War is the father of all things: Information, Innovation, and Creative Destruction on Wikipedia

Simon DeDeo
Indiana University

From the courtroom to the marketplace, the parliament building to the newsroom, some of our most important institutions are adversarial. We expect that placing individuals in conflict will help solve complex problems in information-dense environments, and will drive long-term cultural evolution through the creation of new questions to answer. Yet we understand very little about the general principles that make conflict creative. This leaves a major gap in our understanding of human social development, and makes it difficult for us to mitigate the negative effects of conflict while retaining its benefits. To help remedy this, I present a new framework for the quantitative study of creativity and conflict. I apply it to a new study on the relationship between conflict and information creation in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Fifteen years of high-resolution records allow to track the long and tumultuous process by which Wikipedia articles are written, re-written, torn-apart and reconstructed. We can see not only how the introduction of new information into an article leads to conflict, but how conflict can often precede the creation of unexpected configurations whose long-term persistence suggests adaptive success. This work contradicts simple accounts that oppose conflict and cooperation, and suggests that popular conflict-suppression mechanisms may actually undermine Wikipedia's success. It provides new evidence for the central role of conflict in creative evolution, and new methods to measure and quantify it across a wide variety of systems.

Back to Workshop IV: Mathematical Analysis of Cultural Expressive Forms: Text Data