As Michael Mehta recently wrote, “non-experts can provide concise, relevant, timely, and sophisticated guidance based on the principles of consensus-building”. This is a near perfect précis of the main point of James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds (2005). Surowiecki argues, with ample supporting evidence, that the outcomes of such consensus decision-making are very often superior to what “expert” opinion urges.
One reason why “experts” may offer less effective advice is that they are very often scientific specialists. Unfortunately, there is a still prevailing outlook among scientists – an attitude, or belief – called reductionism. This is a form of narrow linear thinking in which absolutely everything (including your favourite colour) can ultimately be explained by the laws of physics.
However, there are world-renowned theoretical physicists such as David Deutsch who flatly reject reductionism. In The Fabric of Reality (1997) Deutsch offers powerful arguments refuting this narrowly linear line of thinking. There are, he declares, uniquely novel “emergent properties” of higher-order phenomena that are simply not reducible to some ultimate set of fundamental laws or principles. Now obviously, most people in a consensus-building group are not going to be trained scientists, so they are not going be limited by this blinkered mind-set when dealing with complex many-sided social problems. (Unless, of course, they are religious or political dogmatists!)
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