Environmental Health & Research Dissemination Network

Environmental Research Dissemination Network.

Collaborative Learning & Common Cause Values:  The role energy trails play as the basis of information provides an empirical explanation of intelligence. In turn, energy’s combined roles in organization and intelligent create an empirical explanation of why humanity is a collaborative learning species. 

Confirming that humanity is primarily a collaborative learning species has profound implications for our understanding of how civilizations work. In this view, human beings adapt rapidly and thrive mightily by pooling information, forging new hypotheses about how things work, and then changing their behavior rapidly by changing their beliefs. This is why we talk and build scientific theories.

Here, common-cause values such as reciprocity, fairness, justice and “sympathy” (alla Adam Smith) are the glue that holds us together and the grease that smooths our collaboration. Here, selfishness is not the centerpiece of human nature, but an exaggerated standpoint that says more about oligarchic culture than about nature at large. 

Humanity’s collaborative-learning nature explains: 1) the powerful impact beliefs systems have on human behavior; and 2) why restoring common-cause values and investing in human capital are critical to long-term societal vitality.

Collaborative Learning – So, what makes a society healthy? Where social Darwinists say human beings are fundamentally selfish, ESS says human beings are primarily a collaborative-learning species that thrives by pooling information, forging ever-better hypotheses about how things work, and then revising our behavior by revising our beliefs. This is why we talk, build scientific theories, and create cultural systems that preserve societal lessons learned over time. Our social nature further explains why learning is not solely an individual act of mental gymnastics, but a group effort to thrive by innovating, adapting and generally trying to find better ways. 

Such collective learning is clearly responsible for all the miracles we have today. For example, in Creating a Learning Society, Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald (2014) point out that today’s astounding technologies and lifestyles are due to the Scientific Revolution’s grand leap in “learning how to learn” as a society. As they put it: “To understand how countries grow and develop, it is essential to know how they learn and become more productive – and what governments can do to promote learning.”

Conversely, we are still racing toward oblivion because we have failed to learn despite clear evidence and loads of remedies waiting in the wings. The problem here is that oligarchies are designed to maintain elite power, not solve human problems. Indeed, most oligarchies actively work against solutions that might impinge on their power, privilege or impunity.