Pierre Lévy : Collective Intelligence – Chapter 1 – Introduction

eJournal: uffmm.org, ISSN 2567-6458, 17.March 2022 – 22.March 2022, 8:40
Email: info@uffmm.org
Author: Gerd Doeben-Henisch
Email: gerd@doeben-henisch.de


In the uffmm review section the different papers and books are discussed from the point of view of the oksimo paradigm. [1] In the following text the author discusses some aspects of the book “Collective Intelligence. mankind’s emerging world in cyberspace” by Pierre Lévy (translated by Robert Bonono),1997 (French: 1994)[2]


Before starting a more complete review here a notice in advance.

Only these days I started reading this book of Pierre Lévy after working more than 4 years intensively with the problem of an open knowledge space for everybody as genuine part of the cyberspace. I have approached the problem from several disciplines culminating in a new theory concept which has additionally a direct manifestation in a new kind of software too. While I am now are just testing version 2 of this software and having in parallel worked through several papers of the early, the middle, and the late Karl Popper [3], I detected this book of Lévy [*] and was completely impressed by the preface of this book. His view of mankind and cyberspace is intellectual deep and a real piece of art. I had the feeling that this text could be without compromise a direct preview of our software paradigm although I didn’t know about him before.

Looking to know more about him I detected some more interesting books but especially also his blog intlekt – metadata [4], where he develops his vision of a new language for a new ‘collective intelligence’ being practiced in the cyberspace. While his ideas about ‘collective intelligence’ associated with the ‘cyberspace’ are fascinating, it appears to me that his ideas about a new language are strongly embedded in ‘classical’ concepts of language, semiotics, and computer, concepts which — in my view — are not sufficient for a new language enabling collective intelligence.

Thus it can become an exciting reading with continuous reflections about the conditions about ‘collective intelligence’ and the ‘role of language’ within this.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Position lévy

The following description of the position of Lévy described in his 1st chapter is clearly an ‘interpretation’ from the ‘viewpoint’ of the writer at this time. This is more or less ‘inevitable’. [5]

A good starting point for the project of ‘understanding the book’ seems to be the historical outline which Lévy gives on the pages 5-10. Starting with the appearance of the homo sapiens he characterizes different periods of time with different cultural patterns triggered by the homo sapiens. In the last period, which is still lasting, knowledge takes radical new ‘forms’; one central feature is the appearance of the ‘cyberspace’.

Primarily the cyberspace is ‘machine-based’, some material structure, enhanced with a certain type of dynamics enabled by algorithms working in the machine. But as part of the cultural life of the homo sapiens the cyberspace is also a cultural reality increasingly interacting directly with individuals, groups, institutions, companies, industry, nature, and even more. And in this space enabled by interactions the homo sapiens does not only encounter with technical entities alone, but also with effects/ events/ artifacts produced by other homo sapiens companions.

Lévy calls this a “re-creation of the social bond based on reciprocal apprenticeship, shared skills, imagination, and collective intelligence.” (p.10) And he adds as a supplement that “collective intelligence is not a purely cognitive object.” (p.10)

Looking into the future Lévy assumes two main axes: “The renewal of the social bond through our relation to knowledge and collective intelligence itself.” (p.11)

Important seems to be that ‘knowledge’ is also not be confined to ‘facts alone’ but it ‘lives’ in the reziproke interactions of human actors and thereby knowledge is a dynamic process.(cf. p.11) Humans as part of such knowledge processes receive their ‘identities’ from this flow. (cf. p.12) One consequence from this is “… the other remains enigmatic, becomes a desirable being in every respect.”(p.12) With some further comment: “No one knows everything, everyone knows something, all knowledge resides in humanity. There is no transcendent store of knowledge and knowledge is simply the sum of what we know.”(p.13f)

‘Collective intelligence’ dwells nearby to dynamic knowledge: “The basis and goal of collective intelligence is the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishized or hypostatized communities.”(p.13) Thus Lévy can state that collective intelligence “is born with culture and growth with it.”(p.16) And making it more concrete with a direct embedding in a community: “In an intelligent community the specific objective is to permanently negotiate the order of things, language, the role of the individual, the identification and definition of objects, the reinterpretation of memory. Nothing is fixed.”(p.17)

These different aspects are accumulating in the vision of “a new humanism that incorporates and enlarges the scope of self knowledge into a form of group knowledge and collective thought. … [the] process of collective intelligence [is] leading to the creation of a distinct sense of community.”(p.17)

One side effect of such a new humanism could be “new forms of democracy, better suited to the complexity of contemporary problems…”.(p.18)


At this point I will give only some few comments, waiting with more general and final thoughts until the end of the reading of the whole text.

Shortened Timeline – Wrong Picture

The timeline which Lévy is using is helpful, but this timeline is ‘incomplete’. What is missing is the whole time ‘before’ the advent of the homo sapiens within the biological evolution. And this ‘absence’ hides the understanding of one, if not ‘the’, most important concept of all life, including the homo sapiens and its cultural process.

This central concept is today called ‘sustainable development’. It points to a ‘dynamical structure’, which is capable of ‘adapting to an ever changing environment’. Life on the planet earth is only possible from the very beginning on account of this fundamental capability starting with the first cells and being kept strongly alive through all the 3.5 Billion years (10^9) in all the following fascinating developments.

This capability to be able to ‘adapt to an ever changing environment’ implies the ability to change the ‘working structure, the body’ in a way, that the structure can change to respond in new ways, if the environment changes. Such a change has two sides: (i) the real ‘production’ of the working structures of a living system, and (ii) the ‘knowledge’, which is necessary to ‘inform’ the processes of formation and keeping an organism ‘in action’. And these basic mechanisms have additionally (iii) to be ‘distributed in a whole population’, whose sheer number gives enough redundancy to compensate for ‘wrong proposals’.

Knowing this the appearance of the homo sapiens life form manifests a qualitative shift in the structure of the adaption so far: surely prepared by several Millions of years the body of the homo sapiens with an unusual brain enabled new forms of ‘understanding the world’ in close connection with new forms of ‘communication’ and ‘cooperation’. With the homo sapiens the brains became capable to talk — mediated by their body and the surrounding body world — with other brains hidden in other bodies in a way, which enabled the sharing of ‘meaning’ rooted in the body world as well in the own body. This capability created by communication a ‘network of distributed knowledge’ encoded in the shared meaning of individual meaning functions. As long as communication with a certain meaning function with the shared meanings ‘works’, as long does this distributed knowledge’ exist. If the shared meaning weakens or breaks down this distributed knowledge is ‘gone’.

Thus, a homo sapiens population has not to wait for another generation until new varieties of their body structures could show up and compete with the changing environment. A homo sapiens population has the capability to perceive the environment — and itself — in a way, that allows additionally new forms of ‘transformations of the perceptions’ in a way, that ‘cognitive varieties of perceived environments’ can be ‘internally produced’ and being ‘communicated’ and being used for ‘sequences of coordinated actions’ which can change the environment and the homo sapiens them self.

The cultural history then shows — as Lévy has outlined shortly on his pages 5-10 — that the homo sapiens population (distributed in many competing smaller sub-populations) ‘invented’ more and more ‘behavior pattern’, ‘social rules’ and a rich ‘diversity of tools’ to improve communication and to improve the representation and processing of knowledge, which in turn helped for even more complex ‘sequences of coordinated actions’.

Sustainability & Collective Intelligence

Although until today there are no commonly accepted definitions of ‘intelligence’ and of ‘knowledge’ available [6], it makes some sense to locate ‘knowledge’ and ‘intelligence’ in this ‘communication based space of mutual coordinated actions’. And this embedding implies to think about knowledge and intelligence as a property of a population, which ‘collectively’ is learning, is understanding, is planning, is modifying its environment as well as them self.

And having this distributed capability a population has all the basics to enable a ‘sustainable development’.

Therefore the capability for a sustainable development is an emergent capability based on the processes enabled by a distributed knowledge enabled by a collective intelligence.

Having sketched out this then all the wonderful statements of Lévy seem to be ‘true’ in that they describe a dynamic reality which is provided by biological life as such.

A truly Open Space with Real Boundaries

Looking from the outside onto this biological mystery of sustainable processes based on collective intelligence using distributed knowledge one can identify incredible spaces of possible continuations. In principle these spaces are ‘open spaces’.

Looking to the details of this machinery — because we are ‘part of it’ — we know by historical and everyday experience that these processes can fail every minute, even every second.

To ‘improve’ a given situation one needs (i) not only a criterion which enables a judgment about something to be classified as being ‘not good’ (e.g. the given situation), one needs further (ii) some ‘minimal vision’ of a ‘different situation’, which can be classified by a criterion as being ‘better’. And, finally, one needs (iii) a minimal ‘knowledge’ about possible ‘actions’ which can change the given situation in successive steps to transform it into the envisioned ‘new better situation’ functioning as a ‘goal’.

Looking around, looking back, everybody has surely experiences from everyday life that these three tasks are far from being trivial. To judge something to be ‘not good’ or ‘not good enough’ presupposes a minimum of ‘knowledge’ which should be sufficiently evenly be ‘distributed’ in the ‘brains of all participants’. Without a sufficient agreement no common judgment will be possible. At the time of this writing it seems that there is plenty of knowledge around, but it is not working as a coherent knowledge space accepted by all participants. Knowledge battles against knowledge. The same is effective for the tasks (ii) and (iii).

There are many reasons why it is no working. While especially the ‘big challenges’ are of ‘global nature’ and are following a certain time schedule there is not too much time available to ‘synchronize’ the necessary knowledge between all. Mankind has until now supportet predominantly the sheer amount of knowledge and ‘individual specialized solutions’, but did miss the challenge to develop at the same time new and better ‘common processes’ of ‘shared knowledge’. The invention of computer, networks of computer, and then the multi-faceted cyberspace is a great and important invention, but is not really helpful as long as the cyberspace has not become a ‘genuin human-like’ tool for ‘distributed human knowledge’ and ‘distributed collective human-machine intelligence’.


One of the most important challenges for all kinds of knowledge is the ability to enable a ‘knowledge inspired view’ of the environment — including the actor — which is ‘in agreement with the reality of the environment’; otherwise the actions will not be able to support life in the long run. [7] Such an ‘agreement’ is a challenge, especially if the ‘real processes’ are ‘complex’ , ‘distributed’ and are happening in ‘large time frames’. As all human societies today demonstrate, this fundamental ability to use ’empirically valid knowledge’ is partially well developed, but in many other cases it seems to be nearly not in existence. There is a strong — inborn ! — tendency of human persons to think that the ‘pictures in their heads’ represent ‘automatically’ such a knowledge what is in agreement with the real world. It isn’t. Thus ‘dreams’ are ruling the everyday world of societies. And the proportion of brains with such ‘dreams’ seems to grow. In a certain sense this is a kind of ‘illness’: invisible, but strongly effective and highly infectious. Science alone seems to be not a sufficient remedy, but it is a substantial condition for a remedy.


[*] The decisive hint for this book came from Athene Sorokowsky, who is member of my research group.

[1] Gerd Doeben-Henisch,The general idea of the oksimo paradigm: https://www.uffmm.org/2022/01/24/newsletter/, January 2022

[2] Pierre Lévy in wkp-en: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_L%C3%A9vy

[3] Karl Popper in wkp-en: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper. One of the papers I have written commenting on Popper can be found HERE.

[4] Pierre Lévy, intlekt – metadata, see: https://intlekt.io/blog/

[5] Who wants to know, what Lévy ‘really’ has written has to go back to the text of Lévy directly. … then the reader will read the text of Lévy with ‘his own point of view’ … indeed, even then the reader will not know with certainty, whether he did really understand Lévy ‘right’. … reading a text is always a ‘dialogue’ .. .

[6] Not in Philosophie, not in the so-called ‘Humanities’, not in the Social Sciences, not in the Empirical Sciences, and not in Computer Science!

[7] The ‘long run’ can be very short if you misjudge in the traffic a situation, or a medical doctor makes a mistake or a nuclear reactor has the wrong sensors or ….



HMI Analysis for the CM:MI paradigm. Part 2. Problem and Vision

Integrating Engineering and the Human Factor (info@uffmm.org)
eJournal uffmm.org ISSN 2567-6458, February 27-March 16, 2021,
Author: Gerd Doeben-Henisch
Email: gerd@doeben-henisch.de

Last change: March 16, 2021 (minor corrections)


As described in the uffmm eJournal  the wider context of this software project is an integrated  engineering theory called Distributed Actor-Actor Interaction [DAAI] further extended to the Collective Man-Machine Intelligence [CM:MI] paradigm.  This document is part of the Case Studies section.

HMI ANALYSIS, Part 2: Problem & Vision


This text is preceded by the following texts:


Before one starts the HMI analysis  some stakeholder  — in our case are the users stakeholder as well as  users in one role —  have to present some given situation — classifiable as a ‘problem’ — to depart from and a vision as the envisioned goal to be realized.

Here we give a short description of the problem for the CM:MI paradigm and the vision, what should be gained.

Problem: Mankind on the Planet Earth

In this project  the mankind  on the planet earth is  understood as the primary problem. ‘Mankind’ is seen here  as the  life form called homo sapiens. Based on the findings of biological evolution one can state that the homo sapiens has — besides many other wonderful capabilities — at least two extraordinary capabilities:

Outside to Inside

The whole body with the brain is  able to convert continuously body-external  events into internal, neural events. And  the brain inside the body receives many events inside the body as external events too. Thus in the brain we can observe a mixup of body-external (outside 1) and body-internal events (outside 2), realized as set of billions of neural processes, highly interrelated.  Most of these neural processes are unconscious, a small part is conscious. Nevertheless  these unconscious and conscious events are  neurally interrelated. This overall conversion from outside 1 and outside 2 into neural processes  can be seen as a mapping. As we know today from biology, psychology and brain sciences this mapping is not a 1-1 mapping. The brain does all the time a kind of filtering — mostly unconscious — sorting out only those events which are judged by the brain to be important. Furthermore the brain is time-slicing all its sensory inputs, storing these time-slices (called ‘memories’), whereby these time-slices again are no 1-1 copies. The storing of time-sclices is a complex (unconscious) process with many kinds of operations like structuring, associating, abstracting, evaluating, and more. From this one can deduce that the content of an individual brain and the surrounding reality of the own body as well as the world outside the own body can be highly different. All kinds of perceived and stored neural events which can be or can become conscious are  here called conscious cognitive substrates or cognitive objects.

Inside to Outside (to Inside)

Generally it is known that the homo sapiens can produce with its body events which have some impact on the world outside the body.  One kind of such events is the production of all kinds of movements, including gestures, running, grasping with hands, painting, writing as well as sounds by his voice. What is of special interest here are forms of communications between different humans, and even more specially those communications enabled by the spoken sounds of a language as well as the written signs of a language. Spoken sounds as well as written signs are here called expressions associated with a known language. Expressions as such have no meaning (A non-speaker of a language L can hear or see expressions of the language L but he/she/x  never will understand anything). But as everyday experience shows nearly every child  starts very soon to learn which kinds of expressions belong to a language and with what kinds of shared experiences they can be associated. This learning is related to many complex neural processes which map expressions internally onto — conscious and unconscious — cognitive objects (including expressions!). This mapping builds up an internal  meaning function from expressions into cognitive objects and vice versa. Because expressions have a dual face (being internal neural structures as well as being body-outside events by conversions from the inside to body-outside) it is possible that a homo sapiens  can transmit its internal encoding of cognitive objects into expressions from his  inside to the outside and thereby another homo sapiens can perceive the produced outside expression and  can map this outside expression into an intern expression. As far as the meaning function of of the receiving homo sapiens  is sufficiently similar to the meaning function of  the sending homo sapiens there exists some probability that the receiving homo sapiens can activate from its memory cognitive objects which have some similarity with those of  the sending  homo sapiens.

Although we know today of different kinds of animals having some form of language, there is no species known which is with regard to language comparable to  the homo sapiens. This explains to a large extend why the homo sapiens population was able to cooperate in a way, which not only can include many persons but also can stretch through long periods of time and  can include highly complex cognitive objects and associated behavior.

Negative Complexity

In 2006 I introduced the term negative complexity in my writings to describe the fact that in the world surrounding an individual person there is an amount of language-encoded meaning available which is beyond the capacity of an  individual brain to be processed. Thus whatever kind of experience or knowledge is accumulated in libraries and data bases, if the negative complexity is higher and higher than this knowledge can no longer help individual persons, whole groups, whole populations in a constructive usage of all this. What happens is that the intended well structured ‘sound’ of knowledge is turned into a noisy environment which crashes all kinds of intended structures into nothing or badly deformed somethings.

Entangled Humans

From Quantum Mechanics we know the idea of entangled states. But we must not dig into quantum mechanics to find other phenomena which manifest entangled states. Look around in your everyday world. There exist many occasions where a human person is acting in a situation, but the bodily separateness is a fake. While sitting before a laptop in a room the person is communicating within an online session with other persons. And depending from the  social role and the  membership in some social institution and being part of some project this person will talk, perceive, feel, decide etc. with regard to the known rules of these social environments which are  represented as cognitive objects in its brain. Thus by knowledge, by cognition, the individual person is in its situation completely entangled with other persons which know from these roles and rules  and following thereby  in their behavior these rules too. Sitting with the body in a certain physical location somewhere on the planet does not matter in this moment. The primary reality is this cognitive space in the brains of the participating persons.

If you continue looking around in your everyday world you will probably detect that the everyday world is full of different kinds of  cognitively induced entangled states of persons. These internalized structures are functioning like protocols, like scripts, like rules in a game, telling everybody what is expected from him/her/x, and to that extend, that people adhere to such internalized protocols, the daily life has some structure, has some stability, enables planning of behavior where cooperation between different persons  is necessary. In a cognitively enabled entangled state the individual person becomes a member of something greater, becoming a super person. Entangled persons can do things which usually are not possible as long you are working as a pure individual person.[1]

Entangled Humans and Negative Complexity

Although entangled human persons can principally enable more complex events, structures,  processes, engineering, cultural work than single persons, human entanglement is still limited by the brain capacities as well as by the limits of normal communication. Increasing the amount of meaning relevant artifacts or increasing the velocity of communication events makes things even more worse. There are objective limits for human processing, which can run into negative complexity.

Future is not Waiting

The term ‘future‘ is cognitively empty: there exists nowhere an object which can  be called ‘future’. What we have is some local actual presence (the Now), which the body is turning into internal representations of some kind (becoming the Past), but something like a future does not exist, nowhere. Our knowledge about the future is radically zero.

Nevertheless, because our bodies are part of a physical world (planet, solar system, …) and our entangled scientific work has identified some regularities of this physical world which can be bused for some predictions what could happen with some probability as assumed states where our clocks are showing a different time stamp. But because there are many processes running in parallel, composed of billions of parameters which can be tuned in many directions, a really good forecast is not simple and depends from so many presuppositions.

Since the appearance of homo sapiens some hundred thousands years ago in Africa the homo sapiens became a game changer which makes all computations nearly impossible. Not in the beginning of the appearance of the homo sapiens, but in the course of time homo sapiens enlarged its number, improved its skills in more and more areas, and meanwhile we know, that homo sapiens indeed has started to crash more and more  the conditions of its own life. And principally thinking points out, that homo sapiens could even crash more than only planet earth. Every exemplar of a homo sapiens has a built-in freedom which allows every time to decide to behave in a different way (although in everyday life we are mostly following some protocols). And this built-in freedom is guided by actual knowledge, by emotions, and by available resources. The same child can become a great musician, a great mathematician, a philosopher, a great political leader, an engineer, … but giving the child no resources, depriving it from important social contexts,  giving it the wrong knowledge, it can not manifest its freedom in full richness. As human population we need the best out of all children.

Because  the processing of the planet, the solar system etc.  is going on, we are in need of good forecasts of possible futures, beyond our classical concepts of sharing knowledge. This is where our vision enters.


To find possible and reliable shapes of possible futures we have to exploit all experiences, all knowledge, all ideas, all kinds of creativity by using maximal diversity. Because present knowledge can be false — as history tells us –, we should not rule out all those ideas, which seem to be too crazy at a first glance. Real innovations are always different to what we are used to at that time. Thus the following text is a first rough outline of the vision:

  1. Find a format
  2. which allows any kinds of people
  3. for any kind of given problem
  4. with at least one vision of a possible improvement
  5. together
  6. to search and to find a path leading from the given problem (Now) to the envisioned improved state (future).
  7. For all needed communication any kind of  everyday language should be enough.
  8. As needed this everyday language should be extendable with special expressions.
  9. These considerations about possible paths into the wanted envisioned future state should continuously be supported  by appropriate automatic simulations of such a path.
  10. These simulations should include automatic evaluations based on the given envisioned state.
  11. As far as possible adaptive algorithms should be available to support the search, finding and identification of the best cases (referenced by the visions)  within human planning.


[1] One of the most common entangled state in daily life is the usage of normal language! A normal language L works only because the rules of usage of this language L are shared by all speaker-hearer of this language, and these rules are explicit cognitive structures (not necessarily conscious, mostly unconscious!).


Yes, it will happen 🙂 Here.