I am not at all qualified to discuss issues of brains, but I do have some thoughts the previous post about society that deserve their own thread.

The definition of self is fluid and culturally defined. Western cultures are individualist, the person is defined by internal characteristics. Eastern cultures are relativistic, people are defined in relation to their role in a social structure.

But as it relates to eusocial humans, we need to think about how groups of people make decisions. A classic approach is authoritarian, decisions are made by some central authority (the king, the church, tradition), and radiates outwards into society. The democratic model has individuals rationally evaluating options according to their own metrics, voting, and then the group abiding by that vote.

A more modern model sees individuals as linked into networks, influencing each other through a non-rational transmission of ideas. Decisions are made by consensus, some critical mass breaking towards a policy choice. Consensus selves are aware of their membership in free associations, and do not have the same concern for internal intellectual growth as individuals, instead picking and choosing from the general cultural memepool.

Authoritarian decision-making is totally discredited, but the question for us is about the distinction between democratic and consensus models. We're in a hybrid state right now, but can sufficient technology create a pure consensus model? Do consensus models break down, and do they actually produce better decisions?

I have a creeping suspicion that consensus fails in any group larger than few hundred. Democracies have many roadblocks to making a decision, forcing deliberation. Those who lose out have the satisfaction of being a loyal opposition, and waiting for the time when issues will swing their way.

Consensus models may seem to invite participation from all, but in reality they are driven by memetic blitzkriegs. The winners are those who can mobilize and make decisions before an opposition can form. Debate becomes more acrimonious, and facts and history are thrown by the wayside (see the Ground Zero Mosque for a great example). Quality of decision-making suffers.

Consensus forms people into cliques, and because the policy-making group is not well defined, losers have an incentive to splinter off, into smaller communities with more narrow intellectual spaces, again harming the quality of debate.

Of course, the question of how close Twitter is to a true eusocial system, and what upgrades might be needed, remains open. But I would definitely argue that consensus, while flawed for the reasons mentioned above, is not inherently unsalvageable. Democracies can work spectacularly (the American Revolution), and fail spectacularly (the French Revolution). The same kind of serious intellectual debate that lead to the American constitution should also be applied to the architecture and norms of consensus based decision-making processes.


  1. I'm not sure where this is going, because it has some jargon that my sleep-deprived head can't quite parse.

    If you're trying to argue that a consensus based government is possible, thats going to be a serious uphill battle.

    We couldn't govern our co-op with 22 people by consensus. Different people were using different axiomatic beliefs for their reasoning. Some (most) people are actually incapable of rational thought. Some (most) people are incapable of thinking about problems in a manner removed from their own self interest. I do not exclude myself from the category of irrational. Furthermore, even if everyone is using the same rules, people have different preferences for how much risk they are willing to take (Deciding between two distributions of equal mean but unequal variance). Typically, unless you are trained to be a rational thinker, you are very bad at making reasonable choices, and even if you are trained at being a rational thinker, you may grossly fail to be rational outside a narrow discipline.

    I'd say consensus fails as a governing model for groups of humans larger than N, where N=2.

  2. er, sorry, my comment was pretty bitter and not insightful.

  3. lets see...

    so the last example of "how the brain makes decisions" that was explained to me boiled down to "brain generates multiple candidate actions, then weighs expected reward based on situation, and picks the best"

    what, if any, models of government, look like that ?

  4. anyway this is similar to a lot of "complexity" speculation thats been floating around the internet lately. it would be really nice to get some rigorous treatment of these ideas.

    statistical physics
    ant foraging models
    neural networks
    swarm theory

    all have some sort of rigorous analysis associated with them.

    what sort of properties would we want a mathematical model of social organization to have ?