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Community: The Organic Natural Emergence of Complexity
Episode 3415th February 2023 • Elements of Community • Lucas Root
00:00:00 00:38:33

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Lucas Root and Sara Polak, on the Elements of Community podcast, explore how complexity can naturally take root in our lives through community; dive deep into what it is; its importance for us all, and even better - how to make sure we are fostering safe communities that embody positivity!

Could blockchain be the key to unlocking a new way of life for communities around the world? Sara believes so! She pointed out, according to Robin Dunbar's research, cognitive capacity limits all communities – however, this could be broken through technology such as Blockchain.

By utilizing decentralized networks for peer-to-peer communication between members trading goods or behaviors and interdisciplinary learning from AI tech, web three technologies, and anthropology/philosophy among other topics, we may witness a post-industrial model where people no longer feel obligated by nine-to-five jobs, freeing them up for more time to enjoy their lives with creativity at its center.

Imagine a future where virtual reality enables us to test out our wildest ideas with none of the dangerous repercussions. Where no matter who you are, what ethnic background or income bracket, information is available at your fingertips and knowledge truly becomes power! With technology constantly evolving around us, new possibilities arise for enriching communities everywhere.

Other subjects we covered on the show:

  • Sara dives into Plato's Republic, depicting a world in which the ultimate goal is to create an ideal master race through arranged marriages. It perfectly paints a picture of what it could be like if we had no freedom or rights when it comes to making our own decisions!
  • She paints a beautiful picture of an ideal community leader who grants people genuine liberty to express themselves without worrying about any repercussions or manipulations.
  • They also agreed in a discussion that humans have the potential to work together in a way that is extraordinary, unlike tigers who are solitary.
  • Sara encourages curiosity, respect for different opinions, and open dialogue about important issues.
  • Finally, she offered her unique perspective on what the future holds for her community.

AND MORE TOPICS COVERED IN THE FULL INTERVIEW!!! You can check that out and subscribe at

If you want to know more about Sara Polak, you may reach out to her at:



Hi. Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me and not giving up on me and making this schedule work.

Yeah. So, my name is Sara. I am originally from the Czech Republic, although as you can tell from my accent, I spent a long time in the UK. I've got a bit of a weird background cuz I actually studied archeology and evolutionary anthropology at Oxford and then I returned back to the Czech Republic around the time that Covid started.

And my entire career was spent in various tech startups, especially centering around artificial intelligence, and also community building, which is why I'm excited to be on this podcast. And basically when I returned back to the Czech Republic, I found out at the start of Covid that people who haven't necessarily studied technology are kind of scared of it.

ee-jerk reaction, especially [:

So I started demystifying and teaching and popularizing these kind of big like kind of grandiose terms for the general public. And actually that kind of led me back to really missing archeology massively, because I kind of see that the history of humanity is nothing but a history of innovation and how we deal with that.

So we started a new research group. Here at the Czech Technical University called Chaos Athlete, where we're actually studying the complexity of social structures and the anatomy of civilization. We want to basically figure out why humans behave and organize themselves the way that they do and how they interact with technology to basically adapt their social structures to the conditions around them.

So, yeah, I think we've got plenty to talk about.

That is [:

That's great. I'm smiling ear to ear, so, I think it's a mutually happy podcast.

This is great .

Yeah. Can you describe for me what community means to you?

Yeah, I think, what I'm really interested in is kind of the parallels with other animals and other kind of groups of organisms. So for example, like swarm intelligence and like the whole hive mind aspect is super interesting for me.

I think that, for me community in the human context is some kind of organic natural emergence of complexity, like social complexity where you basically outsource some of the things that you're not able to do as an individual onto a group of people. However, a community also for me is organic.

, a hundred [:

And then you need all the ministries and all the, you know, federal bureaus and what have you to kind of like keep that artificially together. For me, the best kind of example of a community is a tribe. And Robin Dunbar, who's a great author, also teaches at Oxford Evolutionary Psychology.

He talks about the fact that, you know, you have that kind of organic number of maybe 150 up to 250 people that kind of like, you know, that's the group that survives and exists during a zombie apocalypse. But like, keeping it bigger than that, we don't really have the cognitive capacity to maintain more close functional relationships than that.

So that really interests me and that's what community means to me.

ry specific perspective. So, [:

And functionally speaking at some point, adding one additional member doesn't necessarily add value unless that specific member has a really valuable specialty. And even at that point, at some point, there's no new really valuable specialty that we as a community need to be going and looking for.

Right? So, there is a functional limit and I hadn't put a number on it. 150 to 250 seems reasonable. Maybe the number is higher. Maybe it's not. But from a value perspective, you know, if there's 200 people in the community, the 201st person is incrementally so small that it only matters to me if the value they bring is enormous.

g in terms of the context of [:

It can be a financial transaction that's probably like the most the kind of like most maybe poignant one that our society's built around. But blockchain is really interesting that there is a peer to peer communication and that you have these pods of people that are, it started off, you know, maybe trading cryptocurrencies, but you can suddenly trade, you know, and if you look beyond the hype of like just trading stupid pictures of monkeys, for example, NFTs, and making sure that you can actually trade behavior.

e way that we behaved on the [:

And I think that seeing the kind of similarities between our kind of natural organic behavior in the physical world and in, for example, the web three space. I think there's a lot to unpack there. So I'm curious what the research will bring, but I've got just hypotheses right now. No answers yet.

Oh, so much fun. But you know, asking the right question matters perhaps a lot more than even having an answer.

Yeah. Yeah, it's true. And it's a massive shame that the educational sector, I mean, in the UK and the US it's, you know, a lot better. But in the Czech Republic, we still, so part of Austria-Hungary, so this really fussy old empire that the Habsburgs used to run here in Europe for several hundred years, and our educational system, I mean, there's some great ex exceptions, but like it hasn't really moved from the rigid, okay, you study physics or you study the humanities or you study computer science.

to blend web three, we need [:

And I really hope that like global education will go in that direction, kind of lifelong interdisciplinary learning. And I think that will help us understand community on a much deeper level as well.

And we need to, we need to, the conversation around community hasn't been pushed forward in a hundred years.

You're absolutely right. Yeah. And I think that we understand community in a really kind of put in the work, like I used to, you know, work in the digitalization of politics for example, there's a political party, they buy this like organization digitalization software, but then they realize that they need to hire someone to look after it and to actually manage the community. And that's a step that they're often like not prepared to take because they think, oh, well, it'll become automated. It'll happen automatically.

Well, it won't, like you still need to manage these softwares. You need to input the data. And then you have whole new questions, you know, popping up in the era of digitalization about the right to be forgotten. Data privacy, whether the data's stored securely, cybersecurity in general.

d I'm kind of like wondering [:

And if we wanna progress further and, you know, colonize Mars, we need to understand community. Otherwise we're screwed. Pardon my French .

I completely agree and I'm with you. We need to stop calling them soft skills. I have started calling them me and my own conversations and with friends I've started calling them human skills.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

To me, there's human skills. There's the skills that allow us to be interconnected, and to grow in our connectedness to become better humans. And then there's all the other stuff.

that, one of the topics and [:

And one of the things that we wanna figure out is whether managers, and like in general, like people decide more or make more authentic decisions in virtual reality settings than in kinda like in real life. And we wanna understand like if for example, a employee comes to you and they say, look, I can't finish this project today or this week, or I'm behind on schedule because I need to look after my kids.

Whether you are much more likely to answer them honestly, and to maybe like more kind of fruitfully solve the discussion or the problem at hand than you would in real life, because you've got all the pressures of community as well. You know, will they talk about you in the corridor or what? By the water cooler.

n making that would make the [:

So we're kind of digging into that a little bit. And I think that the, like virtual reality and the kind of like metaverse, not in the sense of the buzzword, but in the sense of like the cloud civilization that is forming around us, that we have a huge opportunity to test out scenarios, you know, not in real life.

There were plenty of political regimes and horrific managerial practices that in the past you had no other way of testing out, but to actually run the experiment in your own company or in your own country now, you can relatively like, you know, free of emotive charge or like meaning that you don't have to fire or kill people like we did in history.

You can actually test out whether certain scenarios will work and be productive for community or not. So yeah, I see a huge, huge enriching, yeah, of community through technology in the future.

hundred percent. Like, let's [:

That's a fantastic approach.

Yeah, I mean, yeah, we hope to, so basically the core of our research we're taking Plato's Republic because he kind of described the ideal society there, but he described it like he died a long time ago. So we tend to see, you know, ancient Greek philosophers as being right about pretty much everything.

What he was basically describing is eugenics. It's pretty horrific. Like he basically talks about like three aspects of society and he says, well, you've got the philosophers, they're the most important. Well obviously he'd say that, then you've got the warriors who kind of protect the like ideal polish, like the ideal society.

And then you've got the majority, the plebs or the plebeians. And they have no right to decide anything because they're basically dumb and then shouldn't be allowed to vote. He even discusses the way that like different people should be married and produce the optimal, most healthy children for the kind of society to survive.

like in the background, the [:

And it's actually, when you look at it in the context of, you know, the 20th century, it's pretty nuts. And what we wanna do is basically show that whenever in the past someone talked about creating a perfect society is a hugely dystopian, and that people have, you know, that they decide for themselves and they have certain kind of embedded morals and ethics, but that it can work organically.

And for me, freedom is fundamentally important and the freedom of the individual. And I don't think that's mutually exclusive for the functional society. And that's something that we wanna investigate as well, because academia's pretty bad at, you know, looking at the role of the individual unless it's a famous person.

ight have to be on a smaller [:

But nonetheless it can be, you know, sustainable and pretty resilient. So again, those are just my, you know, personal hypotheses. But we want to create, basically this huge VR environment and really create Plato's Republic to test out, like, you know, are you going to rebel against the philosophers? Are you going to create your own policy?

How are you going to behave when put in front of a kind of ethically difficult decision. So, yeah, we'll see what comes out of it. We can do another podcast maybe in years' time and check in on that.

I suspect that you're gonna have an open invitation, Sara.

Oh, Thank you. And likewise, I can't wait to do a collaboration, maybe.

Yeah. This is very cool. I, so once a month I actually host an open conversation and people just show up and decide that they wanna have a conversation about community. Last month we talked about the role of the individual in community, and the conversation lasted about hour and a half, two hours long.

And the conclusion of that conversation was that community works because of the individual.


And you know, we've got this idea of the social contract. You have to put society like before you. But you have to ask yourself like what the motivation was for drilling that into people's heads. A lot of the time the motivation was so that they, you know, pay taxes, or they go to law. And you know, where you are sitting in America right now and America's one of those examples where people were actually like, well no, I don't wanna pay taxes without representation.

ally go like with the higher [:

And this kind of like idea between like letting the individuals have a say and like creating individuals and free individuals in the educational system. And then trying to maintain, you know, like a huge empire or a huge republic and making sure that people don't rebel too much. Those often go head to head.

And again, I think kind of the fact that we've got technology where people can kind of like, you know, escape to and do their own stuff and do their own business and do their own, build their own relationships with people from across the globe, it's really challenging that like, you know, centuries or millennia old kind of dichotomy.

So, yeah. Excited about what's to come.

Me too. And it sounds like you agree, and I'm delighted you do. I've started referring to it, and I actually haven't said this on the air yet, but I've started referring to the dichotomy of the individual in the community as a false dichotomy.

Yes. Yes. I agree with that. Sorry. Yeah, go for it. I'm just too excited, to keep jumping in.

No, I [:

Mm-hmm. Yeah. Definitely. And I love the fact that you're talking about a false dichotomy because as a cool anthropologist, I mean like, you know, last century, one of the fathers of like modern anthropology and definitely the approach of structuralism called leic Straus, not the genes, but the guy.

But a anthropologist of the same name. And he basically talks about the fact that humans can't really think in anything else but opposites or in dichotomies. And often that is a false way to think. Like, for example we really fail to think in parallels or that like, you know, same things can be happening at the same time.

Europe the European Union's [:

Because like crypto, you know, it's encrypted. Like it says in the name. It cuts out, the middle man, it cuts out the third party. It's purely peer to peer. And suddenly you've got this kind of like almost Parallel society emerging. And I was a part of an NGO here in Prague that basically emerged after the fall of communism.

There was a very famous essay by Barla Bender who spoke about the parallel polish. And the NGO is great. And it's basically kind of crypto anarchy, but it's also kind of like, thinking about like how these technologies change the structure of society. And basically what it broadly says is that you've got this kind of official layer of society, but then you've got this underground as well.

who's basically like kind of [:

We could really see that at the start of Covid, that before the states had a chance to react, the people have already self-organized and they were, you know, sewing face masks or they were like bringing each other food or like disinfectants, or whatever that might have been. And that was phenomenal, that was swarm intelligence at play, and that's what I found fascinating.

That you don't need a, like a higher power to like, let you know what you need to do, that people organize themselves and lo and behold, it all still works. So I agree that community, especially as we, you know, in hundreds of years, like become a multi-planetary species, we need to understand that completely, fundamentally in order to be able to survive in other contexts as well.

Mm-hmm. Amazing. Love it, it'll be interesting to go down this road now that you've sort of opened the door, but what makes an amazing community leader?

Ooh, that's a good [:

We're working on this Deloitte VR research project together, and we're actually exploring the idea of leadership. And the funny thing is that, for example, in Czech you don't actually have the word for leader. The word for leader in Czech is the equivalent to Fira, which, you know, we don't wanna go down that road again after the second World War.

Yeah. Nope. Nope.

So the actual, like, what you say as well on your website, you know, and the kind of like different elements of community, like a shared language. If the community doesn't even have a proper linguistic expression for leader, how can you expect for, you know, that type of leadership to emerge?

u need to make sure that the [:

fine arts and crafts can still buy foods and supplies because otherwise they'll starve to death. So you've got this whole supply chain that needs to be working because you've got likely more than 250 people. So there's bits of society that need to look after themselves. But I think that often, like a leader, for example, when he's too benevolent or he or she is more too benevolent, it's often seen as a weakness.

And I actually think like that we're again, like entering a new age where, It's a question of whether humans have evolved enough to be able to kind of take this seriously and absorb it. But actually, like a leader is the one who gives people the like true freedom without being scared of the reaction.

And I don't think that we're seeing that too much these days because. Fundamentally what you have with, for example, nation states right now, it's like a toxic relationship. You know, it's like the best relationships are that the person can leave at any moment. But they don't want to because they're happy with you.

'll have to pay a fine go to [:

And we don't mind. And I think that that would show such chutzpah from the side of the nation state, that they're not afraid to lose their cleon tell, because the people are just so happy to be living there, for example. I think that would be great, but one can only dream.

I know that there's some countries that do it, like Estonia for example, or Panama, that like are pretty like liberal with giving citizenships to like even people who, you know, weren't born there. So there are experiments happening with this and I have a few friends who are so-called country hackers where they might be, you know have health insurance in one country be ma making money and paying taxes in another country, have a citizenship in a third country.

country hacking became more [:

Sorry, long-winded answer.

May I float a concept that you might dive right into?

I'm sorry.

I said, may I float a concept related to leadership that you might have a lot of fun with?

Oh yeah, absolutely. So, sorry, I just didn't hear you for a second, but absolutely, go for it.

What I've, all this research that I've been doing into community and the conversations I've been having, and help me see that there are two types of leadership, and I don't think this is a false dichotomy.

There is static leadership and fluid leadership. And static leadership is a relatively modern concept, whereas fluid leadership is a very human concept, and what that means is, let's say we're out hunting. I can be certain Sara, that if you and I are out hunting, I can be absolutely certain that I personally will not always be able to see better than you.

And [:

And so I've been calling that fluid leadership.

Yes. Yeah. I love that. It's the whole aspect of ego as well, isn't it? Like I for example, sometimes look at political campaigns and I think, wow, you're putting so many millions of dollars into a campaign like that, you know, that you might not even win what happens to those millions of dollars afterwards?

ly a mechanism in place that [:

That's basically of just like a assassination, just without like, you know, dead bodies. Let's trade this. Like this is not working. Let's trade this. And this kind of like really unhealthy tribalism and like clinging onto power is, in my opinion, completely destructive. And I have a friend, for example, who runs a kind of investment, like a VC kind of hedge fund in a hedge fund and a BC fund in Switzerland.

And he's saying that he's right now, putting mechanisms in place to make sure that when he gets, you know, a little senile, which he says will happen when he's like 45, which, you know, he's being way too waters. But when he basically becomes out of touch, he wants to put mechanisms in place that are not going to, you know, invite a coup or like some kind of unhealthy situation, but that will enable him to kind of bow out with grace and be fluidly kind of replaced because like he knows that he cannot keep the power forever.

ee people who've been on the [:

And if you're doing great at this, then fine. Like, you know, God forbid I'm the last person who'd want to take power away from someone. If you're doing great after 35 years, awesome. But you should have the fluidity to give someone who's a clerk in your company the opportunity, you know, because like there might be a fresh point of view that you're just not seeing, and yeah, I think we haven't really caught up with that yet as the western world.

It's so weird that you and I are looking at sort of original human approaches and realizing that we haven't caught up to ourselves.

Exactly. And that's, I think, that's actually I think a big problem that kind of early archeology and anthropology and I'm speaking about it just because that's what I know, right.

th century, [:

You mean it doesn't?

Well, you know, out of mine it does, and I'm sure out of yours as as well,

but that we kind of think that we can do no wrong and that, we've kind of reached the pinnacle of civilization. But actually, you know, like a sub-Saharan like tribal fluid organization can actually be a lot more resilient. And like we've lived for 99% of human history as tribal hunter and gatherers, like we haven't like lived in civilizations of, you know, 20 million people plus in any given nation state.

So it's a fraction of our history that we're actually living in these structures, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're better. And you know, I often go to these like discussions for academic or like from a popularization perspective where we discuss, for example, the role of democracy in like the modern world.

ssion with a great historian [:

It wasn't democracy. It was a very elite endeavor where like the average people like were not allowed to even come close to the ballot box because they were considered like unfit for the task. And like we clinging onto these like Post Renaissance "S" words that have become empty, they've become just buzzwords of the media without actually sitting down and thinking .

You know, is democracy the best way of organizing a society? And that doesn't mean that, again, it's a dichotomy where the only other possible solution is an autocracy. No. Like, there's thousands of different ways how you can make a society work. Like there's thousands of ways from like various social context around the globe, but we're just not even happy to even look at them because we think that we've just, you know, got it all figured out when clearly we don't.

enario, You know, when we do [:

You're gonna be thinking. I don't have anything to eat today. And you're going to be thinking about murder a hundred percent. But that's going to cross someone's mind. And you're not gonna be really helped by like the Napoleonic code from the 19th century. You're gonna be helped by understanding human social evolution.

And I think that we really need to get back to basics if we wanna advance as humanity. Sorry, I'm getting too excited.

Oh, I'm with you. I so am with you. Yes, amazing. This is what happens when you take two community geeks and hand them a loaded gun. And by loaded gun, I mean a mic that they're allowed to speak into.

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, I'm curious how you perceive community.

Mm. Beautiful. [:

One of the ways that I look at it, which is a lot of fun for me is that we are first a multicellular being. And so our cells work together to make our body and they work together to make us into this being that's really cool. And what we've done as an animal is we've taken that, ourselves, working together to make this really cool body.

And we've taken that to the next level. And in a very real sense, I see humans as meaningfully the opposite of tigers.

Mm-hmm. Yep. Yeah, I see what you mean.

Where tigers are extraordinary, beautiful, rabid killing machines that do really, really well alone. Humans are more or less the nature's attempt to see what the opposite might look like.

Humans [:

Yes, exactly. It's like that man in black quote or men in black quote when Tommy Jones says like, you know, man is an impressive animal, but humans are you know, a really dumb species.

And it's, I think that you've got both sides of that, right? I think that like humans are, they have huge possibilities when they work together. And I think that this whole kind of like, high mind approach, and, you know, the whole like decentralization of knowledge that you see happening here, thanks to the internet.

It's just incredible. Like, you know, 200 years ago, you'd be lucky if you've got like a basic education now anyone can have any information that they want at the tip of their fingertips. So, I think that's just fantastic. And at the same time, it's not mutually exclusive with being a strong individual and, you know, following your dreams and having a good life.

, having spoken a lot in the [:

But at the same time, I don't wanna spend, you know first 18 years in education or 20 or 25 depending how high you go. Then like 40 years in a job and then get a golden handshake and then die like that. I don't think that that's what humans are designed for. We've got more capabilities than that.

And, but when at the same time you give people that kinda like philosophical question. Aha, so what would you do if you could only work like two days a month? Their first reaction is like that they feel guilty, you know, people like feel guilty, having free time, being creative, like actually enjoying their lives.

kind of say, okay, maybe two [:

Wow. What a powerful question. What would you do if you only had to work two days a month?

Yeah. What would you do?

You know what, I don't have any answer to that.

Yeah. No, me either. That's the thing. I don't either, because I'm probably like, you know, even if I won the lottery or something, I'd probably still carry on working.

Well definitely, you know, doing science ,and actually I could probably fund my research group, which would be nice. Oh, that sounds good. Actually have money as a scientist. That sounds awesome.

I would, you know what, you're right. I would have lots and lots and lots of meaningful conversations about community.

Yes. Yeah. Doing what you actually love, right?


h. I love that. I love that. [:

Amazing. Sara, you have been phenomenal. I end my interviews typically with three questions. The first is for the people that have been as electrified as I have by this conversation, where can they you?

Oh, thank you very much.

So I've got a link tree Sara Pollak and you've got all my like various interviews there and also all my social media. So I think Instagram is probably where I may be most active, but I do like plenty of content with my research group Chaos as well. So I'll ping you the link for link so you can catch up with me.

Yes, Sara Polak. Thank you.

Yes. Awesome. Thank you. Second question. This is a curve ball. This one's loaded. Is there a question that you wish I had asked you but have not.

Ooh. Actually, no, not really. You asked me like, the most important one, which I really love, like how I would describe community, like at the very beginning.

ty of directions in which we [:

But just realizing that every single, so whether it's the way that currency is minted, whether it's the way that the school education system is kind of set up, the welfare system, anything like the flag that you pledge allegiance to, that they're fantastic, but they're all symbols. And they're all symbols created with a very specific purpose.

ions, and you could actually [:

And I don't think that that space is being really healthily created. Definitely not on social media right now. So I just want people to kind of respect each other regardless of the opinions that they have, and try to actually answer the big questions in life so that we can move forward as a society.

And I hope that this podcast can just like, help spark that curiosity at the very least. And thank you for asking brilliant questions.

Thank you. Oh my goodness. Thank you. And me too. That is exactly what I hope for. Third question. What's next? What's next for community? What's next for this discuss?

Yeah. I think what's next for community is web three a hundred percent. Like, I see a huge, huge potential in that I see people either escaping to it, like I see it as a form of escapism and people starting their companies there. There's education like possibilities for education there as well.

y like a proof of attendance [:

You can change the way that you record history. So history until now has pretty much been written by victor's or by very influential people that want to create a certain image of themselves. But I can tell you as an archeologist, at least the way I see it, is that history is like one massive PR campaign.

You know, you don't have the kind of stories of the homeless, you don't have the stories of the marginalized groups. You don't have the stories of people who disagreed with the regime because they get very useful, obliterated out of that history. So blockchain is giving us, it's a huge step up from web two, which is a very kind of, especially on social media.

hat we have on like physical [:

So I'm really fascinated by that. I kind of give it the term that I kind of figured out would be pretty cool, which is cloud civilizations. And that's actually something that.

I love it. That was amazing. I'm a hundred percent with you. That was beautiful. Thank you.

Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for in inviting me and I'll definitely, we'll pee each other and we'll make some kind of research collab happen. That'd be great.

Yes, we will.

Thanks for joining us this week on Elements of Community.

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