What Is the Relation Between Individual Behaviours and Group Behaviour?

We find many erroneous examples and interpretations that plague the history of thought because of the fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of aggregation of individual behaviours, which we will call micro-events, into aggregate behaviours, which we will refer to as macro-events. There are very common confusions concerning the aggregations of micro-events; they are often misunderstood, mystified, and misused to justify false ideas.

We find a common historical tendency to think that we can predict easily the behaviour of a large group from observing the particular behaviour of few members of the group; we have a natural inclination to want to extrapolate quickly and draw trends from few points when we should actually exercise caution. For example, when we observe particular individual attributes in a society, we like to generalise these in order to explain the success or failure of this particular society at the overall level. Or we assume that because we have some form of free will, human affairs can never be predicted (with different degrees of probability) at the aggregate level. Or we hear politicians often referring to particular examples in order to justify general dynamics. What our advances in mathematics and physics do teach us is that these dynamics of aggregation of micro-events are actually far from being as simple as we like to think at first; the resulting macro-events can take forms of their own, different from that of the individuals.

On the other extreme, there are those who consider that because micro-events can aggregate into macro-events in different ways that do not retain the characteristics of the micro-events then there must be some mystification or transcendence at play. From random events there can come to be continuity and direction; from quanta a seamless continuum; from very complicated interactions and connections a limited number of well-defined functions; and from complicated networks of interactions and connections a limited number of emerging outputs. Statistical laws show us many of these curious possibilities, so does computing which has its start in binary basic models, and so does the brain to a certain extent. But this does not mean that macro-events are something mystical, of a different fundamental nature, or possessing special metaphysical attributes as some may like to immediately attribute to them when they perceive aggregation phenomena; these aggregations require composed study rather than idealistic mystification.

In particular, when it comes to psychology and social affairs, many like to oppose physicalism (i.e. an approach that focuses on the micro physical functioning of what we are studying) to functionalism (i.e. an approach that focuses on the outputs or functions of what we are studying independent from the details of the physical functioning); they distinguish the neurons from the ‘spirit’ or the individuals from the State, the latter being some separate metaphysical entities with their own independent thinking. It is as if we say that a software or a PC game has a different metaphysical being than everything else in the computer (the networking, the chips, the electrons, the engines that interpret the programming languages etc.) and comes from a different world, a World of PC Games (as reference to the World of Ideas). Indeed, Platonic biases continue to influence some thought disciplines, but thankfully not all.



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