Pre-scientific people may have had no idea what microorganisms were but this didn’t stop Japanese peasants from picking clusters of mold off of rice husks, putting them on harvested rice, and then figuring out that covering up their grains with ashes would form a barrier to other organisms. Absolutely incredible considering there was no microbiology, no one to tell them which microorganisms would be useful, no one to explain that the high alkalinity of the ashes would form an effective seal.
All around the world, peoples came up with similarly elaborate fermentation technologies, but the Japanese ended up going even further. They figured out how to render the lethally toxic ovaries of the fugu fish edible through a multi stage pickling and fermentation process that takes years. Through mere trial and error it would surely take lifetimes to find out the right combination of variables…
How could the Japanese have invented such technologies? Or did they ‘invent’ them at all? There may not have been a single inventor. Perhaps such elaborate technologies were Thoughts in the mind of society: a process carried out unintentionally by group actions across multiple generations. The inventor: the collective will itself.
Most traditional peoples have very little room for innovation or social divergence. They tend to have a collectivist, conformist mindset.
In rural or wilderness conditions, there was no room for a population of specialists or dissenters. People had to work together for the next meal. They did so using proven foods and techniques.
Yet these people had an intimate knowledge of the land, the seasons, the weather, the stars, of living things that would be hard to achieve in a modern mass organization with an active R and D department. Rather than exploring themselves, most of their knowledge came from learning things ‘as they had always been done.’
Surely, though, all that knowledge had to come from curious people who broke the mold. Or maybe the society was open to new ideas when the first generation arrived in an unfamiliar area. And then like a baby’s skull fusing together, the society locked into immovable tradition as it grew beyond infancy.
Or maybe the society was always conformist, trusting in spirits and tradition.
Perhaps the individuals were always pretty much passive in the structure of society making at most incremental discoveries themselves.
Perhaps their unbending traditionalism sprung from an intuitive recognition that the collective will, the mind of society left to itself would gradually solve all the most important problems using efficient methods tested against time and honed through repetition.
Likewise all traditionalist peoples tend to react with horror and anger to departures from sanctioned practices. Their societies generally have harsh punishments for any sort of individualistic divergence.
Perhaps these people also have an intuitive, instinctual understanding that attempts to reason for oneself disrupt the Collective Intellect.
As people become self aware and atomized, they are more able to abandon social standards for individual aims. Thus their ability to function as a neuron in the Social Mind is compromised.
Certain societies around the world then made an important invention: individual innovators working as specialists. Such persons can pursue a much more focused path of reasoning and carry it much further, much more quickly than a social mind.
A social mind reacts to selective pressures and is limited to environmental necessity. It works slowly, but it consistently results in stable long term models.
An innovator is supported by the resources of its society. It need not answer to selection or necessity. It need not consider long term efficiency. Deliberate innovation may have been the atomic bomb of its day. It can create dozens of radical new systems overnight. It can result in chains of discoveries with ever expanding implications. Innovations are not typically subject to any kind of testing and they tend to be thrust on societies all at once.
The consequences of innovation are the release of incredible energy and the creation of incredible instability.
Ironically, the result of an educated and rational society driven by innovation could be insanity in the social mind.
A tragedy of the commons is the result of everyone acting rationally. Yet the collective result is the utter insanity of permanent resource depletion followed by mass starvation.
Perhaps traditionalism—delegating our powers of reason to the social mind—is nothing less than a means of protection from ourselves.