Olives: Seeds of Collective Intelligence

Olives: Seeds of Collective Intelligence

What does Wikipedia have to do with an olive? Do we have to write in academic jargon that is difficult for young people to understand? Why do the world’s great scientists invest time in reaching out to people outside of academia? Why are we, as human beings, important to science and human knowledge? This is not a piece of nostalgia for the past. This is an attempt to think about reality, both current and future, in search of ways that can make technology a force of cooperation that serves humanity, not destroys it.


The experience of the child and its environment: The more practical experiences children have, the more their horizons expand. The more children get involved in experiences and tasks that have challenges, the more motivated they get. Every time children touch the ground, stones and plants, their sensory skills develop. Every time children speak and share their thoughts, and hear the thoughts of others, their linguistic skills develop. Every time children use technology in their various forms (a pen, a book, Youtube videos), they are exposed to greater possibilities of learning. All these possibilities rely on the existence of a “social network” that is in charge of supporting this growth socially, emotionally, and cognitively that happens little by little, through small or large actions, so that the child grows and becomes a universe unto itself, provided it is active, experiments and thinks. This is how a person learns, through trial and by cooperating, participating and contributing to the group. They learn by using different tools, both the simple, available and the complex ones.


The olive harvest season: My grandfather was a peasant who loved his land. He spent as much of his time as he could among the olive trees, especially those in Wadi al-Kharroubeh, particularly on weekends whenever he had the chance to go. He would take care of his trees, he knew when he had to clean them, water them and tend to them. He knew each tree’s story, when it was planted and why. We used to accompany him most of the time when we were children, when the desire to climb trees and play in the soil and stones would overcome us. For us, the olive harvest season was a real carnival.


The time was October. Usually, the first time we would go down in a harvest season to Wadi al-Kharroub would be on a Friday. To me, the season was a tale that embodied cooperation and participation. Each one of us had their own special contribution. Some would sit around lazily making jokes, some would climb ladders, others would pick olives from the branches, or make food, or even make mischief, as well as other tasks that were both productive and non-productive. Picking olives in the “milking” style was the easiest task. After picking there were several tasks in succession, such as gathering the olives by cutting the plastic sheet and the tarpaulin, then putting them in bags and marking which bags were for making olive oil so they could be taken to the press. In my opinion, the most important and most difficult task of all, which everyone would try to avoid was what was known as ‘jawl’, which was to try and scour the ground for olives that had fallen out and gotten mixed up with the soil, olive by olive/piece by piece.


After the larger group shifted to the next tree, my grandfather would go back to the tree whose olives had just been picked and begin to gather the olives one by one. He was adamant about this. He would make us – affectionately – sit with him and pick out the scattered olives. The jawl was a difficult task that demanded concentration and an ability to sort. But from one olive to the next, we would finish our day with a large sack of olives that was enough to make a stock of pickled olives that would last a small family for a year. This was our contribution, a small yet great one. A single, small olive made the difference.


From the single olive to the network: This is how a net is built, from a single thread that intermeshes with the rest of the threads after it. It is the sack of olives made up of the individual olives gathered together after the toil of a long day of collective olive picking. This participative model where each person from the child to the young woman to the farmer to the aged, contributes according to their ability, however small their contribution, where tasks are distributed and everyone works together to solve the more difficult tasks, after which whatever material remains is gathered to press for oil or make pickled olives, is a small-scale version of the power of “collective intelligence” as a model for cooperation. It is a model in which experiences blend together at various differing levels to produce a human life experience that no written test in an official school can evaluate. This model has been a rich educational environment for any child that has been able to live and experience the olive harvest season. Through this model, a child is capable, with whatever he or she possesses and with even a small contribution in a short span of time, to work collectively to achieve the essential: complete picking all the trees in the grove in three weeks, then to press the olives for oil and begin the pickling process.


This is how networks of knowledge are built, by a blending of expertise and experimentation at various differing levels, where people do not follow the mentality of the herd but rather offer what they have to produce and keep things in motion and continue to be creative, while shepherded by the expertise and skills of those who are more experienced. This is how Wikipedia was made, how open-source programs were created, how the most important laboratories in the world that are so rich in resources were started, by internalizing the importance of giving the chance for knowledge participation between scholars and lay people to take place, so that any person sitting in their small home can become a scientist by themselves with basic materials, without having to wait for “funding” or “development foundations.”



These blogpost and design were inspired by a discussion in my Interdisciplinary Seminar class in Fall 2017, led by Professors James Paul Gee and Brian Nelson about Gee’s book “Teaching, Learning and Reading”, as well as the book “Reinventing Discovery: A New Era of Networked Learning” by Michael Nielssen.

Arabic version of the text:

الذكاء الجمعي.. من حبة الزيتون إلى ويكيبيديا

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