It is convenient to talk about a particular group as if it were a single physical thing, not merely a particular collection of humans.
Much like it is convenient to talk about a particular molecule as if it were a single physical thing, not merely a particular collection of atoms.
Without any people, a group doesn’t really exist – much like you can’t have a molecule without any atoms.
But in some ways groups seem to be independent of the people that compose them. A group usually continues to acts more-or-less in the same way, even as normal turnover replaces all the members of a group with a completely different set of people. Also, a particular set of people can often be re-arranged into a very different-seeming group, – much like the atoms in a solid stick of dynamite can be re-arranged into a very different-seeming collection of gases.
Copied from GlobalBrain:
Getting more specific, we end up in “Are groups real or not.” This is an allusion to an old conversation AlexSchroeder and I had.
I was arguing the side of: “I think groups are real. I think that groups exist. I think that they are real, bona fida, mechanical entities.” And Alex was arguing the side of: (paraphrasing “I don’t think groups are real. I think it’s just people. People can do whatever they want. They can disband, they can disembark, whatever. Groups are not mechanical. Groups are just an illusion.”
And, it’s a conversation that we never got to have in more detail, and it’s a conversation that we never made a decision about. Neither of us is firmly entrenched in our opinion, we are open minded to each others side.
I’m kind of itching to have the conversation at some point, actually. I think I have some good arguments: Many groups are extremely stable, and have existed for centuries. The people in the roles change, but the roles survive. Roles adapt and change over time, but the corpus as a whole seems to be pretty long lived. I can think about: “Why do people go to work in the morning, rather than stay in bed?” And I think I can argue that the machinery is pretty stable. If someone decides not to go to work in the morning, there are systems in place so that someone else does go to work, thus perpetuating the machine.
Now, if it turns out that groups are real, we perhaps need to take this Global Brain much more seriously. Because that means that there’s all this machinery at work, and it’s going to be there for a long time, and it’s probably something that can be studied, modeled in computers, understood, adjusted, etc., etc.,.
If groups are not real, then that is interesting to: We can practice unheard of freedoms, and disolve groups with ease. We can live in a world of majestically ephemeral symbols, and blow crystal bubbles made of thought into the air.
Another argument for the reality of groups is that simply knowing who is a member of a group is insufficent to characterize that group.
One other piece of information that you need is the decision-making structure of the group.
For instance, the “personality”, the “essence”, and the behavior of the United States government would be very different if the president had less power to fight undeclared wars and if it took an 80% vote for Congress to pass a vote, rather than 50% – even if the same Congressional Representatives were elected. Rather than being seen as a large, aggressive state, such a United States would most likely be seen either as a slow-moving, quiet/“inconspicuous” group or as a wimpy indecisive group.
Similarly, if the U.S. Congress didn’t follow parliamentary procedure, but rather followed a system of “To propose a law, you don’t have to do anything, just go around and collect signatures; if you get the signatures of >50% of the current Congresspeople1, it becomes law”, then the “essence” of the United States of America would be pretty different.
One could even imagine the same set of people participating in multiple groups; consider if the members of the U.S. Republican political party formed three different political associations, each with the same membership, but governed by the three systems described above (50%-vote parliamentary procedure; 80%-vote parliamentary procedure; and 50%-vote decentralized referenda). I bet the three groups would have very different, often contradictory political stances.
Or consider a hierarchial company vs. a democractic cooperative. Consider a group of people whose job is to run a factory together. Let’s even say that these people start out with equal ownership in the venture. In one scenario, these people structure themselves as a publically traded corporation; there is a board of directors and a CEO who run things, and they tell everyone else what to do. The CEO is chosen by the board of directors from the ranks of management based on past money-making performance. The power structure is hierarchial; the CEO can tell anyone below them what to do, and cut their pay or fire them at will2. In the other scenario, these people form a democratic co-op; important decisions are made by committees of workers, and really important decisions are made by a deliberative assembly of all of the workers. There are various documents detailing the rights and responsibilities of workers, and no one may be “unfairly” terminated.
I suggest that in these two scenarios, the behavior of the group will be very different, even though the membership is identical. Decisions such as whether to make more money at the expense of doing something legal but environmentally questionable will be made differently (I suggest there is more chance of choosing “money” in that decision in the corporate scenario, because the decision-makers are selected to be people who show a propensity to make money). I suggest that even the character of the group will be perceived differently; people would have one set of complaints about the corporation, and a different set of complaints about the co-op.
Therefore, to the extent that we perceive groups as being “good/helpful” or “evil/unhelpful” or trustworthy or greedy or whatever, these characteristics depend not only on who makes up the group but also on the decision-making structure of the group. The same group of people might act “greedy” or “kind” in the same situation depending on group structure3. Therefore, these attributes are not being ascribed merely to the collection of people, but are being ascribed to a separate entity, the group.
Before I inject some of my thoughts about Companies and Corporations (potentially deflecting this page from someone’s objectives), I thought it would be good manners to ask; in the context of this page, …
Yep! In fact, in many cases, the corporation (“the corpus,” “the body,”) is the prime example, when we ask “is this organism real” (“corporeal.”)
Part of the discussion is figuring out what “real” means. I think that they have substance, and that, at some point in the relatively near future, they will be visible.
If habits of incorporation, of group embodiment, are substantially mechanical enough, such that they are super-people, such that they are like an ArtificialIntelligence, then we have an understandable, arguable, theoretical basis for talking about them like we talk about people, animals, and other things that have a deep integrity to them.
We can say: “It will work to defend itself,” and we know it will, because it has deep substance. The people won’t all just all-of-a-sudden just quit. Because there will be a series of strong accountabilities and redundancies that reinforce the whole system and protect it from tampering. Or whatever.
The question is a poking and prodding at the “substance” of groups.
Another thing we can do with it, is study the CivilSociety, the FreeSoftware groups, the whole set of accountabilities that exist there, (different accountabilities, but still accountabilities, still feedback loops,) and get some insight into the HiveMind.
That’s the hope at least.
It’d probably be best to look at the BackLinks to this page, and see: “What are the debates that lead to this question?” (Because we frequently find ourselves here.) Then we can discover the significance of the recurring question, and see consequences of our understanding the answer more deeply.
This is a page I’ve been meaning to create for a while now; I’m thankful to Bayle for finally just making it.
Actually, there are no backlinks; I was surprised because I also had the feeling we’ve discussed this before.
We can say: “It will work to defend itself,” and we know it will, because it has deep substance.
Uh, wait, I disagree there. Just because a group is a separate entity, different than just “the sum of the individuals in the group”, that doesn’t itself imply anything specific about its nature. Such as “It will work to defend itself”.
A group being a separate entity is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the statement “the group will work the defend itself”.
Can you give a counter-example?
There are always so many things in life that work to push people out of their groups, and yet the group remains.
I see them like molecules: low-energy configurations between atoms. There are all these stray things, flying by, to hit the atom out of it’s bonds. But the bonds are strong enough, and the molecule stays whole.
If a person is broken out, the group pulls someone else in.
You can obliterate a group. They may come out in different shapes. But there is an internal integrity to the structure.
(This is what I mean to say.) Do you still disagree?
I’m also glad you started this page.
There is a difference between
I find the second position intellectually interesting, and find myself thinking that way quite often. “The name of a group is merely an abbreviation for a long list of all the members of a group.”
Obviously, if none of the people in a group show up for a group meeting, nothing gets discussed or decided at that meeting. If none of the individual people in an area pulls the trigger on an individual weapon, no shots are fired. The group can do nothing without any of its members.
You do make a good point that, if you somehow took the same individuals and organized them a bit differently, the resulting organization would be different.
I think the most extreme case may be restaurant franchises. All the stores in a restaurant chain certainly have many, many similarities. And all the managers, cooks, and waiters could probably swap places with their counterparts in a different restaurant chain without changing the store experience that much.
So restaurants certainly seem to be more than the sum of the people in them.
But from the “groups don’t exist, only individuals” perspective, there is something that I can point to that explains the difference between these 2 restaurant chains:
The Three Ring Binder.
Wiki:ThreeRingBinder and The Chinese Restaurant Three-Ring Binder both refer to: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which mentions: “The franchise and the virus work on the same principle: what thrives in one place will thrive in another. You just have to find a sufficiently virulent business plan, condense it into a three-ring binder – its DNA – xerox it, and embed it in the fertile lining of a well-traveled highway …”
Explicitly writing everything down in the binder seems to be more helpful than assuming that people will somehow “become” part of the organization.
Most of the organizations I know about have some analogous written document – a Constitution, a Holy Book, a Training Manual, or the Game Rules.
So – what else is there to a group, other than the individuals and a written document or two?
Lion: I don’t want to debate whether groups, practically, tend to defend themselves. I think they do, almost always, although I bet there’s some weird counterexample somewhere. I just mean that the assertion “groups are a separate ontological entity from the people who make them up” is conceptually distinct from “groups defend themselves”. I like to keep distinct assertions on separate pages so that if someone wants to argue about one of them, it can be quickly and clearly established that everyone agrees on the other one.
David: Well I won’t dispute that in some cases the “group” is effectively a bunch of people plus a “constitutional document”. That’s still a different entity from the people alone.
And I do think that in some cases, there is no defining document. Consider the British government, which has “common law” and parliamentary procedure but without one constitution (I know very little about the British government, I’m just parroting what I’ve heard). So in some cases, the group is not “people + a single tidy document” but rather “people + a whole diffuse bunch of institutions and documents”.
David: I find the second position intellectually interesting, and find myself thinking that way quite often. “The name of a group is merely an abbreviation for a long list of all the members of a group.”
And then you continued: Obviously, if none of the people in a group show up for a group meeting, nothing gets discussed or decided at that meeting. If none of the individual people in an area pulls the trigger on an individual weapon, no shots are fired. The group can do nothing without any of its members.
Now: Why is it that, when the group meeting is called, everybody always comes? Or at the very least, why everybody feels the pull to come?
If the meeting is called, and people don’t come, then: Yes, you are right. That group isn’t real.
But if the meetings are called and everybody habitually comes, or makes a strong effort to come, then: That group is real.
I don’t know many chemists that practice “methodological atomism.” Most chemists find the concept of the existence of molecules to be a useful concept. It’s because atoms habitually interact with other atoms in patterns that last for long periods of time in stable ways. The stable pattern comes from the atoms (and their parts,) and the physics governing the atoms.
So I guess we should say that groups are real, and their reality comes from the collection of accountabilities and interests that give rise to the pattern.
Individuals are not some towering, mighty, unstoppable force, without needs, without basis. Individuals have interests, concerns, requirements, and so on. It is these needs, interests, concerns, requirements, and so on, that cause the perpetuating existence of groups, and of culture.
Individuals shift out of groups when there is advantage in being either alone or in another group, and when the SwitchingCost is sufficiently low. Individuals shift into groups when there is an advantage there, and when the SwitchingCost is sufficiently low.
I suppose we should say that a significant part of the reality of the group, is the collection of persistent needs and interests and accountabilities that give the group it’s integrity.
When you say: “A group is just a shorthand for the names of all the people there,” you’re missing out on the configuration of their interests and needs.
Is this one settled?
I got what I came for, though I think a more thorough criticism of MethodologicalIndividualism? could be issued.
I’d like to put the idea that groups are real in that the interests that bind people together are real. And I think the analogy with molecules is valid, and I’d like to put it into DocumentMode as well.
Is this conversation done, and are we in relatively the same place?
I think we’re pretty close to the same understanding. But I want to pick at this idea a little more.
Some people believe it’s OK for “the government” to do certain things, but it should be illegal for individual citizens to do the same things. This is nonsensical from the “groups don’t exist” point of view.
Some people dismiss individual reports as “mere anecdotal evidence”.
Some people believe that certain large corporations turn the workers at the “bottom” into almost soul-less drones, and that certain large governments turn the idealistic people who want to change government into power-grabbing, hypocritical, mud-slinging politicians.
What does it mean for a group to change a person?
What does it mean for a person to change a group?
Well, people change each other all the time. And “stuff” changes people - poverty, fame, war, books, so I don’t think any arguments from “change” will validate the reality of groups.
About the reality of groups, we shouldn’t just look at the raw “mechanical” aspect of groups. The existence of groups is deeply ingrained in our psychology (along with some not-that-great instinctive notions that people from another group aren’t worth as much). In fact, it probably goes back to before we were even human. And, it’s probably the same kind of of things that fire through the brain for a pack of wolves, Microsoft, a nation, or us here at community wiki.
I don’t know if that’s enough to make groups real - but it makes them at least as real as love and hate and beauty amd evil.
I hope that trying to understand
Von Mises said that states don’t hang people, the hangman does.
He also said: “It is illusory to believe that it is possible to visualize collective wholes. They are never visible; their cognition is always the outcome of the understanding of the meaning which acting men attribute to their acts.”
It’s not so much that I disagree; It’s that I think his distinction is not very meaningful. By a very similar train of though, I can argue: “It is illusory to believe that it is possible to visualize individuals. They are never visible; their cognition is always the outcome of the understanding of the meaning which cybernetic systems attribute to observations of visages.”
More popularly and plainly expressed by the phrase: “You don’t know me. I’m not what you see.”
If you can’t visualize groups, you can’t visualize individuals, either. Point dismissed.
It’s clear to me, then, that we’re dealing with something that is “paradoxical.” I don’t mean to say that it isn’t something real, or that it is something that does not make sense. I mean that it is something where we do not have enough complexity of vision, to sustain the short phrases that we are using.
Groups and individuals are both real and illusionary. Both the hangman and the state hung the man, and it can be well argued that the hangman did not hang the man, and also that the state did not hang the man.
The problem is that our phrasing here is too short, too abstracted, too “lossy,” to carry sufficient meaning, except for people who have been properly contextualized.
So, I believe what we need to do, is…:
Related but very very different.
“Companies Are Virtual Realities?” It’s a blog post I wrote this morning. (And, interestingly enough, “It’s been a weird day.”)
The idea is that I am noticing that companies are virtual realities. (Think: “The Matrix.”) They create little worlds, little dramas, and the people live and work within the little stories.
The stories are illusory. They are complete fabrications. The ideas that the employees have within the company are completely made up, and exist within the framework constructed by the company creators. Payment rates and compensations are innovations. Rationale for going to work is another fabrication.
The real world is more like the bizarre world Neo sees outside of the virtual reality. It is a psychadelic world; It is not the same world that exists inside the virtual reality. It may be stranger than the Matrix, in that it does not make sense. At least, not in the same sort of way that the world within the Matrix makes sense.
How is this related?
Many groups have a cohesion because stories line up. The robots (who are actually sentient, in the Matrix,) build & maintain the story to keep the attention of the batteries that they rely on.
(Frankly, it’s been a strange day, and strange times at work. I’m feeling a little shattered and confused, and am getting intelligence from all sorts of unusual sources about my situation.)
The reality of groups is related to the reality of stories: Who doubts that stories are real? What else is it that mothers read to their children? Only the most ardent reductionist would say: “Stories are not real, they do not exist, there are only the vibrations of atoms in the what-you-call air.” It simply does not matter that they are fiction.
The same with groups. It simply does not matter that they are fiction. They function just the same.
It is disturbing to the materialist mind to think that imaginary creatures are actually real; that they are substantial. But: They very clearly are. It’s undeniable. Just go to DisneyLand?, and you can see it. Or watch Braveheart, which is homage to a God (also substantial) named “Freedom” (again, substantial.) Anyone who says these things are unsubstantial, simply has not heard the argument, the definition. Hearing the definition, agreement is trivial.
This ties back into the “paradox” thing just a moment ago.
Still stewing on it…
…but it’s clear we have at least the beginnings of a substantial DocumentMode.
I just resolved an edit conflict; Emile submitted 30 minutes before I did.
It’s funny though; We spoke very similar things. So we have evidence of similar thinking forming.
I think the question (title of this page) is somehow misleading. Because it is undefined what “a group” means and what “real” means, so in this situation this will be a matter of interpretation. We can probably agree and give examples for “group is real” like Amnesty Internation and can give examples for “group is not real” like people in a bus.
The comparison of groups and molecules is not stringent, for some reasons:
But this is not so important. The main point is, that in the evolutiont of groups, a group becomes so important to its members, that they want to make it stable, give it “eternal” life. At that point it is made an institution. Corporations, organisations, unsiversities, churches are such institutions. They disentangle functions from specific individuals and define roles, like chairmen or CEOs. When the person that fills a role dsiappears, someone else will fill the role, because the role is made desirable, endowed with status or income. So there is a kind of reproduction of the elements of such social systems. Luhmann’s social system theory is all about that: stable systems that reproduce its elements. Autopoietic systems. Our society is full of them.
Still for our online-community issues, Luhmann isn’t helpful because he only deals with very stable systems. We are interested in groups that unfold, that are in between. Is cw stable? Is it real? – In fact imho it is real, but we do not know for how long.
So the answer to “AreGroupsReal” is simple: Some are and some are not.
I also sense discord between the title of this page and the material that has collected here. Clearly there are relationships, but I do not see a focus for this material yet.
That being said, some of the ideas that have been posted are well worth developing in other contexts. For example, I am planning to extend aspects of my thinking regarding Group decision making & Voting & Trust & Money, on pages like WhatIsMoney and CorporateGoals.
Sadly, I don’t know enough about the original intent of this page to suggest an improved focus statement for it, so I’ll have to leave that to others.
Yes Emile and no. Homo sapiens sapiens is a highly social animal. It does depend on collaboration with others of its species to an extreme degree. Our ancestors, which we have in common with chimps, gorillas and orang-utans did already do so, that’s where we come from. “Group” is the basic operation system for these creatures (primates), us included. Unlike them we moved from the forrest out into the savanah exposing us to a bunch of new life-threatening dangers and doing so we became even more dependent on each other. Not our jaws and teeth, not the ability to run or fly away especially effective, not our armour made us survive in the open savannah. It was our intelligence that did. Our ability to organize, our ability to act as a group. The organ carrying this intelligence is the brain. It memorizes experience, abstracts situations and draws conclusions from such abstractions and it was our brain that made us survive. The bright ones survived. The ones with the more performant (the bigger) brains. The others got killed and eaten. And so our brain exploded to todays size. It didn’t gradually grow, it exploded.
Wolves are pretty social animals too. Unless under extreme odd circumstances wolves do not kill each others. Animals of the same species pretty generally do not. Some fight to rebuild a more effective hierarcy within the group, and there might be blood and injuries but they do not kill each other. An inner program keeps them from doing so. Ah yes, there’s one exeption: us, homo sapiens sapiens.
And this is the no, Emile. The “group” and “war” (the slaughter of animals of the same species) are very differently located on our evolutionary timeline. The “group” is there from the very beginning and we are completely based on it. “Warriors” we turned fairly short ago. 250.000 years ago, something like that (bit hard to tell, as there were no wikis back then). Homo had differentiated into several subspecies at that time, diffent degrees of intelligence, different physis, but still all homo. “Overclocking” the human brain had reached a peak. And suddently (an evolutionary suddently) what before had been the border between species - ok to kill a rabbit in order to eat it and survive but not your neighbor - turned into a border between subspecies/races/ethnics. No other animals did ever go through such a transcend. Cannibalism rose among homo. That hadn’t existed before. The “warrior” is far far younger than the “group-member”.
We turned competitive from what before was collaborative. It happened as a side effect of a brain exploding too fast. This is a bug, and almost all of what we today call “culture” is based on it, most significantly visible in different monetary systems trying to rip each other off. So what is money?
More assuptions than anything else, sorry. Yes, I once read Konrad Lorenz Das sogenannte Böse, yes in ‘93 I took a long drive down to the Dordogne in France visiting Peche Merle and Lascaux and other prehistoric sites and I sat alone by the bank of the river Vezere where the painters had been sitting 20.000 years before thinking “what is it that makes us brain-monkeys tick?”. More assuptions than anything. Maybe off-topic or on another page, thx.
to get an atom out of a molecule, you need very much energy
Ah, but what about getting an atom into a molecule? There’s usually an “energy barrier”. It takes energy to push the atom over the hill to force it to bond with the rest of the molecule – but once it’s over the peak of the hill, it “snaps together” with the rest of the molecule, releasing even more energy.
Sometimes it takes a lot of time and effort to get a person to join an organization (job hunters taking time and energy searching for a job. People in a corporation taking time and energy to hunt for candidates, interview them, select one, and set up office space for her).
It seems that centuries ago, members of a group expected new members to “pick up” common practices. It was expected that new members (journeymen) would hang around more experienced members, starting out nearly useless, learning on the job, and eventually become good at it, then training their own journeymen to perpetuate the skill.
Nowadays, many organizations seem to expect people to immediately become productive after just a few days of orientation. The orientation is highly abstract – you’re not watching someone else actually do something productive, you’re listening to a lecture on how, in theory, productive things are done.
The communication process seems very different in these 2 styles.
Recently, some companies are setting up internal wiki to help pass on internal information.
comparison of groups and molecules is not…
Yes, more analogies would be better. But of course, no analogy is perfect.
We could draw the analogy of a river, where certain features of a river persist (eddies at the sides, turbulent whitewater in one place, clear calmer stream in another place) even though any particular water molecular rapidly rushes through all these features. (But without the water, those features wouldn’t exist at all, only a dry stream bed).
This analogy has its own flaws. All the water-molecule-to-water-molecule interactions are identical. While some person-to-person interactions in a group are very different from other interactions.
There’s also the “cogs in a machine” analogy. Any one gear eventually wears out. But if you replace it with a fresh gear, zap it with a little oil, then the machine as a whole keeps running indefinitely.
Or perhaps we could have an analogy with a lawn full of dandylions (spelling?). If we yank out any one dandylion, a seed from another will sprout to take its place. But if we yank them all out at once, and replace them with sunflowers, … um … what was my point here?
Today I find myself reading an article that claimed that some possible future event, although it “might seem” to be a personal benefit for every human, but “won’t be a better society.” – it “would redefine social attitudes … and not in good ways”. It concludes “We had better not go anywhere near it until we have figured those problems out.”
How can something personally benefit every person in a group, but cause problems for the group?
And if it does, so what? Is it so wrong to damage groups – or even “kill” groups – if it helps individuals?
(I can’t resist pointing out that the “doubling” event has already happened once before. Did we learn anything from the consequences of that event, that would help us prepare for the next time it happens? ).
David, I think that answers to these questions can be given from SystemTheory, although not in a general sense. We have “system” and “elements” and they are sometimes independent, sometimes tightly bound together. The cells in a human body can not benefit while the body dies. The players of a soccer team may all benefit when the team is destroyed (Juventus Turin). The question of “good” (WhatIsGood?) or “benefit” can only be answered in relation to reference systems. If the group is the reference system, of course the result of any change may be negative. When an environment like “society” is used as the reference system, then even the persons and the group prospering may be “bad” (cosa nostra).
I can certainly see how certain actions that benefit a few of the members of a group can be harmful to the rest of the group, and therefore harmful to the group as a whole. For example, a dictatorship is beneficial to the dictator. A lottery is beneficial to the lottery winner. Organized crime is beneficial to those criminals. Things that help individual human cells to grow and spread, becoming a cancer, harm the rest of the cells of the body.
And there are situations that go the other way. Actions that harm a few of the members of a group, can sometimes help the rest of the group, and are therefore helpful to the group as a whole. A warrior leading an attack that ends in his death, but wins the war. A philanthropist. Convicted criminals in prison. Individual cells in a human body that get surgically removed.
I like to think I also understand something about scalability issues. Sometimes actions that would theoretically benefit any one particular member of a group – if he were the only one that did it – turn out to be harmful if everyone in the group does it. (The TragedyOfTheCommons, Wiki:TragedyOfTheCommons).
And, of course, the most common cases: typically actions that harm individuals also harm the group. Typically actions that help individuals also help the group.
What I’m having a hard time picturing is something that benefits every member of a group, but is somehow bad for the group as a whole (or vice versa).
Could you give me an example?
How about an Alcoholics Anonymous group where everyone manages to simultaneously quit drinking?
Good example. “Killing” the group in this way is clearly a good thing. – DavidCary
How about a boy-group on each member starting a successful solo career?
Better example. In this case, I can imagine some listeners being disappointed, because they enjoy certain kinds of songs that cannot be produced solo. So “killing” this group could arguably be a bad thing – lending credence to the “groups are real” viewpoint. – DavidCary
A Question for the Group Skeptics.
“Are families real?”
Is there such a thing as a “family”?
If so, is it something real?
Is it worthy of independent treatment, or should we just think of all the individuals in it, independently, free agents, free to do whatever they want without the dangerous encumberances of collectivism?
This whole AreGroupsReal is an interesting puzzle. (kind of reminds of the puzzle I play around with in my mind sometimes: Is “Time” real?).
Reading back over all of this, there is definitely a rich debate. One of the things that stands out to me is MattisManzel mentioning the early human evolution of cooperation and collective action. There is evidence that certain early human species who developed better ways to cooperate and act collectively had a competetive advantage over other early humanoid species. But, even in these ancient minds, or in the minds of dogs/wolves, or whales, or other social animals, “group” is a co-creation of the minds of those creatures. Some rituals may help synchronize and reinforce this co-creation. Is this why wolves howl? Is this why humans created music. An online friend of mine, named WilliamBenzon?, wrote a book that explores how music helps to synchronize human nervous systems. His book is called Beethoven's Anvil, and it’s definitely worth looking at for understanding the phenomenon of “coupling” (the synchronizing of nervous systems).
So, I think that groups are real in the active, living minds of the people who create and sustain them, and (are reflected) in some of the artifacts that are (co)created by those minds. I think that early humans used music and early language to reinforce groups, and that later the emergence of writing and symbols helped create a hyper-reinforcing mechanism for groups that could scale the reality of groups in minds beyond smaller amounts of people.
Are groups real beyond our minds, and the artifacts/symbols created by our minds? Perhaps not.
So, families are also real within our minds, for sure. within the minds of the people who collectively recognize the family, both inside of the family “group”, and out. So, the question for me becomes a question of whether a pattern in our brain-neurosystems that is reinforced by different vocalizations and other rituals of relationships signaling in animals, and different symbolic representations and collective action rituals in humans, is real?
One way that I have thought about how a group is NOT real, is to think about the many ways that any individual is interconnected with everything else. DavidCary mentioned the TragedyOfTheCommons above. The TragedyOfTheCommons shows the evolutionary shortcomings of “grouping”, and how reframing thinking beyond “us and them”, and rethinking our relationship across articificial boundaries can help us solve planetary survival challenges.
I think that the GlobalBrain thing is going to be something to take more seriously, because, I see people being able to sustain and extend their mental holographs of “groups” longer, and to spread it across more people, and to use technology to aid this action. Thinking will continue to exist for quite a while that will catagorize people into “us and them” (groups). So that, even if groups are not real outside of minds, some people will act and solve problems and design systems as though they are real. And, these system designs and this problem solving will affect and influence the exchange of information and knowledge between people. This will cause people to work “around” these assumptions about reality, and we see this starting to happen now in many ways.
I suppose a generic interpretation of “are groups real” (that is not necessarily tied to humans, or words in conversations, or atoms) is: “Are Assemblages Real?”
An atom is an assembly. Is it Real?
I think the proper thing to do is to collect the different variants of interpreting “Are Groups Real?”
For example, HelmutLeitner asked, “Is a group of people in a bus a real group?” We might also ask: “Of all the people in the world, do the people who’s names start with the letter A a group?”
So now we have “groups that are the answers to discriminating questions” and “groups that are connections between people who are not exercising their RightToLeave.” In fact, both exist, but should not be confused with one another. The first is perhaps a “tally,” the second is a “communicative association,” or something like that.
Tallies can become communicative associations – the people in the bus might all talk with each other regularly, but they are different. (And they’re both “real,” albeit in radically different ways, and with different ways of “utility” as concepts.)
Oh it would be nice to rewrite this page, and divide AreAggregatesReal from AreGroupsReal. AreAggregatesReal would contain the questions of: “What do we mean by aggregate? What do we mean by “real?” What are the questions we are really asking, when we ask– is it real or not, in this context?”
AreGroupsReal would then say, more specifically: “Are groups of people who are (more or less) talking with each other, or otherwise thinking of each other as part of a group, – are they real, in the sense of the following questions: …” (And also point to the more general question, “AreAggregatesReal?”)
OK, once we admit that groups are real, I think the next question is: How do we encourage “good” groups to form, and discourage “bad” groups from forming? What sorts of group structures are beneficial?
(This post inspired by Entrepreneurial Teams).
Isn’t this as simple as striving to make your personal contributions to a Group better?
After all, if everyone participating in a group did this, then the good would improve until it becomes a “good” group.
Since everyone I know they feels they “don’t have enough time”, one simple method for improving groups becomes…
That sounds a lot like the 80/20 rule (Wikipedia:Pareto_principle). However, the essay “The Long Tail” (Wikipedia:The_Long_Tail) points out that, in some cases, that rule gives the wrong prescription. In particular, sometimes it is worthwhile to contribute tiny amounts of time to huge numbers of things.
I have no idea if “The Long Tail” applies to group memberships. If, hypothetically, “The Long Tail” applied to groups, then perhaps a valid improvement would be:
striving to make your personal contributions to a Group better
Certainly this is one way to make a group better. But I hear too many stories about how a group of people all sincerely try to do the best they can, but a flawed corporate structure leads to disaster. Or perhaps someone sees in time that the corporate structure is flawed, but it’s nearly impossible to change that structure.
And I fail to see how that is relevant to “encourage “good” groups to form” – how can I make my personal contributions to a group “better”, when the group does not yet exist?
Surely there is a better way to encourage good groups to form?
However, I see it does “discourage “bad” groups from forming” – if everyone recognizes that it is a “bad” group, and avoids spending any time as part of that group, then the group disappears.
DavidCary, I tried to do your “5 minutes reworking” thing here, and I can’t figure out how to do it on this page. (Unlike some other pages, where I think the idea works beautifully.)
Do you have any thoughts?
This just gave me an idea, for encouraging reworking: ReworkingGames?. Perhaps we can make little games that treat the prior discussion as raw material, some of which will be used, rather than as a treasure trove of wisdom that must be preserved. (yes..?) Multiple procedures for playing the different games with old texts…
Regardless. Here we stand, on AreGroupsReal.
Yes, that “spend 5 minutes editing and reworking” idea in ReworkingEconomy?
I couldn’t get it to work with FreeWillAndDeterminism. You couldn’t get it to work with this page.
So maybe it doesn’t always work. Or maybe there is a way to convert it to a RampTask, and we just don’t see it today. But next month, when we’ve learned a little more – perhaps we’ll see a way to not only make some little change, but also improve the structure to make it easier for the next person to make a little 5-minute change.
The approach I’m taking right now is the “one line summary” approach – one line for each post. MAX. Unless there’s some interesting structural map to take out of it.
We can treat the text as a mass, and just hack at it, rather than treating it as an intellectual collection of ideas. Compare with: “index every string of letters” vs. “tokenize, parse, render into an intelligent tree.”
Once we have all this stuff, I think I’ll use it to start breaking stuff up, shattering it.
MethodologicalIndividualism?, for example, will certainly get the boot, into it’s own page.
It was explained to me that our understanding of MethodologicalIndividualism? is wrong: Methodological Individualism does not deny that “the state” exists, or that groups are real– it simply says, “If you want to explain the groups interactions, you have to understand the interactions of the individuals.”
I’m not confident that it is true, since an AlexandrianMethod of inquiry into groups and group behaviors could turn into understandings, even though you don’t understand all the individuals inside the groups.
But it is not the same thing as: “Groups don’t exist.”
supports BayleShanks point that the exact same people, placed in 2 different organizational structures, can give 2 different results.
Define external redirect: BethNovick ReworkingGames DisneyLand WilliamBenzon KurzweilAi DefeasibleReasoning CategoryGroupDynamics TheRealityOfGroups MethodologicalIndividualism GroupsAreReal WhatIsGood