Communications Expert; Author, Smart Mobs

I believe that we humans, who know so much about cosmology and immunology, lack a framework for thinking about why and how humans cooperate. I believe that part of the reason for this is an old story we tell ourselves about the world:  Businesses and nations succeed by competing well. Biology is a war, where only the fit survive. Politics is about winning. Markets grow solely from self-interest. Rooted in the zeitgeist of Adam Smith's and Charles Darwin's eras, the scientific, social, economic, political stories of the 19th and 20th centuries overwhelmingly emphasized the role of competition as a driver of evolution, progress, commerce, society.

I believe that the outlines of a new narrative are becoming visible—a story in which cooperative arrangements, interdependencies, and collective action play a more prominent role and the essential (but not all-powerful) story of competition and survival of the fittest shrinks just a bit.

Although new knowledge in biology about the evolution of altruistic behavior and the role of symbiotic relationships, new understandings of economic behavior derived from experiments in game theory, neuroeconomic research, sociological investigations of institutions for collective action, computation-enabled technologies such as grid computing, mesh networks, and online markets all provide important clues, I don't believe anyone is likely to formulate an algorithm or recipe for human cooperation. I suspect that the complex interdependencies of human thought, behavior and culture entails an equivalent to the limits Heisenberg found to physics and Gödel established for mathematics.

I believe that more knowledge than what we have now, together with a conceptual framework that is neither reductionistic nor theological, could lead to better-designed economic and political policies and institutions. Institutional and conceptual barriers to mounting such an effort are as formidable as the methodological barriers. I am reminded of Doug Engelbart's problem in the 1950s. He couldn't convince computer engineers, librarians, public policy analysts that computing machinery could be used to augment human thinking, as well as performing scientific calculation and business data processing. Nobody and no institution had ever thought about computing machinery that way, and older ways of thinking about what machines could be designed to do were inadequate. Engelbart had to create "A Framework for Augmenting Human Intellect" before the various hardware, software, and human interface designers could create the first personal computers and networks.

By necessity, useful new understandings of how humans cooperate and fail to cooperate is an interdisciplinary task. I don't believe that the obvious importance of such an effort guarantees that it will be successfully accomplished. All our institutions for gathering and validating knowledge—universities, corporate research laboratories, and foundations—reward and support specialization.