We live in an age of scientific collaboration, popular uprisings, failing political parties, and increasing corporate power. Many of these kinds of collective action derive from the decisions of intelligent and powerful leaders, and many others emerge as a result of the aggregation of individual interests. But genuinely collective mentality remains a seductive possibility. This book develops a novel approach to distributed cognition and collective intentionality. It argues that genuine cognition requires the capacity to engage in flexible goal-directed behavior and that this requires specialized representational systems that are integrated in a way that yields fluid and skillful coping with environmental contingencies. In line with this argument, the book claims that collective mentality should be posited where and only where specialized subroutines are integrated to yields goal-directed behavior that is sensitive to the concerns that are relevant to a group as such. Unlike traditional claims about collective intentionality, this approach reveals that there are many kinds of collective minds: some groups have cognitive capacities that are more like those that we find in honeybees or cats than they are like those that we find in people. Indeed, groups are unlikely to be “believers” in the fullest sense of the term, and understanding why this is the case sheds new light on questions about collective intentionality and collective responsibility. In this book, Bryce Huebner articulates and defends the hypothesis of collective mentality, the claim that some collectives ‘are minded’ or have psychologies in the same sense as individuals. His approach is relentlessly and impressively naturalistic in setting defense of this surprising hypothesis within a detailed computational theory of individual cognition. It is the most sophisticated defense of collective mentality based on cognitive science yet offered.
Read also: Macrocognition