Spring 2008 - Volume 15 / Issue 1

©2008 J. A. Lyle

Collective Problem Solving: Are the Many Smarter Than the Few? pp. 23-58

John A. Lyle, Durham University


This paper experimentally assesses the success of the crowd with a view towards offering another way of understanding the success of ‘indigenous’ knowledge. It suggests that Rousseau’s notion of general will and Durkheim’s notion of social facts, continue to provide valuable insights for the study of governance and knowledge. All members of a society have an influence on the behaviour of the individuals around them and the ‘success’ of society itself. It is proposed that the supra-societal phenomena which ‘govern’ people is an emergent property of societal interaction. This paper argues that the effect can be reproduced under strict test conditions. On decentralisation and its proposed merits in this dissertation, the results of the experiment, combined with reflection on the Balinese water temples (Lansing 1991) prove that real-life, crucial problem-solving can be done without the favoured top-down hierarchy of control.


wisdom of the crowds, indigenous knowledge, society, control, problem solving, emergence