Insight to collective cooperation…….
Knowledge is dispersed and shared. Friedrich Hayek was the first to point out, in his famous 1945 essay “The Uses of Knowledge in Society,” that central planning cannot work because it is trying to substitute an individual all-knowing intelligence for a distributed and fragmented system of localized but connected knowledge.
So dispersed is knowledge, that, as Leonard Reed famously observed in his 1958 essay “I, Pencil,” nobody on the planet knows how to make a pencil. The knowledge is dispersed among many thousands of graphite miners, lumberjacks, assembly line workers, ferrule designers, salesmen and so on. This is true of everything that I use in my everyday life, from my laptop to my shirt to my city. Nobody knows how to make it or to run it. Only the cloud knows.
One of the things I have tried to do in my book “The Rational Optimist” is to take this insight as far back into the past as I can—to try to understand when it first began to be true. When did human beings start to use collective rather than individual intelligence?
In doing so, I find that the entire field of anthropology and archaeology needs Hayek badly. Their debates about what made human beings successful, and what caused the explosive take-off of human culture in the past 100,000 years, simply never include the insight of dispersed knowledge. They are still looking for a miracle gene, or change in brain organization, that explains, like a deus ex machina, the human revolution. They are still looking inside human heads rather than between them.