The Interintellect is, according to its Twitter bio, a “global community and talent platform for public intellectuals”. I discovered the Interintellect a while ago through its ties with Ness Labs and the Roam Research user community and read its manifesto. While I could personally relate to some of the things written in it, I found it initially hard to wrap my head around what the community is.
The Interintellect offers virtual salons on the Zoom videoconferencing app. Each of these three hour-long group discussions (10-20 people) has a specific topic. I joined three of them already. My first was about entrepreneurship, specifically asking whether there are too many entrepreneurs in the world. The second salon dealt with slow and fast thinking, as in Daniel Kahneman’s model. Finally, the third conversation was about reputation and how it works in our globally connected world. I enjoyed listening in and adding my comments and left each of these discussions with new insights.
A few days later, there was an exchange on Twitter where Seyi Taylor, one of the other participants, wondered why discussions at these salons “are so devoid of ego”. He subsequently pointed to an episode of the MetaLearn podcast in which Anna Gát, the founder of the Interintellect, was interviewed. The things Anna said in the interview and the discussion on Twitter gave a few pointers, but one central aspect is probably the type of people that the community attracts. According to Anna, there’s enormous diversity, not just between the people but also that most individuals are multidisciplinary. Folks are very open to new ideas. Many of them have some notion of otherness (e.g., because they are migrants), and others are “restarters”. They are givers instead of takers. What everyone has in common is that they want to nurture their “intellectual life”, an aspect that is often left behind work, family, and other aspects of life.
Without trying to take anything away from the Interintellect or diminish Anna’s skill as a host and leader, these exchanges are not exclusive to that community. I experienced similar discussions in a philosophical group I had with friends in college or right now in my Effective Altruists’ local group. There are places for a genuine exchange where people come to learn and exchange ideas. I believe it also helps that they are non-competitive, which means they are deliberately designed as an incubator, not as a “battlefield” of ideas, and also that the participants do not compete outside the space, for example, for jobs or research grants. The latter being a direct result of diversity.
I want to add another related thought: in these virtual or physical spaces, you realize that everyone present is smart and thoughtful and capable of understanding various notions, but each individual’s expertise and experience is different. They all are impressive in their way. That is not a place to impress others with what you know. Still, after going through an initial “imposter’s syndrome feeling” being among these fantastic people, you find out that you also have something unique to yourself to add to the table. And that’s where the magic happens!