Books: Global Brain

July 10, 2010 |  by

by Howard Bloom, 2000.

I’ve softened a bit on Bloom. From his second book, it’s clear that Bloom’s battle is in promoting group dynamics as an evolutionary force alongside theories of individual selection. A comprehensive worldview of memes in relation to individual free will – that’s just not his pitch.

Like its predecessor, Global Brain spends a lot of time on baboons and bacteria. The entire first half follows the evolution of life from the first protozoa 4 billion years ago to prehistoric clams, bees, ants and (of course) baboons. The story then links up with early humanity: the ancient settlements of Jericho (11,000 years ago) and Çatal Höyük in Asia Minor up through Plato and Pythagoras, Sparta and Athens. Throughout the comparison is drawn – our societies share the same group pulls and pushes that bacteria and bees face, but on a higher level.

It’s all meticulously detailed with great examples of groupthink. Bloom shows us the mass mind and how it rules our lives. But in the end, the question remains: where is there room for the individual? In Bloom’s world, it seems, there isn’t. Everything is a product of global brain, the network. That’s the whole presumption of Global Brain: that from bacteria to baboons to humans is an unending chain of group dynamics. Yes, that’s true – but is that the whole story? Can we really explain ourselves solely from the standpoint of group? And as much as some scientists say we are merely the “highest animals,” isn’t there something uniquely different about you…versus a baboon? This is territory Bloom doesn’t enter. I say group dynamics will never fully explain human beings, precisely because the individual element in humans defies group definition. If you check all the boxes on a survey describing yourself – is that really you?

To me, that’s the limitation of the mass mind. Sure it can compel and excite, but it lacks that real spark…of you, of me. What makes history interesting? Great individuals. Heroes. But also groups. In fact, you could say the story of humanity is one of groups and individuals. Bloom leaves out half the story.

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