23 November 2007

ants, brain cells, falling in love, and the abandonment of leadership as we know it






Sir Francis Galton
, one of the founders of eugenics discovered something quite to the contrary of the idea of bettering the human condition through having only the elite educated make the rules. The story is well written here (author notes aside) but I'll copy it:

1822 Sir Francis Galton (d. 1911), English explorer, statistician, anthropologist, advocate of eugenics (i.e. the discredited notion of improving the physical and mental makeup of the human species by selected parenthood; he coined the term), and investigator of the human mind.

He was born into the remarkable Darwin - Wedgwood family and was the grandson of Erasmus Darwin and Charles Darwin’s half first cousin. It was Galton who gave statistics the concept of regression toward the mean.

Galton was an elitist, a believer in the power of a better class of people, noting “the stupidity and wrong-headedness of many men and women being so great as to be scarcely credible.”

Some of his research interprets as the superiority of group-think over experts. At one of England’s many fairs, he noticed a wagering competition in which people had to guess on the weight of an ox. Eight hundred people wrote their guesses on slips of paper; some were butchers and farmers, while others were casual guessers.

Averaging the estimates, Galton expected the result to be nowhere near the mark, because so few of the guessers were professionals in the meat business. To his surprise, however, the crowd had come within one pound of the ox’s weight. The group as a whole had guessed that the ox would weigh 1,197 pounds, and the ox’s actual weight was 1,198 pounds.


This study has since been done thousands of times across college classrooms with a jar of jelly beans and the outcome is alway they same: No one particular person guesses the correct amount of jelly's in a jar, but the collective group average is always remarkably close.

Google works the same way. No one person or elite group of people determine site rankings. It's all done in a matrix ranking the collective group of hits to, and links from websites. In a sense everyone... and no one, determines how Google ranks.

Ants, bees, and even brain cells don't have a leader. There is a collective thought that determines how ants find your picnic lunch, how bees build a hive, or how we fall in love.

Paul even had a grasp of this when he talks of Christ followers being a body. Christ is the head - the exception of the 'no leader' like insects and cells - but other than that, no one member of the 'body' is more important than another member.

The Israelite people demanded a King - a leader - and although God relented, he made it very clear that His original intention is that they were to have no leader but Himself.

Do you get my drift? Do you see a pattern that maybe should be done differently in the church? Is Sir Francis Galton right where the church should be built on the educated and experts? Or is it the bees where the church should be created in the forms of mysterious collective thought?

Does this dismiss leadership all together or does it just force us to think differently about what a leader looks like?

Here's a book I'm interested in: From Steven Johnson and his website is here. I heard him on a WNYC podcast called "Emergence" but you'll have to do the legwork yourself in I-Tunes because the weblink didn't work. But heck, I ain't your leader, although, maybe we can collectively emerge with the right answer. ;-)

4 comments:

Mike Croghan said...

Good stuff, David!

David said...

Thanks man!
My blogs are getting a bit long. I think a shorter one is next...
:-)

Paul said...

here am i getting shorter and you're getting longer :)

Still i think it reveals an important point of the value of everyone in the body and that in Christ done of us our superior, in are difference is our strength

flashparry said...

http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2007/07/08