Collective Intelligence

Figure 1
Collective Intelligence Semantic Map

On the semantic categories virtual, actual, sign, being and thing, see this page. The map above schematizes the major structures of human collective intelligence as we understand them at the beginning of the 21st century. Collective intelligence is presented as a loop of interdependence between current human development and virtual human development. Actual development has three interdependent facets: messages, people and equipment. These three actual aspects relate to factors or processes that are immersed in space and time. Virtual development also includes three interdependent facets: knowledge, ethics and power. In contrast to the actual facets, virtual facets refer to states of mind, rules or potentialities. The virtual development depends on the actual development as its material base, while the actual development depends on the virtual development as its coordinating, steering and pulling agency. Collective intelligence can also be analyzed as a dialectic of interdependence between three types of networks represented by the columns of the semantic map: networks of signs (knowledge and messages), of beings (ethics and people) and of things (powers, equipment).

Each of the six main categories can be analyzed in turn as a dynamic of transformation between three lower level subcategories according to the sign/being/thing symmetry. In the symmetrical transformation internal to each of the six main categories of collective intelligence, the thing represents the « hardest » or most objective dimension; the being is charged with emotion and is unfolding in human relationships; finally, the sign indicates a cognitive dimension that orients the content of the category. We understand here that virtual/actual and sign/being/thing symmetries can be recursively declined within any category and that the modelling by semantic relation systems can be refined at will.

When inspecting the semantic map of collective intelligence, it must be assumed that a variation in the empirical data within a category will somehow be reflected in the empirical variation of symmetrical categories, and that the data categorized by the different facets tend to balance each other according to their interdependent relationships. For example, it is impossible to sustain a strength in one of the six main categories and weaknesses in the others in any lasting manner. We will now explore one by one these categories.


A host of knowledge styles – academic and non-academic – feed the « epistemic capital » of a community. Knowledge networks do not exclude a priori any type of knowledge or any type of relationship between knowledge. This category therefore brings together the open variety of types of knowledge carried by a community based on the fundamental intuition that they multiply each other and that they can all contribute in their own manner to human development as a whole. Knowledge contains in particular, as a cognitive sub-function specifically devoted to the reflexivity of collective intelligence, a synthetic representation of collective intelligence itself. A holistic picture of human development is thus contained in the category of knowledge, which is nevertheless only a part of human development taken as a whole.

The distinction between arts and sciences can be broken down, for example, into knowledge of truth and knowledge of beauty, logical judgments and judgments of taste. One can also oppose, on the one hand, explicit, calculable knowledge, based on observation, controlled experimentation, demonstration and explanation and, on the other hand, implicit, incalculable knowledge, based on personal experience, traditional transmission and the authority of custom. As for wisdom, the term translates the Greek terms Sophia, more theoretical, and Phronesis, more practical, but also the Latin Sapientia, the Hebrew Hochmah, the Arabic Hekmah, Indian Yoga, the Paths of Southeast Asia, and so on. Wisdom concerns the arts of self-control, prudence, right judgment and action in resonance with fundamental rhythms.


The multitude of ethics includes the values, norms, and priorities (whatever they may be) that guide governance, as well as the systems of rights and obligations that regulate all types of behaviour, decisions, and evaluations in the community in question. Just as the category « knowledge » does not imply any bias in controversies over what is true, beautiful, wise, valid or tasteless, the category « ethics » does not imply any bias in controversies over what is right and wrong, just and unjust, preferable or negligible. Emphasis is placed on the explanation of the choices that build the network of wills or « ethical capital » of a community and on the contribution of these choices to the increase and diversification of the other categories of collective intelligence. In the long term, orientations concerning good and evil should ideally be based on knowledge about the effects of ethical choices on sustainable human development. This knowledge of the effects, which can always be improved, is essentially based on modelling and empirical observation of the internal dynamics of collective intelligence and human development.


Enlightened by networks of knowledge and guided by networks of ethics, the power of a collective intelligence mobilizes skills, practical know-how and professions, which can be associated in collaborative networks and complement each other. In addition to skills, the power of a collective intelligence is based on its economic strength, summarized here by the term « resources » (liquidity, credit, savings, etc.). This financial dimension corresponds not only to purchasing power for consumption purposes, but also to a capacity for investment and employment of skills. Finally, power is fuelled by the resolution of a community, i.e. the commitment, courage, morale or self-confidence of its members.

Without resources, know-how alone does not confer effective power, without the development of networks of skills, financial means remain powerless or sterile. And if the community in question is not resolute in its action, its might dissipates. The category of power thus draws a set of power networks where the availability of resources, firm commitments and practical know-how are exchanged, fertilized and multiplied. Like the epistemic and ethical categories, the practical category of power has a natural vocation to grow and diversify for its own sake. But at the same time, it must contribute to the growth and diversification of the other “categories », according to a well-understood strategy of collective intelligence, based on the analysis of the sustainable equilibriums to be maintained.


The message or « cultural capital » can be considered from three complementary points of view: that of message content, that of interpersonal communication and that of the media (communication environments). The category brings together all the communication and memory of a community. Messages and their contents are practically inseparable from the communications they feed and the media used to produce, record, search, retrieve, transmit, receive and transform them. From the point of view of the memory of collective intelligence, messages are understood as documents to be preserved and exploited in order to allow the community to represent to itself its history. In this sense, message assets include not only short-term message flows (media and messaging systems) but also long-term communication and intergenerational transmission (hence education): schools, libraries, museums and learning materials of all kinds, whose treasures are increasingly digitized and available online. Without communication and cultural memory, without semiotic support in general, neither knowledge networks, nor networks of wills, nor networks of power could subsist, not to mention social networks. Messages only make sense according to their inter-creative relationship with the five other poles.


The category of “people » represents the « social capital » of a community, that is, the network of interpersonal connections that make up the community. Three interdependent aspects can be distinguished here: the variety of social roles played by individuals, the quality of the links (which the general term “trust » summarizes fairly well) and finally the quantity, intensity and pattern of the connections (the networks themselves). People who interact within interpersonal networks generally do so under the guise of one or more social roles: gender roles, family, professional or political roles, participation in civil society, participation in rituals of all kinds, and so on. Several approaches to human development identify social capital as a key determinant. Rather than pointing to an essential determinant, the approach proposed here advocates an instrument for observing and steering interdependencies. For while social capital can be considered, in a sense, as the root (or ultimate fruit) of human development, it is itself dependent on a host of factors that it conditions in return: facilities, health, education and knowledge, skills, financial resources, governance, cultural memory, etc. We can see that each category describes the same human community, but according to conceptually distinct points of view that are reflected in one another according to functional models to be tested and clarified empirically.


The « biophysical capital » described by the equipment refers first of all to human organisms in their biomedical actuality (health) as well as the complex biophysical or eco-systemic environment on which they necessarily depend for their food, drink, breathing, hygiene and general well-being. The bodily circuit also includes all the material and technical equipment produced and maintained by the human industry: clothing, buildings, transport networks, vehicles, tools, machines, products of the chemical and biochemical industry, etc. In short, it is the causal interaction system that unites material bodies and constitutes the physical and biological support of human development. It is undoubtedly useless to underline here the part taken today by health in public spending and the general concern for sustainable development respectful of the ecological balances on which the well-being of populations depends. Furthermore, it is obvious that the physical infrastructure, as well as the quality and quantity of the tools available, determine to a large extent the opportunities open to human communities. In turn, it is clear that the « equipment » itself depends on inputs from the other five main categories of this model.

To conclude, quoting Ibn Roshd (the Averroes of the Latins), Dante writes in chapter I, 3 of his Monarchy: « The extreme term proposed for the power of mankind is the power, or virtue, intellective. And because this power cannot be actualized by means of a single man or a particular community, it is necessary that there should reign in the human race a multitude by means of which this entire power is actualized. « 

Figure 2: Collective intelligence dimensions in the IEML dictionary
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