Notes: Dave Snowden - '#12 MANAGING IN COMPLEXITY - DAVE SNOWDEN | Being Human'


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'#12 MANAGING IN COMPLEXITY - DAVE SNOWDEN | Being Human'
[Dave Snowden]

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39:58 - We’ve got very few polymaths left in the UK under the age of 50, because the education system is now highly specialised. That’s a major mistake, because one of the strengths of British education has been our ability to produce generalists, but we’re not producing them any more.

A collection of specialists is not the same thing as a generalist. A generalist knows a little bit about a lot of things and can integrate disciplines; a specialist can’t integrate.

Exaptation is a process by which you suddenly notice novel side effects and associations.


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41:19 - Art comes before language in human evolution - we learned to draw on the walls of caves before we really spoke.

Like everything in evolution, its accident. Basically we draw because it has use for the hunt, but what it also does is allow us to shift up a level of abstraction. If you go up a level of abstraction you make novel associations. I have some of my best ideas either walking or at the opera, because I’ve moved up a level of abstraction. My mind associates things in a less concrete way. Abstraction is key to innovation.

It is one of the arguments most of us from a scientific background are making against the focus on STEM education, because if you don’t have art you don’t have innovation. It is this engineering culture coming through again. Engineers who appreciate art are more likely to be exaptive.


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50:28 - The problem with a hypothesis is it’s based on what we understand from the past. So if something novel has happened, it will restrict our ability to see it.

If you have a hypothesis it’s highly risky under conditions of uncertainty because the past is not going to repeat. You have massive asymmetry between the past and the future, so hypothesis based approaches don’t work. You move from deductive logic to abductive logic.

Abductive is sometimes known as the logic of hunches - what is the most plausible connection between apparently unconnected things. Human beings have evolved to think abductively which means we’re brilliantly inventive, but also prone to conspiracy theories. 

We’ve got fifty-five people who come with these wild ideas. [To objectivise these abductive leaps] we present the wild ideas to panels of several thousand, they interpret it - if we get a dominant pattern we know it’s probably okay.

You can’t rely on individual judgement. Human beings evolved to make decisions collectively, not individually. That’s our strength, we can cooperate. We can [also] cooperate outside kinship groups - the advantage of that is that you can have specialists.

So-called educational deficiencies [autism, dyslexia, etc] are actually part of the collective intelligence. This is now called cognitive diversity. If you can increase the number of people in the collective decision cycle you can make it more objective.


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