Collective consciousness and its pathologies: Understanding the failure of AIDS control and treatment in the United States

Wallace, Rodrick; Fullilove, Mindy; Fullilove, Robert E.; Wallace, Deborah

We address themes of distributed cognition by extending recent formal developments in the theory of individual consciousness. While single minds appear biologically limited to one dynamic structure of linked cognitive submodules instantiating consciousness, organizations, by contrast, can support several, sometimes many, such constructs simultaneously, although these usually operate relatively slowly. System behavior remains, however, constrained not only by culture, but by a developmental path dependence generated by organizational history, in the context of market selection pressures. Such highly parallel multitasking – essentially an institutional collective consciousness – while capable of reducing inattentional blindness and the consequences of failures within individual workspaces, does not eliminate them, and introduces new characteristic malfunctions involving the distortion of information sent between workspaces and the possibility of pathological resilience – dysfunctional institutional lock-in. Consequently, organizations remain subject to canonical and idiosyncratic failures analogous to, but more complicated than, those afflicting individuals. Remediation is made difficult by the manner in which pathological externalities can write images of themselves onto both institutional function and corrective intervention. The perspective is applied to the failure of AIDS control and treatment in the United States.


Also Published In

Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling

More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociomedical Sciences
Mailman School of Public Health
Published Here
September 9, 2014