We usually think of ourselves as highly intelligent, complex, motivated, biomachines that have free will and represent the apex of an age-long evolutionary process. Yet in reality, instead of a purpose-built, no-expense-spared project we are the biological equivalent of a tendering process that favours the lowest bidder who’s fit-for-purpose. (not unlike in fact the way NASA builds rockets: http://goo.gl/xSvAI9
except we can’t re-tender if a disastrous compromise has been made somewhere).
So, we end up becoming discrete bio-units, each locked up inside a body that contains a brain. Our behaviour guided by mental modelling that requires the creation of ‘bubbles’ or safe zones which would allow us the breathing space required to function properly. We form tight communities guided by creed, ideology, language or ethnicity (or a combination of all these). We labour under the illusion that we are independent, self-sufficient yet, in our every step, from birth to death, we rely on others for our most basic needs.
Even within highly stylized constructs, like airports, where the transitional nature of the situation frequently justifies our complete withdrawal into ourselves, we create a complex, hierarchical, highly visible, social construct (the airport and the society that makes it possible) that is designed to not only get complete strangers travelling across the globe, to their destination, safely, but also reassure them that things work, that the system is functioning and that people are doing what they are supposed to even if there is no personal connection between them and us.
The question why we form communities has many answers (http://goo.gl/tC5fpN
) and they all make sense in terms of survival. What is less readily available to understand is why do we then also make connections so easily with total strangers with whom we have little in common except perhaps an interest in something?
The answer there lies both in instincts (of which we have quite a few, albeit well-hidden ones): http://goo.gl/HkJvTl
and design. We form communities (even ones that are framed by very narrow boundaries) driven by four fundamental psychological needs: http://goo.gl/LljW4r
and then, perversely, and mostly subconsciously, we mirror the fact that our existence is the result of a whole lot of ‘random processes’ and events working together, and we run our complex, energy-intensive, societal constructs on trust: http://goo.gl/BJ7l98
We require trust to actually make anything work in a communal sense: http://goo.gl/cPTnNX
. When trust is so key to our survival it is unlikely that we do not already have developed highly complex cognitive schemas for actually dealing with it. It is only now that we begin to realise the processes that constantly go on behind our eyes which allow us to determine whether we are ‘OK’ with something or not: http://goo.gl/JRT0r8
There is a paradox at work here that needs to be unpacked a little further. While we have truly complex, cognitive processes that allow us to calculate trust these are little more than a cognitive framework within which we process experiences which then allow us to formulate mental constructs. Put more simply, there is inherent programming in us, but it will be shaped by our experiences which will then guide our expectations. Both the latter and the former will be determined by our behaviour. It is this latter path that allows the manifestation of ‘free will’ and determination, hope, vision and planning to manifest themselves.
While we all carry more or less the same cognitive schemas inside our brains the output of their processes are determined by our willingness to take chances, experience other cultures and people, be ‘brave’ and talk to ‘strangers’, be willing to be vulnerable, to enter situations where the outcome is uncertain in the hope that they will prove beneficial.
In earlier ages, this led to continents being discovered, countries being opened up, passages across the world being found. It’s a drive that has not disappeared even though much of the world has been mapped: http://goo.gl/DY5B30
. The cost of doing it offline has always been high, both in terms of personal and communal stakes. The cost of doing it online is, as expected, significantly lower but nevertheless fraught with the same complex issues of risk, reward and achievement.
We join communities. Start conversations, take part in threads, ‘meet up’ with people in video calls, HOAs (in G+) and with people we met online in the real world and none of it is ‘easy’: http://goo.gl/CtH5z5
. Yet the focus on negative outcomes is a symptom of neuroticism: http://goo.gl/A3CWRF
. The inability to get past the negative (which we frequently, and inevitably, we also encounter online under the label of ‘healthy’ scepticism) is evidence of cognitive schemas on overdrive, and cognitive processes coming unbalanced.
Whether we like it or not. Whether we realise it or not. The world is changing. From global games like Ingress (http://goo.gl/FCQra6
) which Google’s Niantic Labs initiated as an experiment, to more catalytic events like conferences that allow people from very different backgrounds, nationalities and levels of experience to congregate and meet (http://goo.gl/4jZpnB
) the boundaries are shifting, the mapping continues, the age of Exploration: http://goo.gl/kmckO
(itself driven by commercial intent as trade routes were being sought), is still on.
We are not real strangers, it would appear, just friends that have yet to meet, to paraphrase a quote attributed to W. B. Yeats: http://goo.gl/hNriI1
. I am not sure quite how accurate the attribution is as I could find no huge corroborating evidence but my looking did lead me to Edgar Guest: http://goo.gl/nh8DrC
whose 1919 poem The Unknown Friends
from his collection The Path to Home
) really ought to be our anthem: We cannot count our friends, nor sayHow many praise us day by day.Each one of us has friends that heHas yet to meet and really know,Who guard him, wheresoe'er they be,From harm and slander's cruel blow.They help to light our path with cheer,Although they pass as strangers here.These friends, unseen, unheard, unknown,Our lasting gratitude should own.They serve us in a thousand waysWhere we perhaps should friendless be;They tell our worth and speak our praiseAnd for their service ask no fee;They choose to be our friends, althoughWe have not learned to call them so.We cannot guess how large the debtWe owe to friends we have not met.We only know, from day to day,That we discover here and thereHow one has tried to smooth our way,And ease our heavy load of care,Then passed along and left behindHis friendly gift for us to find.
And that’s the perfect note to end this week’s Sunday Read on. I hope you have the coffee brewing and the donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake coming. We will all need sugar and coffee to help us with our explorations today. Have a great Sunday wherever you are. #davidamerlandsundayread