On the risk of oversimplifying 150 pages, a “clique” is something like an element of the basis of your thoughts. Might be a thing, a motion, an emotion, a color, a number, and so on, like e.g. black, dog, running, scary... It's presumably encoded in some particular pattern of neurons firing in your brain, patterns that however are different from person to person. The idea is that instead of attempting brain-to-brain communication by directly linking neurons, you identify the pattern for these “cliques.” Once you've done that, a software can identify them from your neuronal activity and submit them to somebody else where they get translated into their respective neuronal activity.
In Chapter 10 on “The Future of Individuality,” Chorost speculates on the enhanced cognitive abilities of an interconnected World Wide Mind:
“[I]magine a far-flung group of physicists thinking about how to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity (the most important unsolved problem in physics). One of them has the germ of an "aha" idea, but it's just a teasing sensation rather than a verbally articulated thought. It evokes a sense of excitement that her [brain implant] can pick up. Many cliques in her brain would be activated, many of them subconsciously. The sensation of excitement alerts other physicists that something is up: they suddenly feel that sense of aha-ness themselves. The same cliques in their brains are activated, say these: unification problem, cosmological constant, black holes, Hawking radiation.
An apparent random assortment, but brains are good at finding patterns in randomness. New ideas often come from a fresh conjunction of old ones. In a group intimately familiar with a problem, the members don't need to do a whole lot of talking to understand each other. A few words are all that are needed to trigger an assortment of meaningful associations. Another physicist pushes those associations a little further in his own head, evoking more cliques in the group. Another goes to his keyboard and types out a few sentences that capture it, which go out to the group; perhaps they are shared on a communally visible scratch pad. The original physicist adds a few more sentences. Fairly rapidly, the new idea is sketched out in a symbology of words and equations. If it holds up, the collective excitement draws in more physicists. If it doesn't, the group falls apart and everyone goes back to what they were doing. This is brainstorming, but it's facilitated by the direct exchange of emotions and associations within the group, and it can happen at any time or place.”
Well, I'm prone to like Chorost's book as you can guess if you've read my last year's post It comes soon enough in which I wrote “The obvious step to take seems to me not trying to get a computer to decipher somebody's brain activity, but to take the output and connect it as input to somebody else. If that technique becomes doable and is successful, it will dramatically change our lives.”
Little did I know how far technology has come already, as I now learned from Chorost's book. In any case, the above example sounds like right out of my nightmare. I'm imagining, whenever one of my quantum gravity friends has an aha-moment we're all getting a remote-triggered adrenaline peak and jump all over it. We'd never sleep, brains would start fuming, we'd all go crazy in about no time. Even if you'd manage to dampen this out, the over-sharing of premature ideas is not good for progress (as I've argued many times before). Preemies need intensive care, they need it warm and quiet. A crowd's attention is the last thing they need. Sometimes it's not experience and knowledge of all the problems that helps one move forward, but lack thereof. Arthur C. Clarke put it very well in his First Law:
“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
The distinguished scientist may be wrong, but he certainly will be able to state his opinion very clearly and indeed have a lot of good reasons for it. He still may be wrong in the end, but by then you might have given up thinking through the details. Skepticism and debunking is a central element of research. Unfortunately, one sometimes throws out the baby with the bathwater of bad ideas. “Collective excitement” based on a sharing of emotions doesn't seem like the best approach to science.