I read a book last week called Mathematical Intelligence, A story of Human Superiority over Machines[1]. The premise of the book was that AI will not be able to replace Human ingenuity in the realm of mathematics.  While computers, and really fast super computers with AI can run through quadrillions [2] of calculations a second, they cannot “think” for themselves, or come up with new mathematical concepts like Newton/Leibniz did with calculus,  or the invention of “imaginary numbers” that have proven very beneficial in modern electronics.

The author talked about some of the failings of human to human collaboration, and one of those was the “illusion of explanatory depth” The illusion of explanatory depth describes our belief that we understand more about the world than we actually do. It is often not until we are asked to actually explain a concept that we come face to face with our limited understanding of it. Below are some drawings people made after they said they understood how a bicycle worked. Look closely and you can see none of the bikes drawn would function. Do you know anybody like this? Have you ever faced this yourselves?

OK, so where is Bishop Bill going with this, and how is it a Mormon problem? The books talks about how to overcome the problems of “illusion of explanatory depth”, and talks about how a group of collaborators (think Q15) can overcome this.

How do we make sure that the double-edge sword of human-human collaboration tilts in our favor? Diversity of opinion is critical – it occurs when each person has some private information, even if it’s just as eccentric interpretation of the known facts. When this happens, each person’s independent judgment combines to great effect.

Mathematical Intelligence p 246

The book talks about a contest at a fair run a hundred years ago where fair goes were asked to guess the weight of a bull. The guesses were all over the place, but a statistician looked at the results and found that the average of all guesses was 1197 pounds, and the actual weight was 1198 pounds! 

Those fairgoers each contributed a small bit of information based on their own unique life experiences. Just like a board of directors can do for a large corporation, or a High Council in support of a Stake President, or a Q12 in support of FP. But does it happen if all the members of the group have almost the same life experiences?

If we are relying on other people to shatter our illusion of explanatory depth, then we must make sure that their knowledge is not simply a mimicry of our own. It must extend our worldview rather than amplify it. Where homogeneous groups of like-minded thinkers tend to exploit the narrow set of ideas they already share, heterogeneous groups are able to combined their different perspectives to expand their mental horizons……This cognitive diversity is a proved asset of collaborative groups, and never more so than with interdisciplinary problems that demand multiple perspectives.   

Mathematical Intelligence p 247

Can you think of a more homogeneous group than the Q15? What stands out is Elder Uchtdorf. He did not grow up in the bubble of Mormondom, and it shows in his thinking as evidenced in his talks. I wonder how much of his heterodox thinking is able to come out in the private Q15 meetings, or is he being stamped down so much he doesn’t even raise his hand anymore?

And what about the interdisciplinary problems facing the church? The LGBTQ issue requires biologists, psychologists, social scientists and the like to really understand it, yet we have a bunch of lawyers, business men with the odd pilot or surgeon sitting in an echo chamber looking for a solution.  The church touts the diversity of the Q15, but having been promoted to their current position by showing they are in line with the current church, how really diverse can they be? More to the point, even if they are from different backgrounds, how “conatively diverse” are they? How diverse can they be without female input?

What problems do you see facing the Church that are not getting solved due to the echo chamber of the Q15? Is it really an echo chamber, or are there 15 different opinions, but only Pres Nelson’s vote matters?

Your thoughts?

[1] I read about one book every two weeks. A little fiction, but mostly nerd books on math, technology, history or psychology.

[2] quadrillion = 1,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s a 1000 trillion)

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay