Wisdom of the Crowd

How the wisdom of the crowd compares to belief in god or religion

In 1906, the great statistician Francis Galton observed a competition to guess the weight of an ox at a country fair. Eight hundred people entered. Galton, being the kind of man he was, ran statistical tests on the numbers. He discovered that the average guess (1,197lb) was extremely close to the actual weight of 1,198lb.

Marcus du Sautoy is a British mathematician specializing in group theory and number theory. He recently had a random group of 160 people, guess how many jellybeans were in a large jar. While guesses ranged from 400 to 50,000, the groups average guess was 2,514. The actual number—2,510.

The wisdom of the crowd is very good at guessing. The difference between this wisdom and religious wisdom, is actual cows and actual jellybeans were used in these experiments. No invisible beans were estimated, and no psychological faith ploy preceded the experiments from birth.

Author: jim-

One minute info blogs breaking the faith trap.

60 thoughts on “Wisdom of the Crowd”

  1. Pingback: Wisdom of the Crowd — TheCommonAtheist – SEO
  2. Hello Jim! Thanks for the article. Do you trust the evolutionary production of humanities reason and faculties to be relatively accurate in perceiving the actual world correctly so that our species may better survive? So that, we could judge pretty accurately the number of jelly beans and the weight of cows. What would be the rational reason to judge the other faculties evolution has produced in us as not perceiving actual realities but only faculties that have helped us survive? It seems that there is not a logical consistency. If we begin with the premises that evolution has produced in us certain faculties to help us survive how do we know our ‘scientific faculties’ can help us know the real world while the other faculties ‘logic, metaphysical and religious faculties’ are not also perceiving reality? It seems that logical positivism and scientism have to enter into circular argumentation (although I don’t think it has to be a vicious circle). Also on a side note, as I was scrolling down I noticed you wrote “using Christian logic the less knowable and attainable god is, the more likely he is to be the real god.” I take you to be an honest guy so I’m sure you arent strawmaning, but this would not be a position of historical Christianity. While I don’t doubt you have met some Christians who think and talk like this, it is not what Christianity has taught. It does sound more relevant to your American context. Christianity actually has the most ‘attainable god’. God has made himself known, and he has not kept distant like modern deists would like to think. The crux and central teaching of Christianity is that God himself became a human man, just like you and me. He lived on this earth, walked, talked, ate and drank, he had a childhood, he had siblings, a mother, a father. Jesus taught the people living in Palestine that he was God. This Jesus, self-proclaimed God-man, suffered and died at the hands of real roman people so that we could know him, know the God who created us. Know the God who loved us he came down to us, taught us, and saved us so that we may repent of our wrongdoing and live a good life in service to him and neighbour. All of this was written down by four different sources, the four gospels. It is the deity and work of Jesus that must be dealt with. What the four gospels say Jesus was. A person must weight the evidence and historical claims made about Jesus and decide whether they are true as Christians believe or not true. Our beliefs are based in a God of history and historical claims. A God who physically walked and taught among us. A God we can personally know. A God who makes himself known through the writings of humans, and through spiritual means. No other religion is like it. I hope I could have been of service in clearing some things up and critically engaging with your claims so that both of us can be more rational and get closer to the truth! Thanks for reading Jim.

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    1. Well, you’ve articulated the story quite well, but in all honesty, although sounding pretty good, it doesn’t stand up to evidence or even reasonable scrutiny. From the Roman record to the Pauline gospel and all the gaps, authors, contradiction, rewrites and outcomes of living by faith, aren’t congruent with any observable reality. Virtually every point requires volumes of excuses and explanation. So much so that the apologists need an advanced degree to understand and convey the supposed simplicity of the gospel. It’s a masterful play on the foibles of human psychology, requiring faith before knowledge then the men of words poison the well, hedging the upcoming doubt with warnings and threats if one doesn’t believe.
      Nothing you stated and beyond actually happened. From Noah and Moses to Jesus, every last bit is a story of non witnessed events written by people who weren’t there. If only one point were true, we’d have something to start with. Even the red words of the Bible contradict what is known to otherwise never happen. ( Jesus teaching about Moses for instance)
      Faith can only thrive due to lack of evidence, and Christianity has that down pat. The funniest part to me, is Corinthians “prove all things”, and Christianity has avoided that with testimony for 2000 years. The emperor not only has no clothes, but he himself is missing as well, including the signs that follow them that believe. You?

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    2. There was a lot in your comment to address. “If we begin with the premises that evolution has produced in us certain faculties to help us survive how do we know our ‘scientific faculties’ can help us know the real world?” I don’t know that we are doing the right thing for humanity by going down these roads, but the reality is we are now beginning to create our own evolutionary pathway. Whether guided by evolution or not, times are changing faster than our bodies can keep up. Obesity post-industrial revolution is a good example of that. Ironically, as much as science hates the idea of intelligent design, it is now their personal goal to take the reigns and try it themselves. I do think this possibly has been done before, if the Bible were true I have some insight to that if you have the time.

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        1. Let me premise all of this with a big “if”, the Bible contained any fact, whether it was from “god” is still 100% suspect in my view.
          “There is nothing new under the sun”, but the ark story has some interesting tidbits in it that actually would be kind of neat if it were true. “The Earth had be come corrupt, (Genesis 6) including all>/I> flesh. But Noah was perfect in his generations” (with an S) Not a perfect man, but his lineage had not become corrupted. Here we stand at the precipice of recreating this scenario. The earth is nearing total corruption, and genetic engineering is also on the cusp of altering nature to our “benefit”, quite possibly launching us into the realm of massive, unintended consequences. The story of the Ark, although incredibly impossible even for our time, might just turn out to be the most accurate depiction in all the Bible.
          I’ve never read this anywhere else and this is my own observation, so any insight or counter points would be appreciated. I do know people back then we’re much more intelligent than we give credit for, just look at the monuments and civilizations they left behind to illustrate that.

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          1. Well Jim, I have read the Bible in its entirety, several times, KJV, the more modern version including the “gelded” NIV, the French Catholic Jerusalem version as well as a Spanish one. Each provided a different insight into that world. I don’t defend the Bible – it’s just a book that some people (way too many) have turned into a fetish, an idol. It can be called ‘the word of god’ sure, as long as it is understood that ‘god’ can mean a lot of different things, but again for the religious scam to work, there has to be but the “one” god. That’s laughable, considering the number of interpretations of “god’s word” and resultant, mostly inimical, denominations, cults, sub-cults and outright big top clownery.
            Once I got past my “faith days” I began to study the bible as a compilation of bits and pieces of history, pseudo-history, myth, legend, patriotism, prophetic utterances, stories to entertain or amuse or teach lessons, parables, and… the difficult parts: the spiritual aspect of some of the teachings. After reading “The Earth Chronicles” by Zecharia Sitchin I got what you would call the primer, the key so to speak, on how to read the book from a non-religious perspective and get some amazing results. For example, Sitchin, based on his interpretations of the pre-diluvian Sumerian hieroglyphs, was convinced that the “Ark” was actually a submarine laboratory, stocked with the DNA of many of the species that were to be destroyed by the coming flood. The flood was not caused by god, it was pretty much what we are seeing today, only much faster, more drastic, and if you read Immanuel Velikovsky and cross-reference his data from “Earth in Upheaval” and “Worlds in Collision” you get a story that makes sense. Of course the typical (programmed!) Earthian will laugh at the idea there could be submarines at that time, but be that as it may, there were, as there were flying machines that criss-crossed the skies – which explains the otherwise impossible “data” left on the plains of Nazca in Peru…
            Ever wonder about Ezekiel’s “vision” of a flying machine? Good drugs… or? These major prophets were pretty serious people, would they concoct the stories of weirdness and supernatural events just for fun? The bible isn’t a throw-away hopeless religious concoction, it has it’s very interesting points, the ones religious leadership would very much like to see expunged if people caught on to what is being said there.
            Another example, right from the word ‘go’ – there are two totally contradictory creation stories in Genesis. Genesis 1 to 2:3 tells one simple and powerful story; Genesis 2:4 ff tells the story of a god in a “garden” with the mind of a Donald Trump – and if there had been a Twitter media he would have used it… witness his hissy fit with Adam, Eve and a snake before he threw them out of Eden. The threats he made certainly came through, especially for women. So, should we not ask ourselves “Who” was that “god?” Yes, because if, as he claims, we were made in his “image” where does that leave us? Well, Donald Trump may well be the closest thing to an imitator of god on earth. Wow! Makes me feel all warm and cozy that. However, is it any wonder then that God-stuck fools love the Donald? He reminds them of their father in heaven.

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            1. That’s it? Get back to me after you’ve put some thought into it! Lol. Great comment. Seems with my limited kjv version I was able to confirm much of some work done before me. Interesting comment to cover so much in short line or two.
              Things were stranger back in the day, likely 7-10,000 years ago, than well ever know. My only lingering reservation about the ark story, is the fact that that era built things we still don’t understand today how they did it.

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    1. That would actually be a great exercise. My first thought is it would be no different as long as the participants knew what a cow was, and the approximate mental picture of the jar.

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  3. Fun fact about averages: if you simultaneously place one foot into a tub of dry ice and the other into a tub of boiling water, your overall comfort level evens out to room temperature. 🙂

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    1. That reminds me of the proof that we cannot trust our senses since they are subjective . To a hand in cold water warm water feels hot , but to a hand in hot water warm water feels cold. Of course perhaps it is a step too far to to never trust our senses for where would we be without them? and anyway that would be impossible for we are sensual beings.

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  4. I’m at loss to explain it but then my maths is poor and my reasoning even worse so I’ll go with wisdom. It means we must greatly increase the size of governments and civil servants throughout the world’s nations in order to get wiser decision making. The trouble is we may not get anything done but perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad.
    Now Mr Galton was the originator of eugenics which seems to contradict this idea surely the bigger the gene pool the wiser the cooperate actions of the progeny.
    The idea of having a single referee at a football match must be thrown out of the window , we need a large team of referees to make a wise decision.

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    1. This is true in some ways, but in other ways it’s not. The fewer the people making decisions is definitely more prone to totalitarianism. At the same time, too many people in government can lead to inefficiency. Because, unlike this example where all the people are given a specific task (to guess the number of jellybeans), when you put a large number of people in charge of a country they aren’t always so focused on what the priorities should be and how to go about solving them. I have found, as a professor that too many people at a meeting leads to just arguing and endless debating, where as a smaller committee of 5-8 people can actually get things done.

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      1. Interesting a sort of inner cabinet to move things forward ; the old saying ‘ too many cooks spoil the broth ‘ contains much truth but it is contradicted by ‘ many hands make light work ‘ but this also contains much truth. During the last great war Mr Winston Churchill was the embodiment of both of these simultaneously ; he used many hands but he was firmly in control.

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        1. I think it’s not necessarily contradictory if think that the nature of the task determines what is the best number of people for the task. I mean one can easily see that if you were putting together a set of shelves, there is a certain number of people that could make it go maximally fast, but that too many people would not actually make things go slower. I mean if you are building the great pyramids in Egypt, then I agree, the more the merrier.

          I can see having several people decide on what policy to design to solve a problem as being helpful. But once decided, it’s probably batter to have one manager delegating responsibility to carry out the idea. There are no easy answers here, but what is for certain is that all of us, as individuals have bias, and are unreliable alone at getting anything done or figuring things out. 🙂

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          1. Your last sentence sums up an awful lot for me as it just about sums me up as a person and not just me but many people. ‘ We all have bias and are unreliable alone ‘ .

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            1. Definitely…which is likely part of the reason why being social generally works well for us. We are definitely better together, both in terms of just survival, and also living better when we cooperate.

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      2. I haven’t really been following this conversation all that much, but you made a remark that stood out to me. You wrote … I have found, as a professor that too many people at a meeting leads to just arguing and endless debating, where as a smaller committee of 5-8 people can actually get things done.

        What about the situation we have with the current administration? It’s my understanding that tRumpsky has only filled a small number of vacant positions. Are we getting any more done as a result?

        (I’m fully aware this could be apples and oranges since our “leader” tends to run everything by himself … but I trust you see the sarcasm behind my question.)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Well you’d have to be a bit more specific. For instances are you talking within a department or across departments. Also one might argue that they are doing things more efficiently, but not the things that the public needs. Implementing bad policy is still getting things done. Similarly even in my example a smaller committee might be more efficient at making a decision, but it might not necessarily be a good one. But this is different than a committee of 15-20 people where absolutely nothing gets resolved and put into actionable items.

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          1. I’m just going on what I’ve read. Several articles (not so much lately) have indicated there are unfilled positions in tRumpsky’s administration. I have no idea how “important” they are or whether the vacancies are having any effect on the operations of government.

            I mentioned it only because I’ve often heard people say the reason nothing gets done is because the government is too big and this, to me, went along with your comment.

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            1. No I understand…I’m just saying it’s hard to answer. I do think that government getting too big leads to an increase in bureaucracy which is never good for efficiency. But like I said, it doesn’t mean that what’s being done efficiently is actually helping anybody.

              Also the positions that Trump does fill are filled with people largely unqualified for those positions. It’s like saying well we had 10 doctors efficiently trying to write national nutritional guidelines for the public, and replaced them with 5 chartered accountants. So despite the number reduction, you aren’t going to increase efficiency when you have unqualified people in those positions. lol

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  5. Hahahahaha!!! Great post, profoundly revealing! Perhaps the hyper-religious should go BACK to cows/bulls and start with jellybeans! 😛

    Do you think they would Jim? In order to obtain a little bit of veracity? LOL 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I were to grab any wisdom from this it would be this. While no one is as dumb as all of us, working together, no matter the strengths or weaknesses we have, we can get pretty darn close

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        1. You say that a lot. The point is, neither of these little statistics examples would work if missionaries went around telling everyone what to guess. In fact, they brought in expert cattleman to guess the weight, and the experts were farther off from the layman. Influence is a crippling tool. Trust yourself, not the experts and you’ll be miles ahead.

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  6. So if we polled all theists and pantheists and dualists, etc., we should come out to about 1.079 gods per 100,000 believers. If there can be a 1 god and a .079 god that leaves us with a huge dilemma–how much belief is required for a being only .079 god, and what is the other .921 of the being like?

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    1. Well, using Christian logic the less knowable and attainable god is, the more likely he is to be the real god. So in that case, the unknown portions are the real god. It
      May flux with the times, but god is cool like that.

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      1. Nope, you’ve already shattered my delusions. No more invisible jars, magic beans, and sublime images of heaven. I’m only going to live in reality from now on. Thanks Jim, you dream buster – lol!

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    1. I totally forgot! That’s why you’re here. Hehe. Even with a few gaps here and there, the “theories” have a produced measurable results and applicable understandings.

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  7. While I understand the point you are making, aren’t you mixing apples and wind in your analogy? On one hand, you have the material world, on the other, the spirit world. “How many angels can simultaneously stand on the point of a pin?” An “absurd” question since angels are by nature incorporeal and therefore do not take up any space, so, an infinite number could stand thus whereas in material reality, hum, who’d even want to try to stand on the point of a pin? For me, the way to “debunk” (if I cared to, I really don’t) religious claims isn’t by comparing material reality that can be “touched” by our physical senses with spirit reality that can only be accessed through non-material senses (faith, visions, imagination, wishful thinking or positive thinking), there being nothing wrong with such an approach, but by comparing religious peoples’ performances against their religious claims. That is where you see all of them, bar none, fall flat on their faces – except that they are so brainwashed they can’t see themselves in their wallowing in the very mud they are creating with their words. They’re truly a sad lot.

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    1. Agreed. That was (more or less) the point of my last post. Belief and faith is supposed to make you more loving, more charitable, but makes one more focused on self. Ultimately the most important aspect of the religion is for you to return to god while you feel sorry for all those poor dumb bastards that just don’t get it.

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      1. It is an interesting and undeniable phenomenon that religious belief and faith make people go in the opposite direction their teachings indicate and end up making these people appear worse than most when one scrapes off the thick layers of hypocrisy they lather upon themselves. However, when one seriously considers the biblical evidence of their god’s character such result should not surprise anyone. To live a truly good life within the biblical context one would have to be ‘more royalist than the king’ i.e., hold to much higher moral standards than god himself.

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    2. Perhaps angels could take up space if they wished but they leave such earthly activities to us lesser beings. Apparently poltergeists must be able to enter space in order to throw things around. Sir Arthur Canan Doyle was a great spiritualist and he made his fictional Professor Challenger into a spiritual believer. Reading his much more famous Sherlock Holmes the power of that great detective often seems a bit eerie.

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  8. Reality is such a burden for some. I live in a Texas county in the middle of the State, somewhere along the proverbial southern USA bible belt. I read that 60% of the county residents are ‘nones’ (claim no religion). Not all are atheist/agnostic, but all have (to a degree) backed off from organized religion. Even some believers see problems with religion. I wish I knew more.
    I read an ‘Atlantic’ piece the other day by their religion editor who appeared to lump in atheists with believers who claim no religion (nones). It made no sense. Talk about messed up statistics!

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      1. Yes. And ‘how to lie with statistics’ is a book. when you look close at things like what the questions were or how they were asked, skepticism grows. And we know there are atheists who deny it (for good reasons). But saying one is not a Catholic does not make one a Protestant. And folks sometimes lie. Not as an exact science as we might like.

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        1. No it isn’t. That same humorist, now that I remember, also wrote that 49% of all statistics are made up on the spot! The other problem with statistics is, it’s like shopping in a box store: there’s a statistic for anyone’s taste and we pick and choose the ones that will support our point of view – mea culpa, mea culpa!

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