Thursday, June 29, 2006

Why is independent thought rare?

What is independent thought? Something that does not conform to eveyrthing else around. Something that sticks out.

Why is it rare? Is it? I think it is because there's very little I run into that I feel isn't exploring known territory. Every once in a while there will be someone who breaks the norm and a legion of followers wake up as though they were all really thinking the same thing and just did not say it. At times it is just admitting that the emperor has no clothes.

But as I wondered more I thought maybe there is a more inherent reason for someone to not have independent thought. Survival. From a pack of 100 zebras, the one that's most likely to get picked by the lion is the one that stands away from the crowd. The head that's going to roll is the one that sticks out.

I read an interesting book called Sync sometime back. It talked about how order emerged spontaneously in the world around us. It explores why a audience full of people end up clapping in rhythm without any external cue and why fireflies flash in sync with each other. The subject itself was fascinating for me. It even had insights that I was considering applying to a distributed system design I was working on then. But I don't recall the book actually explored survival as a possible reason for this tendency to be in sync get programmed into us -- it may have, I just don't recall it.

If everyone in a hall was clapping in sync, and you decided to clap out of sync, imagine the whole hall turning around and looking at the sore thumb in their midst.

If a bug-eater is on the lookout for bugs and sees a bunch of fireflies flashing in unison, it'll probably think they are the latest invention from mankind, or a UFO or something and flee for its life. But if there's a firefly in its midst flashing away at its own merry pace different than the others.. aha! Supper time!

We all have an innate urge to conform because we don't want to be a prey. And thus independent thought becomes rare.

1 comment:

Aman Thakur said...

You should read "Poor charlie's almanack"
Charlie munger has long held views that go with what makes sense to you and to hell with the world if it doesnt conform to group think

He makes a good argument about why humans are the way they are. Why they think in group.