39 – #MYSTERY

All is known in the Age of Omniscience, but no one knows everything. Most know nothing at all about a particular something, while, through diligence, a few have achieved true mastery. This mastery is not something that can be proclaimed; rather, it exists only when recognized. Expertise has its own gravitational force, attracting those to it who feel themselves irresistibly drawn to learn.

The master is never hermetic. Masters might choose to sequester themselves behind the filters of acolytes, ensuring only those whose needs can not be addressed by lesser talents make their way through. Masters can choose to declaim themselves openly, taking all comers with whatever talents they present. In either case, expertise is social and transactional, conferred more than inferred. You are not an expert until others say you are.

From the moment a master is recognized, they become visible both to those working toward their own expertise, and to all other masters. Our competitive instinct drives us in both situations: peer-group approval in any community of knowledge is principally engendered by the mastery of that knowledge. The more one knows, the higher one’s standing. Anyone engaged in ‘climbing the ladder’ within any community of knowledge tacitly acknowledges that they must both simultaneously learn from those who know more than they do, and demonstrate that knowledge to those who know less. Neglect either obligation, and they may find themselves failing in the eyes of the community, a process which becomes self-reinforcing, because opportunities both to learn and to teach are strongly correlated to status with the community of knowledge. To he who has much, more will be given.

The struggle never ends, nor even slows down, for ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’. Those at the top see only those struggling from beneath to surpass them. The master must assist the able student, yet doing so sows the seeds of the master’s undoing. But the master can not use silence as a mechanism of control: the collapse of informational asymmetry in the age of hyperconnectivity means that the master can neither obfuscate nor slow the student’s progress: too much is known. The master can maintain a position of recognized expertise only in a dynamic pose, always moving, further and deeper, doing everything possible to stay ahead of the student — just as the student puts every effort into a chase of the master, both trapped within an unforgiving environment that continually selects for expertise.

Where does the master turn for help? Who is the master’s master? One person’s mastery is not another’s; both individuals will reflect a peculiar mastery drawn from their unique experience. Much will be held in common, but – because of talent, or accident, or predilection – each master stands alone. Yet each master will be aware of the other masters; this is one quality that defines a master. Distinct yet equal, the masters now find themselves forced to turn to one another, each possessing knowledge which all others need. Masters must share with other masters, just as they must share with students. If they do not, they will quickly be surpassed and forgotten, yet another example of someone who neglected to stay current.

Experts seek each other out, not just to revel in the camaraderie of a shared quest, but because only here can they find the necessary defenses against the assaults which come as the natural consequence of their position. There is a never-voiced element of desperation present when experts gather together, for they conspire in nothing more than self-preservation. Sharing what they know with their peers is the only possible path into continued survival.

Expectations are higher and pressures stronger at the top. Experts become obsessives in a defensive action that sees them forced into tight expert networks, unwilling and finally unable to rupture the bonds which tie them to their peers. Losing that connection would result in the loss of everything. Pressed into this corner, thought-leaders instinctively form ‘invisible colleges’, mystery schools of knowledge communities supporting mastery. Within these colleges the masters learn from one another while passing on the mysteries to those who follow, an uneasy steady-state of sharing and learning.

One must learn from others, and teach them, but any collection of the like minded will inevitably open to the third mode of being: exploring. Each contributes from what they know in an investigation of the unknown. The master has more experience to draw upon, but those who know less may be open to more: T.S. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions grounds its argument on this innocence of perspective. In each relationship – expert to expert, expert to student, student to student – each provides a component the other needs but lacks, a synergy which produces hyperintelligence, where ‘collective intelligence’ produces something greater than a mere addition of elements would allow for. It is not simply knowing more, but rather that the relations and connections create knowledge amplification.

In a network of hyperintelligence, those who know little learn much, quickly coming up to speed, while those who know much learn whom to turn to when they need to complement their capabilities. In the age of hyperconnectivity, the expert masters the connections to knowledge, working continuously with peers to constantly improve capabilities for the entire community of knowledge.

Such networks have long existed within universities, guilds and other forms of association. Now that these networks span the entire human race they have transcended the local and immediate to become permanent fixtures in our culture and the foundational elements in our new capabilities.

We need not fear the rise of the monolithic hivemind, dictating the subject and objects of consciousness. Hyperintelligence is dynamic, competitive and fractious, shaped by the competitive social pressures we possess as an inherent part of our primate heritage. Never singular, hyperintelligence looks like an amplified version of the ‘society of mind’ we carry around in our own heads.

During the last half billion seconds we created the necessary preconditions for the emergence of hyperintelligence. During the next half billion seconds, we are learning how to integrate our knowledge, our understanding, and our capabilities into these networks. We are learning how to be hyperintelligent.

32 – #SHARP

Two people meet. They do not know each other, but thrown together – perhaps in a taxi, or sitting next to each other on a long flight – they break an uncomfortable silence with conversation. Too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry – everyone always starts with the weather, climate being the one thing we all share in common.

Somewhere during this conversation something else comes up – a mention of a child, a visit to a faraway land, or a favored pastime, immediately seized upon as broader common ground, a platform for further conversation. This exploration of what each knows begins with a series of confirmations of knowledge shared (we both know these things) but as conversation deepens it sharpens, reassurance transforming into exploration: what do you know? What can you teach me? What can I share with you that will surprise, delight or amaze you?

Under the right conditions, all of this can happen in a minute or less. We are spectacularly good at detecting and zooming in on the things that unite us (and, unfortunately, those that divide us), prepared to go deep in order to display our own prowess (thereby gaining in social standing), and equally prepared to become the student, when we stumble upon a true master.

A behavior this immediate and casual forms a template we repeat throughout every corner of our lives. All of our relations have this quality of discovery, where we assume one of three postures: master; student; or exploring together. Where several people come together to share, we will assume all of these roles simultaneously, teaching some, learning from others, and joining in open-ended endeavors.

From tribe to megalopolis, every grouping of humanity has seen us mix and match ourselves into these human networks of sharing. The antecedents of our schools, we have always come together in numbers to learn from one another, to teach one another, and to delve into the unknown. Most of our relations can be characterized in these terms: elders teaching the young; young learning from the experience of the old; lovers and friends striking out together on life’s great journey.

This, more than anything else, might be humanity’s defining quality. A recent study compared young chimpanzees with human toddlers on a range of intelligence tests. The humans blew past the chimpanzees because they learned from one another, teaching one another, pooling their knowledge to solve the tasks set before them. Chimpanzees, although very much as bright as those toddlers, did not share what they knew, and so had to re-invent the solution, every single time.

We share, and so take the shortcut, leveraging all previous experience into the present moment, sharpening the blunt instrument of our intelligence against the whetstone of learning. For time beyond measure, human culture has been so rich that we need to become learned in its ways, and we sustain this complexity only because we have developed effective techniques to cram all of it into the heads of the young. If we learned nothing from one another, we would still be arboreal foragers in the Rift Valley of East Africa, like our chimpanzee cousins.

Instead, we have schools, where we gather together in formally acknowledged roles of student and master, codifications of relations that existed informally but pervasively within the tribe. Yet the previous patterns persist, innate, immediate, and natural. In or out of school, we can not help but learn, nor can we stop ourselves from teaching.

Schools have always required the proximity of the city, students gathering together with masters in the Academy. In the tribe we were all together all the time, always available for any moment when knowledge could be shared. In our new-found hyperconnectivity we have recovered that moment, amplified with all of the tools and techniques of ten thousand years of school. We are always available to learn or to teach, but now we can learn from four and a half billion, and be taught by any of them, freely associating ourselves in common pursuit.

We share and thereby ‘find the others’ who share our passions and our pursuits, associating with them online and in the flesh, forming communities of ‘gurus’ and ‘n00bs’, each with a role to play. The student must sit at the feet of the master and learn. If they refuse to endure the necessary rites of passage, they will be heckled and ridiculed and excluded until they accept their place within the hierarchy of relations which characterizes all such groups.

Prized to the degree they choose to commit to the teaching of those less advanced, the teacher must balance teaching with learning, lest they fall behind in their own expertise, losing their place of prominence within that hierarchy of relations. Withdraw too completely and be considered selfish; give too willingly and lose one’s position. Those who can must do and teach.

The number of peers-in-expertise decreases as one approaches the pinnacle of craft. The more expert one becomes, the greater the pressure to demonstrate that expertise. These demands slow forward progress, and where nearly everyone is less expert, those demands become onerous. The most expert withdraw behind a cloud of mystery, and a guild materializes, a barrier between initiates and the hoi polloi.

A thousand years ago, that withdrawal would have kept knowledge hidden away, locked securely within a community of experts, but that withholding – a form of censorship – can not be sustained in the age of omniscience. Experts can remove themselves, but they can not remove their expertise. You can no longer take your toys and go home. Even where someone stops playing the game, the game goes on.

With a constant pressure from beneath to improve, there is no escape into expertise, only an increasing acceleration into greater expertise. Association becomes the only way to maintain expertise; there’s simply too much for any one mind to absorb. Communities spontaneously differentiate, relying upon individuals to be reservoirs of particular expertise within a greater body of expertise, knowing that all can be called upon as required, providing collective capacities far greater than any of its individuals.

This book is a shared pursuit – not just of the two co-authors, but of all readers interested in the topics explored in these hundred chapters. For this reason, we are now making public all of our research links – collected over the last 12 months – so we can more broadly learn from one another, and explore this collective sharpening of our minds.