Smart Like A Honeybee
Not much time over this holiday for my usual deep dive into reading materials that have piled up over the preceding year. But I did dip into a fascinating collection called The Best American Science Writing, 2012.” It is a just published collection of mind-expanding reporting from the cutting edge across a vast range of science disciplines.
One of the stories that I just finished is “The Limits of Intelligence”, by Douglas Fox. Fox sites neuroscience research pointing to the fact that our species may have reached the end of a long path in the evolutionary biology of the brain. He sums up the research by reporting:
“Our brain can pack in only so many neurons; our neurons can establish only so many connections among themselves; and those connections can carry only so many electrical impulses every second.”
In short, we can’t get any smarter! Sounds kind of bleak? It’s not. Fox ends on a hopeful note:
“… that the human mind may have better ways of expanding without the need for further biological evolution.” Fox suggests we take a lesson from “honeybees and other social insects. Acting in consort with their hive sisters, they form a collective entity that is smarter than the sum of its parts.” And, he acknowledges a very positive development in our evolution as a species: “Through social interaction, we too have learned to pool our intelligence with others.”
Many years ago, I read a science fiction novel called “Starmaker”, which chronicles nothing less than a journey through the history of the cosmos. It was one of Del Close’s favorite book (thanks for the tip, Del). It charts an evolutionary march towards a universal group consciousness. It helped clarify a fundamental part of Del’s belief in the power of group improvisation. The work we do, as well as being great fun, is fueled by a vision of how to communicate, in new and important ways, to meet the challenges of a complicated and dangerous future.
“The group mind” is all about “learning to pool our intelligence with others.”
Douglas Fox’s article, “The Limits of Intelligence”, is just one example of the explosion of scientific knowledge that continues to make the art of improvisation more relevant and more crucial a tool for communication than ever.