itself is already a collective, so irrespective the use of ‘tools’, what transpires across, and touches nodes grows. Like the roots of a giant ‘tree of life’ the Universe is expanding like a blob of paint on canvas. And the mapping is intricately enticing, therein the macro-fractal itself, is the underlying identity of humanity.

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