Group-based and individual-based knowledge seems to be different

The extreme version of individual knowledge is something that only one person can do or knows. <What are the conditions for something to be considered part of human knowledge?> This ‘individual knowledge’ could either be completely isolated to the individual in the sense that it doesn’t produce anything that can be detected by other people — enlightenment falls into this category. It could also be detectable — say an incredibly unique skill — yet unreplicable or explainable.

Individual knowledge isn’t quite Tacit Knowledge because tacit knowledge can be shared among groups through communities of practice. Tacit knowledge is knowledge that’s hard to make legible, so it’s hard for it to become group knowledge, but could be group or individual knowledge.

The extreme version of group knowledge is classic Wisdom of Crowds or I, Pencil stuff — emergent behavior where you could say that a group (civilization, institution, etc.) “knows something” but no individual in that group knows it.

Even for things that both individuals and groups know, we mean “know” in a different sense. I would argue that humanity knows how to calculate ballistic trajectories. I as an individual also know how to calculate ballistic trajectories. But what is entailed by each of them is different. In order for a group to know something, it’s clearly not sufficient for a single individual to know a thing. (I would argue that the answer to What are the conditions for something to be considered part of human knowledge? from a group knowledge level is no.) However, it’s also unnecessary for every individual in a group to know something in order for the group to know something.

I’m tempted to say that for a group to know something, it needs to be theoretically possible for any individual in the group to gain the knowledge. But that doesn’t account for emergent group knowledge.

Perhaps all group knowledge is an emergent phenomenon that isn’t causally connected to any individual’s knowledge, even on the surface. Emergent behavior happens when a system has properties that none of its subsystems have.

One way to look at the scientific method as a specific mechanism by which individual knowledge becomes group knowledge. This is perhaps a reframing of the thesis of The Knowledge Machine

You can both have individual knowledge that isn’t possessed by the group, and group knowledge that isn’t possessed by an individual. One could perhaps imagine a 2x2s with “ease of transfer” on one axis and “individual vs group” on another axis.


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