Morality and Collective Intelligence

Carl H. Flygt

September 2006


The need for unity of mind and body is the impulse behind moral intuitions and moral dispositions generally. The impulse for unity is the Ur-emotion, the primordial erotic impulse in all animal life, and in human beings it is expressed not only in impulses for food and sex, but in higher impulses for goodness, for truth and for beauty. Collective Intelligence, of course, represents an explicit and self-conscious instance of that impulse for unity, expressed socially,

and as such depends on a developed moral will.


Under Collective Intelligence, however, degenerate expressions of the impulse to unity are ineffective. Such expressions merely fail to induce the remarkable state of tranquility and urgency that characterize the genuine article. Conversation as it is generally practiced in American culture today, tending either to the one extreme of ‘sharing’ and me-talk or to the other of angry political opinionating, is the primary instance of such degenerate expression, and some educational work on the nature of conversation is probably in order to provide a more general alternative to this cultural trap. The solution is to show how moral principles are intrinsic to all conversation and language use, and to provide forums for people to practice with some fundamentals. Individuals thus schooled will be more ready to step into a circumstance where real Collective Intelligence is on order.


In actual reality, every moment of thought and every impulse toward speech is a response to a natural law that demands a unity of mind and body. This law is the reason many people find meditation difficult – the mind, or more specifically the emotions have a tendency to jump around from content to content in an apparently haphazard manner, and this haphazard behavior not only undermines concentration but is difficult to control. The cause of this behavior is a subconscious, astral intelligence, common to every human being, trying to unify the terrestrial body of the meditator with its cosmic memory and its cosmic scale. The problem of meditation and karma in general is that cosmic memory and cosmic scale are not readily assimilated by terrestrial intelligence and the terrestrial scale. It is not so easy for a sense-adapted terrestrial intelligence to get simultaneously comfortable in a supersensible cosmic environment.


It is just this comfort, however, that is required for Collective Intelligence to emerge in a social group. The remarkable fact is that no great meditative or spiritual conditioning is necessary for the individual to participate in and contribute to a circumstance of Collective Intelligence. As long as his (her) moral intuitions are sound, he (she) could walk off the street and into a circumstance of Collective Intelligence. The capacity for acute moral intuition, moreover, is something that can be developed in the primary and secondary schools. It seems reasonable, therefore, to hope for a human future not only where Collective Intelligence is widely practiced and where a good use of language likewise is widely taught, but where no extraordinary individual efforts are required to unify terrestrial human nature with cosmic human nature. The growth of common human culture and common human consciousness into a cosmic display of light, life and love may prove a natural outgrowth of correct language practices and widespread Collective Intelligence.


I have left a good bit of saying just what “correct language practices” are to my book Conversation – A New Theory of Language. Suffice it here to say that these practices essentially entail the exercise of the good will, with its universalist maxims and its dreams of unity and bliss. The good will applied microscopically to language use entails something like art in sentence formation and, de facto, art in thought itself. Hence the Art of Conversation. Thorough consideration of that idea, moreover, leads to the conclusion that correct language practices are in reality ontological practices, practices affecting the very being of the language user. Human beings using language well become actual works of art in themselves. Collective Intelligence and correct language use lead inescapably to the idea of a human future populated by something beyond mere human beings, by actual angels or something like them.


To get a sense of how this transhuman ontology will originate, consider the following set of conversational maxims suggested to beginning audiences by Craig Hamilton, whose groundbreaking work on Collective Intelligence has made much of the current essay possible to write. These maxims are by no means beyond the capacity of the ordinary human being to attempt and sustain, and they have considerable appeal to common sense as well. But one does well to notice how different these maxims are from those used in common parlance. Different enough, perhaps, if they are used widely, to change us into a new form of life.


     1. Be more interested in what you don’t already know than in what you do already know.


This means leaving behind your preconceived ideas and showing up empty handed, but interested. It may be scary and insecure, but it can also be thrilling.


     2. Put your attention on what’s happening outside yourself, in the collective.


Have the guts to ignore your inner monologue and let your attention completely fall onto the whole.


     3. Have the courage to express that which you don’t yet fully understand.

Listen for the deeper currents in the conversation and respond to those deeper threads.


Often there can be a sense of something just glimmering on the edge of consciousness, something so subtle that you wouldn’t normally dare speak about it. Find the impulse to speak about that.


     4. Participate. Collective Intelligence is not for spectators.


There is a longing for wholeness within the group itself that can only be fully satisfied when everyone participates authentically. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Your own experience will change dramatically if you participate.


     5. Avoid the presumption of leadership. Conversation under Collective Intelligence is non-facilitated. There are no assigned leaders in these groups and there is no need for a leader.


When such conversations work, guidance emerges spontaneously through each person as his (her) own deepest self.


     6. Avoid the personal.


For those who have done a lot of group work in a therapeutic context, this can be difficult. But the idea here is to venture into the universal, the impersonal dimension of our being.


     7. Avoid the abstract.


Conversation under Collective Intelligence is not an intellectual exercise. Although some insight might capture your mind, keep listening for the deeper dimensions of consciousness, beyond the intellect.


Of these wise, intelligent and essentially moral maxims, I would here like to expand on what is entailed by number 3, the injunction to work at the periphery of consciousness. Action at the periphery is significant because of what it implies for intentionality, the logical structure of the will and free action in general, which is normally exercised with respect to the center, and not the periphery of consciousness. Intentional states generally have an object with a propositional form. They are states in which there is consciousness that something is the case. If I intend (try) to jump across a creekbed, my intentionality (my consciousness) has the form


try (I cross the creekbed by jumping)


where “try” is my psychological state in the moment and “I cross the creekbed” is an idea or proposition that exerts a semantic force on my mind. My mind in that moment becomes occupied by that meaning. In normal intentionality, such possession of or by some form of meaning is firm and unambiguous, and is characterized by control and egocentrism. Normal intentional states are states of egocentric control.


The logical structure is somewhat different under morally tinged intentions, where the will functions not egocentrically but universalistically. Here intentionality adopts an open focus and the propositional (semantic) content is overshadowed and colored by something completely general. Suppose for example I intend or try to do a good deed, such as helping an aged woman across a street. Here the intentionality is


try (I help this woman insofar as helping her thus

is something that anyone in my position would do).


Notice that the intention to jump the creek contains no such general notion (the concept of “anyone”). Jumping the creek is not something that anyone would do of necessity, but the moral action is.


With the intention to focus on the periphery of consciousness during conversation, and to speak from it, the situation is both analogous to the moral action and instructive of several other points. Here the intentionality is


try (I speak about a content which I cannot completely make out

but which nevertheless exerts a certain emotional pull on me).


Here it is the indistinctness of the intentional content that gives it universality. Anyone in the presence of such a content, assuming he (she) perceives the need and summons the courage to do so, is going to relate to it in the same way, namely by groping at it innocently and naively. Their indistinctness and not their correctness, as in the case of helping the old woman, is what universalizes contents at the periphery of consciousness. Our stance toward such contents is de facto moral because we are all equally helpless to control them.


Something important and complicated is added, moreover, when a group of individuals focuses at the periphery of consciousness all at the same time. When a group works in this way, the individuals are induced to fall into the same mood. This moral unity of mood is the essence of Collective Intelligence. Under a unified mood, a crowd becomes capable of expressing enormous power, and individual consciousness is exalted. Think of the Nuremberg Rallies under Adolf Hitler. In contrast, under Collective Intelligence, which is not a crowd phenomenon, individuals exercise courage. In crowd psychology, there are no acts of individual courage, but under Collective Intelligence, individual courage is essential.


The nature of this courage is a direct confrontation with the deontic scorekeeping (the judgments) that everyone else is tracking whenever someone utters a sentence. If someone says something dumb, irrelevant or anti-social he (she) loses social status, and no self-respecting individual wants to experience a public loss of social status. This loss however is precisely what must be risked when forming intentional contents at the periphery of consciousness. These contents, after all, are indistinctly known, and perhaps, for all anyone knows, not even real. If someone during conversation proves to be chasing down irreality, he (she) is certain to lose a certain amount of social status. This confrontation with what is real is what is required in Collective Intelligence.


Some people, of course, have more courage than others. Differences in courage however are merely differences in tone or color, and do not affect the necessity of the underlying mood. In fact, these differences in approaching the Unknown are what give rise to conversation generally, and are what give exercises of Collective Intelligence their variety, novelty, liveliness and ultimately, their temporality. Contrary to what some may believe, however, neither variety, liveliness nor temporality are the essence of conversation, of Collective Intelligence or of social life in general. Their real essence is universality and the moral will, and in all likelihood a physical dimension of cosmic spatiality carried around in the self-consciousness of the individual and in the consciousness of others connected to that individual by judgment. The essence of consciousness is the spatial nature of the cosmos itself.


The mystical objects at the periphery of consciousness, then, when they reveal themselves in meditation or in the open-eyed circumstances of Collective Intelligence, descend like fearsome angels, with power, surprise and profound intimacy. They are, in all probability, messages from the cosmos itself, or better, cosmic spatial relationships at work all the time anyway in human life and human consciousness, and in what remains of human consciousness after death and before birth, which happen to enter consciousness explicitly at certain moments for imponderable reasons. Most efforts to express and invoke these contents, of course, fall short of the mark, so that the earthshaking radiance and glory of their true reality remains withheld and hidden. The mere effort to contact them in a systematic way, and particularly in a social way, however, infallibly has significance and bears fruit for life on earth. The presence of the angels is registered, if not always directly intuited, they say, when an individual meditates or prays. More certainly and more tangibly, the angels gather when human beings exert a moral will in a concerted social manner.