Speculations on Hive Minds
How do lots of things become one thing?
= Consciousness= Consciousness
== Massive problemMassive problem
for Science and Philosophyfor Science and Philosophy
Q: How does an individual
from an arrangement of
(We are not going to answer this
question today. Sorry.)
One Idea: Information
The more complex and responsive the
processing is, the more likely it is that
“consciousness” (an individual
perspective/identity) will arise.
The brain is a massively complex information processing thing,
with around 100 billion neurons working together to carry out
various tasks. Different parts of the brain specialise in
Not everyone is convinced by this.
• Suggests we are just like computers, but
computers (so far) are not (apparently)
conscious. At least mine isn’t.
• Still doesn’t tell us how or at what point
consciousness is supposed to magically appear
• Individual ants are very basic creatures and
pretty useless without the hive – and that
includes the queen.
• But together they act very intelligently,
creating astonishingly engineered colonies
and responding to their environment as one.
• This is down to two things – extreme
specialisation and extreme integration = act
like one “super-organism”.
Ernst Haekel’s drawings from samples caught on the HMS Challenger expedition 1873-1876
Siphonophores are colonies of zooids (medusae
• Siphonophores blur the boundary between what is
one organism and what is many
• It depends on how you look at it whether you would
class it as an individual or a colony
• There are interesting possible parallels with how
simple, single-cell organisms evolved into complex,
multi-cell organisms... like US.
• To an Amoeba (a single cell organism) WE are like a
Siphonophore – WE ARE A COLONY.
Return to the The China Brain
•The reason why a “China Mind” doesn’t seem to work is because the
individuals that make it up are already autonomous individuals in
themselves – not specialized or integrated enough.
•If they became more specialized and integrated so that they truly
acted like one organism, it suddenly doesn’t seem so unlikely.
• It may be a stretch to talk about ant colonies or siphonophores as having
• But what they tell us is that our concepts of what is multiple and what is
individual are not as cut-and-dried as we think they are – it is more of a
• Modern thinking on the development of consciousness suggests it is
about interaction, feedback, dialogue – both externally (with others and
your environment) and internally (processes within your own brain and
• For an organism to be complex it must also be, at some level, “multiple”.
• Viewed like that, it is possible – maybe – to see ourselves as an example
of (highly evolved) “Hive minds”.