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Welcome to the Collective page

What is the meaning of collective?

People influence each other when they interact to solve problems. Such social influence introduces both benefits (higher average solution quality due to exploitation of existing answers through social learning) and costs (lower maximum solution quality due to a reduction in individual exploration for novel answers) relative to independent problem solving. (1)
... where information is interpreted to become knowledge through one’s own experience or reflections on the experiences of others ... . ... shared experience (‘socialisation’) is key to acquiring tacit knowledge, such as shared mental models or technical skills ... . Co-experience facilitates the creation of ‘common perspectives’ and ‘externalisation’ enables articulation of the shared tacit mental models into words and phrases, which finally crystallises into explicit concepts. (2)
--- Behaviours and institutions are similar phenomena on different social scales; both are cultural traits. Behaviour, in most cases, is an individual cultural trait, or the expression of one, and institutions are group-level cultural traits. Both are invented, learned, modified, copied and re-transmitted, diffusing and evolving within a larger population. Thus, the simplest method to unify behavioural change and institutional change is to consider their transmission in parallel.(3)
For instance, NASA itself knows how to make a space shuttle, yet no single NASA employee knows exactly how. It is only as a collective corporation that the space shuttle can be built. (4)
(1) Ethan Bernstein - How intermittent breaks in interaction improve collective intelligence - PNAS - June 21, 2018
(2) Cinla Akinci - Intuition: Implications for Improved Decision Making and Organisational Learning - British Journal of Management - 2019
(3) Laurent Hébert-Dufresne - Source-sink behavioural dynamics limit institutional evolution in a groupstructured society - - 2022
(4) Nina Strohminger - University of Pennsylvania

Thinking about the concept

A visual thesaurus search is always an excellent starting point to discuss a concept definition:

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Thesaurus - Synonyms, Antonyms, and Related Words (



Robert J. Aumann: Collectives as Individuals

Nobel Prize lecture - 2005

We use the term cooperative to describe any possible outcome of a game, as long as no player can guarantee a better outcome for himself. It is important to emphasize that in general, a cooperative outcome is not in equilibrium; it’s the result of an agreement. For example, in the well-known “prisoner’s dilemma” game, the outcome in which neither prisoner confesses is a cooperative outcome; it is in neither player’s best interests, though it is better for both than the unique equilibrium.

An even simpler example is the following game H: There are two players, Rowena and Colin. Rowena must decide whether both she and Colin will receive the same amount – namely 10 – or whether she will receive ten times more, and Colin will receive ten times less. Simultaneously, Colin must decide whether or not to take a punitive action, which will harm both Rowena and himself; if he does so, the division is cancelled, and instead, each player gets nothing.

The game matrix is

Acquiese Punish
Divide Evenly 10 - 10 0 - 0
Divide Greedy 100 - 1 0 - 0
The outcome (E,A), yielding 10 to each player, is a cooperative outcome, as no player can guarantee more for himself; but like in the prisoner’s dilemma, it is not achievable in equilibrium. Why are cooperative outcomes interesting, even though they are not achievable in equilibrium? The reason is that they are achievable by contract – by agreement – in those contexts in which contracts are enforceable.

The fundamental insight is that repetition is like an enforcement mechanism, which enables the emergence of cooperative outcomes in equilibrium – when everybody is acting in his own best interests. Intuitively, this is well-known and understood. People are much more cooperative in a long-term relationship. They know that there is a tomorrow, that inappropriate behavior will be punished in the future. A businessman who cheats his customers may make a short-term profit, but he will not stay in business long.

... repetition acts as an enforcement mechanism: It makes cooperation achievable when it is not achievable in the one-shot game ... In order for this to work, the discount rates of all agents must be low; they must not be too interested in the present as compared with the future. (1)


Lessons from game theory for humans as collectives

By treating collectives like individuals, game theory can explain how we evaluate, how we apportion moral action for events. Treating ‘collectives’ the same as individuals is important not just for game theory but for our view of moral responsibility. As an individual, a team, a silo, an organisation, a company, a society, … we all display the same traits explained by modern psychology:

  • Inner focus – fundamental dynamical homeostasis (for more background information, please visit Worldview - Human & brain)
    • Works on “chemical release" related to "reward and punishment"
      • Temperament
      • Emotions
      • Cognition
  • Other focus – social dynamical homeostasis
    • This part is about thinking/doing ability, language, memory, …, and the pursuit of "well-being"
      • Behaviour
      • Psychology
      • Philosophy
  • Outer focus – cultural dynamical homeostasis
    • This is about political systems, right systems, economic systems, science, technique, art, etc.
      • Experience
      • Cultural embedding
      • Action

The individualisation of our society causes a problem on this issue. The current view in society is a constant regression of these ‘personality traits’ towards individuals instead of applying them to higher level entities: relationships, teams, organisations, …

In many applications of Game Theory, a player is a collective such as a household, team, political party, country or the like. Usually, this is understood as an idealization. In games where, say, countries are modeled as players, the "real" players are the individual citizens, with their individual goals and individual decisions and individual free will. It's only because this "true" game is too big and unwieldy to analyze that, it is held, game theorists model players as they do. Here, we advance the thesis that it *IS* really that way: that in large part, collectives are like individual people, and may be thought of as such. And, perhaps, not only in Game Theory.
Individual People Collectives
composed of cells composed of people
grouped in organs & limbs grouped in economic, social, political, … entities
which are interdependent which are interdependent
change over time; in particular, age and die change over time; in particular, age and die
have diseases crime, pollution, …
and internal mechanisms to fight them police, courts, public awareness, …
have relationships with others – friendly or hostile alliances, wars, economic cooperation and barriers
have internal struggles have internal struggles
make decisions – consciously or otherwise make decisions – centrally or otherwise


(1) Robert J. Aumann - Nobel Prize Lecture, December 8, 2005
(2) Robert J. Aumann - Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings - 2014