The Sharing Instinct

This is a very interesting presentation by cognitive psychologist Dr Laurie Santos, taking a look at particular mental quirks of the human mind that makes us both smarter than other primates and more naturally prone to making errors.

Sharing is a fundamental part of the way the human mind works.

Laurie Santos

She suggests that not only are we inclined to share knowledge from an early stage in human development, but that this motivation might be a key characteristic of our species that separates us from other animals.

All the better then, that we now live in an age which makes sharing, collaboration and collective intelligence easier than ever before, and across an incredible expanse and scale that would have been unthinkable in the pre-internet era. This ease and exposure to massive amounts of sharing also has potential negative consequences.

A species that shares very naturally, also has to be one that accepts very naturally too, and unless we have a good filter, we might be taking in information that might not be as beneficial as we would like.

In addition to being inclined to share knowledge, we also automatically process the knowledge of other people, which means that, whether we realise it or not, we are greatly influenced by others and our surrounding information environment.

Somehow, automatically, we're processing the knowledge of other individuals, and we don't seem to have a filter when that knowledge is wrong.

With a very interesting experiment towards the end, Santos goes on to recommend that since we're so strongly predisposed to taking in knowledge without filtering the good from the bad, we should surround our own minds by as smart a set of minds as possible.

It might be the case that none of our minds are essentially original, to the extent that we're open to sucking in information, we constantly have to be worried about what the other minds out there are telling us.

Information and the MindI would take this a step further and stress that even beyond people as direct "information objects", there are other elements such as culture and news media that are also continually moulding our minds, both of which involve people in an indirect way. This brings up an interesting point though that she doesn't deal with in this segment: How do we define and seek out high value "good" information if our judgements might already have been swayed by unfiltered "bad" information?

Photo: David

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