I needed that

It’s been quite a few days without me writing and posting anything new on my blog. This is one of those strange moments, when many different strands of action emerge, none is truly preponderant over the others, and I feel like having to walk down many divergent paths all at once. As such an exercise can end up in serious injuries, the smart way to go is to make those divergent paths converge at some point.

As usually in such situations of slight chaos in my head, I use the method of questions to put some order in it. Let’s do it. What do I want? I want to develop my theoretical concept of collectively intelligent social structure into a workable, communicable, and reproducible methodology of research. I want to use that methodology as intellectual core for a big project of research and development. The development part would be some kind of digital tool which, using an otherwise very simple version of artificial neural network, can run the diagnosis of a society (e.g. a city), regarding: a) the collective outcomes pursued by the collective intelligence of that society b) the patterns of collective learning, and more specifically the phenomena which are likely to knock that society out of balance as opposed to those which make it stabilize.

As I am writing these words, I intuitively guess that my investment in the stock market, such as I consistently do it, is successfully based on the hypothesis of collective intelligence in the stock market, and in the industries which I invest in. As I consistently oscillate around 50% of annual return on the cash invested in the stock market, that hypothesis of collective intelligence seems to be workable. When I think about my recipe for success, it strangely resembles the findings of my scientific research. In a paper published with the journal ‘Energy’, titled ‘Energy efficiency as manifestation of collective intelligence in human societies’, I found out that the coefficient of fixed assets per one patentable invention is a key variable that societies optimize, and prioritize over energy efficiency. When I look at my investment portfolio, and what seems to work in it, it is precisely about some kind of balance between innovation and assets. When that sweet spot is there, the company’s stock brings me nice return.

I want to develop my concept of collectively intelligent social structure into a method of teaching social sciences, and to interweave that teaching into the canonical subjects I teach: microeconomics, macroeconomics, international trade etc. I wonder how I can use that concept e.g. in business planning or in the analysis of contracts and legal acts.

What am I afraid of? What can possibly go wrong with my plans? Good question. My fears are essentially those of publicly acknowledged failure on my part. I am shit scared of being labelled as a loser, but also of being seen as someone who fails to take any challenge at all. There is another deep fear in me, and this is a strange fear, as it is interwoven with hope: it is both the fear and the hope of deep change in my existence, like changing my professional occupation for a radically new one, or moving to live in another place, that kind of thing. It looks like I dread two types of suffering: that coming from socially recognized failure in building my position in social hierarchy, and that coming from existential change. Yet, my apprehension vis a vis those two types of suffering is different. Socially recognized failure is something I simply want to avoid. Existential change is that strange case of love and hate, a bit like my practice of the Wim Hof method. As I think of it, overcoming the fear of change can lead me to discovering new, wonderful things in my life, and this is what I want.

As I connect the dots I have just written down, turns out that what I really need to do is to utilise my research on collective intelligence as a platform for deep existential change. What specific kind of change would both scare me and thrill me in the best possible combination? What kinds of change can I take into account at all? Change of job inside the same occupation, i.e. inside the academia, for one. Further reaching a change of occupation, thus going outside academia, is the next level of professional change. The slightly fantasque move in that department would be to transform my investment in the stock market into a small investment fund for innovative projects, like a start-up fund. Moving to another place – a different city or a different country – is another option. Change of environment can be enormously stimulating, I know it by experience. Besides, my home country, Poland, is progressively turning into a mix of a catholic version of Iran, i.e. a religious state, with what I remember from the times of communism. A big part of the Polish population seems to be delighted with the process, and I am not delighted at all. I intuitively feel that compulsive thinking about how much ours is what we have means heading towards a disaster, and we just serve ourselves a lot of tranquilizing pills to kill the otherwise quite legitimate fear. It is all becoming both scary and suffocating, and I feel like getting out of the swamp before I sink too deep. Still, I know that geographical move has to be backed with realistic assumptions as for my social role: job, family etc. I am the kind of big, steady animal, like a moose, and it is both physical and existential. Jumping from one rooftop to another, parkour-style, is something I like watching but I completely suck at. I need a path and a structure to achieve change. 

I am exploring my deeply hidden drivers, and I am trying to be honest with myself and my readers. Which of those existential moves looks the most tempting to me? I think that a progressive transition, or, I should rather say: expansion, of out the academia is the most thrilling to me. I want it to be a progressive expansion, with a path of progress and learning. What do I need to learn in that process? In order to answer that question, I need to define my endgame, i.e. the target state I am working up to. In other words, how will I know I have what I want? I know I have a method when it has been intersubjectively validated, either by publication or by practical use in a collective research project.  How will other people know I have what I want? How will other people know I have a valid method? They need to buy into its logic, and acknowledge it as fit for publication or for application in a collective research project.

Here comes a fortunate coincidence, which has just knocked me out of philosophizing and closer to actual life. A scientific journal, Applied Energy, has just rejected positively my manuscript titled ‘Climbing the right hill – an evolutionary approach to the European market of electricity’, and I am sort of happy about it. Why being happy about rejection? Well, in the world of science, there are two types of rejection: the ‘f**k you, man!’ type, and the maybe-if-you-improve-and-develop type. With that specific manuscript, I have already knocked at the doors of many scientific journals, and each time I received the former type of rejection letter. This time, with Applied Energy, it is the latter type. The editorial letter I have just received states ‘While your submission is of interest to Applied Energy, your manuscript does not meet the following criteria, we are returning the manuscript to you before the review:

*Lack of scientific originality/novelty:

The novelty/originality shall be justified by highlighting that the manuscript contains sufficient contributions to the new body of knowledge. The knowledge gap needs to be clearly addressed in Introduction.

*Literature survey is not sufficient to present the most updated R&D status for further justification of the originality of the manuscript. You should carry out a thorough literature survey of papers published in a range of top energy journals in the last three/four years so as to fully appreciate the latest findings and key challenges relating to the topic addressed in your manuscript and to allow you to more clearly present your contributions to the pool of existing knowledge. In the case the subject is really novel and few or no specific references are found, the novelty of the subject, the methodology used and the similarity to other older or newer subjects should be explicitly addressed.

At this time, your submission will be rejected from Applied Energy but please feel free to re-submit to the journal once the aforementioned comments have been addressed’.

The journal Applied Energy is top of the food chain in as journals about energy economics come. Such a nice and polite rejection from them is an invitation to dialogue. At last! I really needed that.

As I am preparing teaching material for the next semester, and I am interweaving that stream of work with my research on collective intelligence in human societies. I drop by some published science, just to chat with Berghout, S., & Verbitskiy, E. (2021). On regularity of functions of Markov chains. Stochastic Processes and their Applications. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.spa.2020.12.006 . There is a state of reality Xn = {x1, x2, …, xn}, which we cannot observe directly; {Xn} slips easily of our observational capacity. Thus, instead of chasing ghosts, we nail down a set of observables {Yn} such that Yn = π (Xn), the π being a coding map of Xn so as we can observe through the lens of Yn.

These are the basic assumptions expressed in the paper by Berghout & Verbitskiy, and this is an important building bloc in my research and in my teaching. If I want to teach my hypothesis of collective intelligence to undergraduate students, I need to make it simple, and to show immediate benefits of using an analytical method based on it. I want to focus, for a moment, on the latter component, thus on practical applications. The hypothesis of collective intelligence implies that human societies are intelligent structures, and they learn new stuff by experimenting with many alternative versions of themselves. That capacity of learning by experimenting with ourselves, whilst staying structurally coherent, is precisely the gain out of being collectively intelligent. Here, I go a bit far with my next claim: I think we can enhance our capacity of collective learning if we accurately grasp and communicate the exact way we learn collectively, i.e. the exact way we experiment with many alternative versions of us doing things together. That hypothesis comes from my observation about myself, and about some other people I know: when I narrate to myself the way I learn something, my learning speeds up. What if we, humans being together, can speed up the process of our collective learning by narrating to ourselves the exact way we learn?

Here, I stress the ‘exact way’ part. We have culture, which recently turns into outrage culture, with a lot of moralizing and little action. Here, I allow myself to quote one of my students. The guy comes from Rwanda, Africa, and in the class of management, when we were discussing different business concepts my students come up with, he gave the example of an actual business model which apparently grows like hell in Rwanda and in Africa as a whole. You buy a small fleet of electric cars, like 5 – 10, you rent them, and you assure full technical support to your clients, and you build a charging station for those cars, powered by a solar farm just next door. Investment goes into five types of assets: land, solar farm with full equipment (big batteries for storage included), electric cars, and equipment for their maintenance. You sell rental hours, additional maintenance services, and energy from the charging station. Simple, clean, workable, just the way I like it.

When I heard that story from my student, I had one of those ‘F**k!’ realizations. In Europe, and I think in North America as well, when we want to do something for the planet and the climate, we start by bashing each other about how bad we are at it and how necessary it is to turn vegan, then we burn thousands of tons of fuel to gather in one place and do a big march for the planet, then we do a strike for climate, and finally we claim that the government should do something about the climate, and, by the way, it would be a good thing if Jeff Bezos gave away some of his wealth. In Rwanda, when those people realize they should take care of the climate and the planet, they develop businesses which do. I think their way is somehow more promising.

I come back to the exact way we learn collectively. There is the Greta-Thunberg-way of caring about the planet, and there is the Rwandan way. Both exist, both are different experimental versions of ourselves, and both get reinforced by communication. One march for the planet, properly covered by the media, incites further marches for the planet, and, in the same way, disseminating that business model – involving a small fleet of electric vehicles, charging stations and solar farms – is likely to speed up its development. Narrating to ourselves the ways we develop new technologies can speed up their development.

The exact way we learn collectively is made, in the first place, of the specific, alternative versions of the social structure. When I want to know the exact way we learn collectively, I need to look at the alternative versions (of our collective) which we are experimenting with, thus at the actual degrees of freedom we have in that experimentation. Those alternative versions are described in terms of observables that Yn = π (Xn), which, in turn, are our best epistemological take on the otherwise unobservable reality {Xn}, through the coding map π.

I can see something promising here, I mean in that notion of actual experimental versions of ourselves. My scientific discipline, i.e. social sciences with a strong edge of economics and management, is plagued by claims that things ‘should be done’ in a given way just because it worked locally. Recently, I witnessed a heated debate between some acquaintances of mine, on Facebook, as for which economic model is better: the American one or the Scandinavian one. You know, the thing about education, healthcare, economic equality and stuff. As I was observing the ball of thoughts being played between those people, I had the impression of seeing an argument without common field. One camp argued that because something works in Sweden or Finland, it should be applied everywhere, whilst their opponents claimed exactly the same about the American economic model. In the middle of that, I was watching the protagonists flexing their respective intellects, and I couldn’t help thinking about my own research on economic models. I found empirical evidence that economic systems, across the board, aim for optimizing the average number of hours worked per person per year, and the amount of education one needs to get into the job market. All the rest is apparently instrumental.

F**k! I got distracted once again. I am supposed to show practical applications of my hypothesis regarding collective intelligence. Here comes an idea for a research project, with some potential for acquiring a research grant, which is as practical an application as there can be, in science. In my update titled ‘Out-of-the-lab monsters’, I hypothesised that economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic will be somehow slower than we expect, and certainly very different in terms of business models and institutions. The pandemic has triggered accelerated change as regards the use of digital technologies, the prevalence of biotechnology as business, and as regards social roles that people can endorse. Therefore, it would be a good thing to know which specific direction that change is going to take.

My idea is to take a large sample of business entities listed in public stock markets, which disclose their activity via the mechanism of investor relations, and to study their publicly disclosed information in order to discover the exact way they take in their business models. I am formulating the following hypothesis: in the economic conditions peculiar to the COVID-19 pandemic, business entities build up their reserves of cash and cash-equivalent securities in order to reinforce their strategic flexibility as regards technological change

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