Teamwork kills the brain.

Teamwork, democracy, science and other good things in society reflect intellectual processes into work-procedures. The better such procedures are described, the easier it becomes to move people from one team to another.

Working with clear procedures is intellectually less demanding than without. That allows for a larger part of society to contribute to the teamwork but it also kills some intellectual functions of the brain by not using them.

a procedure is externalized human knowledge. Following detailed procedures is similar to what a computer does. The procedure itself is externalized human knowledge. When a procedure is followed, an intelligent act can be performed. The executing-agent, human or computer, does not need to be intelligent to exhibit some intelligence because the intelligence is caused by the interpretation of the procedure.

When a computer does the task, we tend to call it artificial intelligence (AI). When a human does the task, we tend to attribute the intelligence to the person. Externalized
In general, work based on externalized human knowledge can be called externalized human intelligence.

The fast growing collection of descriptions how to do things, including complex intellectual tasks, has become an integral part of what humankind is today. What humankind is able to do depends on it.

Brain becomes tool to execute stored procedures In the mean time, the human brain has become a well trained tool to execute prescribed procedures while it has very little exercise in tackling serious intellectual challenges without Google.

Since people increasingly depend on described procedures to get things done, the descriptions become more uniform in style and conventions. Such descriptions can easily be translated into software wizards which lead a person through a series of steps while automating some of the logic. the human does the more mechanical tasks Only the more mechanical tasks are left for the human as a cheap robot controlled by externalized human intelligence.

Further simplification of the human task can be obtained by replacing the textual description by audio-visual media. The task for the human is then reduced to mimicking what's on the video. This works very well because mimicking an observed act is something all primates can do since millions of years.

This way of working is so beneficial for the society that it cannot be stopped, and, in a broader perspective, should not be stopped.

The block above is the article itself, not an abstract. What follows are clarifications of some aspects of the text above presented as a FAQ.

What is "externalized human knowledge"?

Externalized human knowledge is the recording of some intellectual process in such a way that is can be interpreted to apply the knowledge to a specific problem. It can have the form of computer software to be interpreted by a computer, or it can be a work-procedure to be interpreted by a human being. A work-procedure is externalized human knowledge.

For example, if someone describes step by step how to calculate the surface of a ball, you can follow these steps to calculate the surface of a specific ball. The procedure can be successfully executed at any time, even when the writer of the procedure is since long dead and there is nobody on earth anymore who understands why it is correct. The text simply contains the knowledge how to do it. Computer software is also externalized human knowledge.

There is an incredible large amount of such knowledge available in printed documents and on Internet in text and multimedia. It can be interpreted to perform intelligent actions, even by a person who does not understand why the procedure works.

See also: How can following a procedure be an intellectual act?

What is "externalized human intelligence"?

When a stored procedure is interpreted by an agent, human or computer, which does not understand why the procedure works, we call the action of interpretation externalized human intelligence. externalized human intelligence is
a mimicry of human intelligence.

Such action is a mimicry of human intelligence.

The mimicry may also be performed by something non-human. For example, when a calculator computes the square-root of a number, it follows a procedure which was once invented by a person.

Why does teamwork requires such externalization?

Smooth teamwork requires that all members of the team work towards the same goal following a common plan. In order to do so, the common plan has to be expressed explicitly, and the role of each member in that plan must be described. Team-member
task descriptions are externalized human knowledge.

Long lasting teamwork in organizations usually go much further and describe the task of each member in great detail. Such task descriptions are very useful when a team member is replaced by another person or when persons are shifted from one team to another to regulate the capacity of different teams.

Why does democracy requires such externalization?

Democracy demands that every decision affecting the community is extensively motivated in writing and imposes specific procedures for the decision making. Democracy demands externalization.

All important decisions must be made by strict procedures. These procedures are the externalization of the human decision making process. Once these procedures are well-formulated, the objective execution of these procedures should not depend on whoever executes them (human or machine).

Why does science requires such externalization?

Externalization of knowledge is part of the scientific method. The scientific method demands the externalization of the scientific knowledge in order to be reviewed and refined by different scientists. The method itself is also described and therefore externalized.

How does technology accelerates this externalization?

There have been many waves of acceleration of externalization of knowledge caused by technological progress.

  • The invention of writing has been an early boost in the externalization of human knowledge. Externalization of memory at first, later also externalization of procedures, laws, contracts and transfer of scientific knowledge such as medical textbooks as early as 1600 BC.
  • The scientific method (320 BC) demands the externalization of the scientific knowledge in order to be reviewed and refined by different scientists.
  • Printing on paper (AD 868) has been another wave of acceleration. Books could be mass-produced, causing a faster spreading of externalized knowledge.
  • The industrial revolution (1760 - 1840) caused the need for detailed externalization of production procedures to be executed by labor without insight in the processes themselves. Remark that at this stage, a small part of the externalized intelligence (logic) was executed by the machines, for example if a wire breaks, stop the loom, or the opening and closing of valves of a steam engine. These are insights of human intelligence realized mechanically outside the brain, repeating the process forever.
  • Computers caused another wave of externalization of mental processes. From here on, an increasingly large portion of the externalized knowledge was intended to be executed by computers rather than by human workers.
  • Internet, World-Wide-Web and search engines made externalized knowledge abundantly available for human and machine.
  • The reflex of Googling in stead of thinking to solve problems dramatically increased the mimicry which is the base of externalized human intelligence.

Why is working with procedures intellectually less demanding?

When the task is described in detail, the team-worker has only to execute the predefined steps.

Solutions to problems that came up in the past are already integrated in the work-procedure. Performing a well-defined procedure is really brain-killing. As a consequence, the number of new problems that come up is very limited. The need for problem solving by the team-member is extremely reduced and limited to a well defined context of the task.

Any broader problem that comes up should be reported to the team. Trying to solve it alone is frowned upon.

How is the human brain affected by this?

The previous section illustrates why working with procedures (as with work-descriptions in teamwork) is less demanding for the intellect.

On top of that, the few problems which come up in the limited context of the task are in most cases solved by the following procedure:

  • Google and find a well described procedure to solve the problem.
  • If that fails, describe the problem on one or to forums on the web. and wait some time for answers.
  • If that fails, mail your problem to a few colleagues and wait some time for answers.
  • In the mean time, inform your boss that you found an issue and you have engaged half of the world in search for a solution.
  • At the very last resort, think to find a solution.

Googling in stead of thinking has become a reflex. As people get better and better in using Google, and Google gets better and better in pointing the relevant procedures, we come to a point that every problem that comes up is solved by only one person. Everyone else confronted by the same problem can use the same solution by Googling. Only a few decades ago, the same problem would have been solved by thousands of people. When the solution by Googling goes very fast, it is the most efficient way to act.

As a result, we are in a situation where a growing part of mental work is done by following procedures. This way of working turns out to be very beneficial to teamwork, solving problems, science, democracy and society, because more can be done with less brain.

The backside of all this procedure-following is that people have very little exercise in solving new problems, and when a new problem comes up, there is an easy reflex to use the efficient path of Googling in stead of thinking. This lack of mental exercise affects the mental capabilities, it affects the human brain.

How can following a procedure be an intellectual act?

Imagine you have to paint a wall, and want to find out how many liters of paint you have to buy. When you have a some mathematical background. you simply calculate it and its done. In general, that can be considered as an intellectual act.

Another way of working would be to start a special application on your smartphone, take a picture of the wall, and let the app solve the problem. The same intellectual act is then performed by the combination of the phone and its software. The same intellectual act can be performed by someone who understands it,
by a computer,
or by someone who does not understand it.

When you have no mathematical background, and no such smartphone app, you can use a step by step description of how to calculate the amount of paint. It is like you play the role of computer and the description plays the role of the software.

In the last two cases, we call it externalized human intelligence, because the executing agent (the phone hardware or yourself) did not comprehend how it was done, and used the externalized knowledge (software or description) to solve it blindly.

In all three cases, the same intellectual act is performed, the same knowledge is applied to a specific case.

Why is externalization beneficial to humankind?

Textbooks and course material for education are products of externalization of knowledge. They are generally considered as a tremendous benefit to humankind.

Science and technology as we know it cannot exist without such externalization. Without it everything would depend on a few clever persons, but without written notes, without externalization of what others have done before, progress would be very limited.

The backside is:
Due to the externalization, all intellectual work performed by human is reduced to small steps imposed by the externalized procedures. Intellectual work has become much simpler, easier and more cookbook-style. This has been affecting education in math and sciences for decades now. Most people limit their intellectual work to googling and execute the obtained intellectual recipe. It gives faster results, but is wicked for the brain.

The chance of survival of a humankind with externalization of intelligence is certainly larger than without, unless technology breaks down by a disaster before it can secure itself by integration in nanotechnology and proliferation in space.

Therefore, externalization of intelligence is probably beneficial to humankind.

Is the effect on the brain measurable?

I suppose so, but I do not know. I would very much like to see this studied (references welcome). Seriously measuring it is difficult because some functions have been shifting from problem solving by inventing methods on-the-fly to executing learned methods.

The difference should be very much visible when testing performance in fields outside the learned specialization, without access to textbooks or Internet. The problem is to have comparable data from similar tests decades ago.

Something related that may be easier to measure is the reduction of the content of maths and science courses of 18 year old students over recent decades. I have been told this reduction was dramatic, but I have no figures to support this.

The figures of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study do not support this thesis.

Why is there no protest against this way of working?

everybody is happy,
why do you disturb that.
Mainly because everybody was happy.
It gives faster and better results with less effort.
Intelligence is no requirement to be happy.
Everyone gets a bigger company-car, more holidays and nobody cares about degrading individual intelligence.
And for the brainless robotic work you do...?
Ah, nobody sees that, my neighbor only sees the company car and the happy holiday pictures on Facebook, so everything must be all right.

Why did society not correct the decline of human intellect?

Because the output of society as a whole increases by the externalization of human intelligence and consequent automation.
Society as a whole is better off with individuals following preprogrammed rules.

Society may be easier to control with individuals with less brain and some property they care about. If society would correct that, and generate creative all-round people with a broad view, these persons would be very unhappy. They would feel suffocating by the restrictions of teamwork, democracy, procedures and rules.

In teamwork and in democracy, individualism and independent thinking are considered as "thoughtcrimes", as predicted 66 years ago by George Orwell in his novel nineteen eighty-four.

How can the intellect of society increase while the brain degenerates?

The total intellectual output of society is the sum of the following contributions:

  • Non-externalized intelligent activity.
    That is what is done by humans while understanding what they are doing.
  • Externalized intelligent activity.
    • Output of automated systems (AI and other, including search engines).
    • Output of human beings following procedures without insight in the procedures.
This way of putting it may raise some protest.
Think about the following comparison:

Someone can assemble a car just by following procedures, without even knowing the procedure will result in a car.

The person does not have the knowledge of assembling cars, the person has only knowledge about following procedures. The person serves as a robot executing instructions from the procedure.

The clever action of making a car, is externalized, no matter whether the robot is a person or an electromechanical one.

Two things have happened at the same time, resulting an increase of the intellectual output of society:

  • Education is adapted to form people which can follow a broad range of procedures and who consider any objection against teamwork as very asocial.
  • HowTo-procedures are written for a wide variety of actions.
The result is a society with less intelligent people, but the resulting intellectual output is higher.

On top that, there is the extra advantage that such people can be used for completely different jobs when the needs of society change. The more education focuses on following procedures and teamwork-skills in stead of the development of thinking, the easier it gets for people to switch job without re-education. That is a tremendous benefit for society!

Remark: This is not a proposal to do it that way. It is only a (cynical) description of what has happened in the last century and what is still going on in ever accelerating speed.

Are computers clever enough to perform such procedures?

Computers by themselves are not clever at all, but they can execute well-prepared procedures at an incredible high speed. These well-prepared procedures are called the computer-software.

As working procedures get more detailed, they look more and more like software. Adapting them to be usable as computer-software gets easier. On top of that, the procedures to do this are also described in detail, so anybody who can follow procedures can do the translation.

Every procedure which gets translated into computer software can be repeated any number of times at almost no cost. That is why the automation of work-procedures gets on since computers exist and this will go at increasing speed.

When putting these pieces together, there is one very important part missing. There has to be someone or something to decide what to do next. There has to be a motivation, a long term goal, a strategy, etc.

This is the point where the so-called Artificial Intelligence (AI) steps in.

The role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in this.

Traditionally, a distinction is made between software which automates work-procedures like financial administration and software which mimics human behavior like free will, motivation, emotions, choosing what to do next, etc.

This last category is called Artificial Intelligence or AI.
Obviously, the intelligence is not artificial, but externalized human intelligence executed by a computer.

The work is not fundamentally different from solving problems by following procedures, but the knowledge is usually not expressed explicitly because it is common sense for human beings. It works with information like long-term goals, motivation, efficiency, planning, information about the physical world, etc.

When the AI wants direct cooperation with humans, it requires also a delicate model of social context, emotional models, and a large set of tricks to fool the primate to use its body for completely different tasks than it was used to do during the millions of years living in the trees.

It would be an enormous task to painstakingly program these psychological and physical details in software. However, there may be a way to extract the required knowledge from existing externalized information. This method is based on the following fact:

Whatever human beings do is slightly influenced by their inner workings. Traces of these inner workings are everywhere in the creations of humans. Extracting these influences from human output requires lots of such information. Since Internet contains a tremendous amount of human output, there should be more than enough information to do this.

In other words, the knowledge required for AI systems is available many times on the Internet, but it is all distributed and not in suitable form to be used as procedures for computers. The extraction of this knowledge can be automated.

Why is teamwork placed in focus here?

One aspect is that it is a trick to attract your attention. Externalization of human intelligence is clearly much broader than teamwork, but earlier articles about externalization in general did not attract any attention at all while the same message was given.

Its also a trick to balance between contradicting prejudgments.
If the same topic was described with for example AI (Artificial Intelligence) as central topic, people would be ready to sign petitions and manifest on the street to ban it. By illustrating that externalization is something which is going on since ages, is inherent to the glorified teamwork and democracy, and has proved to be of tremendous benefit to humankind, the judgment will be more balanced.

Teamwork, democracy and science are welcomed by society. By connecting it with its backside, people may be triggered to think. They may still come to the conclusion that it is all beneficial to humankind, but less naive.

Its also a call for attention for the minority of people who feel suffocating by the restrictions of teamwork.

Is this beneficial for humankind as a whole?

It probably is.

A first reason is that the chance of survival of humankind is better when its total intellectual capacity is higher, and, in spite of the shrinking brain, the combined capabilities of humankind still increase.

Externalization of human intelligence also facilitates proliferation of humankind in space, with the possibility to disperse, traveling millennia while keeping in touch with each other and with earth. Nanotechnology will play an important role in this.

That largely increases the chance of survival of humankind in case of disasters or conflicts. Self reproducing intelligent systems, large distances and many copies are a good protection.

Biological information about the human being will be carried, but not in deployed form.

The transition from individual work to teamwork can also be seen as the early stage of the formation of a larger being, similar to cells cooperating to form a multicellular body. This can only take place when the cell looses its individuality.

What will happen to the human brain, and to humankind?

The recent dramatic increase in externalization of human intelligence is likely to affect society in a profound way. These changes are expected to accelerate faster and faster in the near future.

What will happen with the homo-sapiens?

Many options are open. It can be expected that several of these options will be explored simultaneously.

  • One part of humankind will enjoy the freedom of labor and the support of intelligent factories and services. This is in fact the new form of humankind keeping the old form in a reservation. This part will slowly degenerate and rejoin the rest of the family of Primates. They can finally enjoy sports forever, while union members can happily go on strike forever.
  • Another part of humankind will reject all technology and go back in time hunting, farming and suffering.
  • Another part of humankind will cooperate with the new form and perform labor in return for perfect education, accommodation and help with a steady development of the mental capacities of the biological human. This is likely to branch-off into various degrees of genetic manipulation and nanotechnological implants.

Further reading.