Collective Intelligence

By Dale Hunter

Collective intelligence is a name given to intelligence that does not reside solely or completely in any individual person. Collective intelligence is also referred to as group intelligence, which in its wider sense includes dispersed and virtual groups, networks and organisations of all kinds.

“The collective intelligence of a group is not the sum of the knowledge of its members, nor even the sum of their capacities to think: it is an intelligence peculiar to itself, which thinks differently from each member of the group. Thus a network of neurons becomes a learning machine; a telephone grid performs other functions than those of each telephone exchange; a computer thinks differently from each microprocessor.”1   

Economist and political adviser James Attali: in ‘A Brief History of the Future’,recognises the difference between individual and group intelligence and gives further examples such as a city being distinct from its inhabitants, an orchestra being something beyond the sum of its musicians, a play is different from the role played by each actor and the contribution of each researcher is distinct from the results of the research itself.

“All collective intelligence is the result of bridges, of links between individual intelligences, essential for creating the new.”1

Multi intelligences

Traditionally the word “intelligence” has been used to describe cognitive capacities only. (I think therefore I am). However, this understanding is changing. “Multi intelligences” as described by Harvard developmental psychologist, Howard Gardner, suggest that each individual manifests varying levels of different intelligences. He distinguishes eight intelligences; linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal and intrapersonal and suggests that each of us possess a unique blend of all the intelligences.2.

From a holistic mind/body perspective, intelligence is multi dimensional and contained in each and every part of the body, in every organ, system and cell. This intelligence is the ability to carry out a role in enabling the body to work as a whole. Neuroscientist and pharmacologist, Candace Pert, discoverer of the opiate receptor, the cellular binding site for the endorphins in the brain, describes in her book ‘Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind’ how a feeling sparked in your mind will translate as a peptide being released somewhere in the body. These peptides regulate every aspect of the body and its functioning, from whether you’re going to digest your food properly to whether you’re going to destroy a tumour cell.3

My own experience as a facilitator and facilitator educator has led me to the belief that consciousness and intelligence are not situated solely in the head, brain, or mind, nor does intelligence reside in the individual alone. Intelligence is embodied in the individual (from top to toe) and also embodied in the whole group, including all of people that make up the group and the connectivity between them. This applies to a face-to-face group, a fully virtual group and a blended group. The natural world and all its gross and subtle energies is also part of collective consciousness. From one cell to many, ant to elephant, seed to towering forests, individual cell to planet Earth and beyond, all is connected.


Although there is a developed body of research codifying and measuring individual human intelligence, it is only recently that research into human collective intelligence has been undertaken.

A leader in this new field is Tom Malone, founder and Director of the MIT Institute for Collective Intelligence (CI), which focuses on connectivity created through the use of technology. The CI institute basic research question is: How can people and computers be connected so that— collectively—they act more  intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before. 4     

Associated with Tom Malone, Anita Wooley and colleagues are researching face-to-face groups and so far have shown that collective intelligence exists distinct from individual intelligence and can, in groups, be correlated with social sensitivity, taking of turns in speaking, and the number of women in a group.5

Dean Radin, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and author of ‘Entangled Minds’, brings together the growingbody of research into the connectivity between human minds, including American Defense forces investigations of supernormal capacities such as “seeing at a distance”6. Radin also carries out his own research into “supernormal” capacities, and describes this and other related research in his new book ‘Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities’.

James Surowiecki’s ‘The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter Than the Few’ alsoexplores aspects of collective intelligence7. Surowieski believes that good decisions in crowds depend upon diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization (people are able to decentralize and draw on local knowledge) and aggregation (some mechanism for decision-making).

Related concepts and terminolgy

Concepts related to collective intelligence include group consciousness, group collective consciousness, group intelligence, collective intelligence, collective wisdom, and collective awareness.

A consensus regarding terminology and language has not yet emerged. In the interim, the various and overlapping meanings that are ascribed to the above terms create confusion. This does not mean however, that we cannot continue. Indeed we must, and I have tentatively grouped these concepts into “group consciousness” and “collective intelligence”.

Group Consciousness

In my work with groups I have experienced what I call “group consciousness” as a collective energy field, which can be felt. I experience group consciousness as a combination of the energy and awareness of the individuals in the group and also at times more than this – more than the sum of the parts.

Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle’s describes group consciousness in energetic terms.

“A group of people coming together in a state of presence generates a collective energy field of great intensity. It not only raises the degree of presence of each member of the group but also helps to free the collective human consciousness from its current state of mind dominance. This will make the state of presence increasingly more accessible to individuals”.8
The form of the collective energy field varies and the strength of the field seems to be related to the ability of the individuals in the group in generate “presence” (be in the here and now) and to the creation of a clear and aligned group purpose.

The concept of presence has been brought forward in the mainstream academic world through the work of Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In ‘Theory U’ Scharmer explains that:

“[Collective presence and co-creation] are empirically the rarest (generative forms of communication) and the most strategically important. That infrastructure, if in place, would allow whole eco systems to connect and cope better, faster and more innovatively with the key challenges at hand.  The lack of that infrastructure represents a missing piece of societal hardwiring today.”9

Group consciousness (or a conscious group) will exhibit observable individual awareness, and individual and group “presence”. Group consciousness imbued with presence is a vibrant field of aliveness and each unique group will give this consciousness its own flavour, qualities and vibration. From sustained presence (it can take some effort) collective intelligence will emerge.

Consciousness grows where there is alignment, awareness and openness to more possibility. When a conscious group aligns sincerely on a purpose, which is in keeping with the greater good of all, there is more energy available to the group. The group can become informed by the energy of consciousness that is greater than that usually available to individuals in the group.

The enhanced energy field of a conscious group can assist the individuals in it to raise their own individual vibration to meet that of the group. However no one needs to lower their vibration as consciousness is, well, conscious and individuals can exercise choice.

A group working consciously attracts more consciousness to itself in the form of energy/information stored in the wider consciousness, called “Akasha” or “akashic field” by Hungarian philosopher Ervin Lazlo10.

When this greater energy is consciously embraced and harmonized within a group, the group potential becomes more the sum of the individuals in it. Irritations that may have previously been in the way, fall into the background and are no longer as important or as relevant as they may have been. A noticeable shift occurs from the constraints of ego into a fresh perspective and wider context of the higher Self.

This effect is described as synergy, flow or being “in the zone”. The group becomes empowered or “powered up” and can work with the subtle energy of emergence.

In The Art of Facilitation (2007) by Dale Hunter, we explore how “dialogue in a space of deep listening opens up access to the whole field of consciousness, and the unlimited knowledge available beyond the constraints of time and space”.11

In his book, The Living Classroom: Teaching and Collective Consciousness, Christopher M. Bache explores “learning fields” created between the teacher and class in his work as a university teacher. His use of the expression “collective consciousness” is very similar to what I am calling collective intelligence (see below).

When people open themselves to each other and focus intensely on a common goal, their individual energies become synchronized in a way that can mediate contact with levels of intelligence and creativity that are beyond the reach of these same individuals acting alone. We must engage each other in an integrated manner for this more potent mode of knowing to emerge. The specific level of consciousness that is accessed is not as important here as the discovery of (.. the enhanced capacity of the integrated group mind itself)….Whatever our individual abilities, our collective abilities are greater.”12

Group intelligence

The active and communicative aspect of group consciousness can be termed “group intelligence” or “collective intelligence” and is distinguishable by the ability to learn, grow and work.

Group intelligence informs the work of the group, thinking, feeling, sensing and in action within the framework of the group purpose and agreed ways of working (group culture). Group intelligence does not supersede individual intelligence and in an effective group individual intelligence does not override group intelligence. Individual and group intelligence are different and complementary.

Group intelligence is energy and information working together to imagine and create the future, address an issue, solve a problem. Futurist George Por describes it this way:

  “We can speed up the process of evolutionary adaptation in at least two ways:
– Embracing, thinking, and acting from prior unity, the intrinsic oneness of humankind and all of Life
– Augmenting, mobilizing, and using our collective intelligence and collective wisdom”

Group stupidity

Collective intelligence is all to the good, but groups do not always act with what others would describe as “intelligence”. What about group folly and mass stupidity?

Working together in groups has some negative connotations expressed in phrases such as “group think” and “peer pressure.” Although there can be a down side to collective thinking (or rather the failure to think) working together is the basis of team work of all kinds including many of science and technology’s biggest breakthroughs.

“Like collective wisdom, collective folly is a potential of all groups, not simply those groups we might label as dysfunctional or unhealthy, or groups that hold overtly destructive aims. Collective folly is a lived reality, and a legacy of thousands of years of conflict and warfare. Every day, human beings commit small acts of foolishness, conscious and unconscious acts of violence and cruelty, within our families and among friends, against our peers and subordinates, and against groups of strangers small and large that we deem as “other”14.

Collective folly often occurs when we objectify others, within or outside of the group, rather than build relationships. Problems also arise when we exclude or reinterpret information that challenges our own preconceptions rather than undertake the challenging work of questioning our own beliefs.

In addition, a group purpose that creates a sense of separation, otherness, and competition is unlikely to attract more aware consciousness. For example, the group energy at a violent movie, a crime scene, or strongly contested sporting event can feel unpleasant and unharmonious.

Self-organising collective intelligence:

A centralised mind-set assumes that a problem requires someone to be in charge. However, good things can sometimes happen without anyone being in control.

Open Source Software, Crowdsourcing expert and co-founder at open source research community at MIT, Karim Lakhani15 stumbled into collective intelligence and distributed information as a puzzle. Programmers write beautiful code overnight solve problems that research teams have been working on for 2 years. Also Tshirt design company with thousands of people deciding which are the best designs and these are then made and sell out. Free marketing!

Many other examples of self organising collective intelligence are now emerging, often using the magic of the Internet.

Enhancing collective intelligence in groups

A skilled facilitator can build the coherence of a group in such a way that group consciousness and collective intelligence can be accessed.

The facilitator enables this through the creation of a strong group purpose and culture. The provision of well matched processes and group resources are also important, as are the encouraging of deep and empathetic listening, and dynamic group presencing. The facilitator also monitors the stages of group development, enables the energy flow, and notices the subtle cues which can contribute to the emergence of collective intelligence.

Effective facilitator education both face to face and online will enable the dissemination of the knowledge, skills and ways of being that are necessary to access collective intelligence. These are the skills and ways of being that facilitators trained by the Zenergy method explore and master during their participation in Zenergy programmes.


It is helpful to recognise the limitations as well as the strengths of individual intelligence, and to also embrace the wider conversation of collective intelligence. This unlimited resource is needed to meet the challenges of the future. We can best meet these challenges if we work together.


  • Jacques Attali, ‘A Brief History of the Future. Third Wave of the Future             Planetary Democracy’, 2009. p. 272

2.  Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences

3.  Candace Pert, ‘Molecules of Emotion: The Science behind Mind Body        Medicine’, 1997. ‘Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind’, 2004.

  • Tom Malone, MIT Institute for Collective Intelligence.
  • Anita Woolley & C. Chabris, A. Pentland, N. Hashmi, T. Malone. Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. Science 29 October 2010 Published Online: Vol. 330 no. 6004 pp. 686-688.
  • Dean Radin: ‘Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality’, 2006. INSTITUTE OF NOETIC SCIENCES
  • J. Surowiecki. ‘The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter than the Few’, 2004.
  • Eckhart Tolle, ‘Power of Now’, 1999.
  • Otto Scharmer, ‘Theory U’, 2007. pp.337-8
  •  Ervin Laszlo, ‘Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything’, 2007.
  •  Dale Hunter et al, ‘The Art of Facilitation: the essentials for leading great meetings and creating group synergy’, 2007.
  • C.M. Bache. ‘The Living Classroom: Teaching and Collective Consciousness’, 2008. p.68
  • George Por November 6, 2009 at 5:00pm
  • Alan Briskin, ‘The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly’, 2009. p.108
  • Karim Lakhani. Open Source Software, Crowdsourcing expert and co-founder at open source research community at MIT. , Crowdsources platform examples: (Funds Creative Projects),  (Worlds Funding Platform), (Social Change Projects)

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Kāren Hunter

Kāren Hunter is a New Zealand based musician, astrologer and ceremonial facilitator.

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