Sep 102012

If you have both a dog and an SO you live with, you’ve probably thought to yourself “That dog must think our entire species has RAGING Tourettes.”  There he is, quiet almost all day long, just enjoying being his doggy self. And here we are, making noise non-stop for no conceivable reason. It’s rare for us to be in the same room for even a half hour without some sort of verbal exchange. What the poor doggy doesn’t understand is that we’re constructing a very basic form of hive mind, and that this process has been so critical in our species’ survival that we feel uncomfortable if we aren’t doing that whenever we’re around others.

It has been observed that when the corpus callosum of the brain is severed (separating the left and right sides of the brain) two different mental agents appear within one body, sometimes with different personalities. It seems that individuation happens when the bandwidth between thought processors is too low. The bandwidth of human speech is far too low to form any sort of single conscious entity*, but it can be rich enough to form the beginnings of a proto-agent when a group of people get together and begin to think alike and act in concert.

Most people seem to need to be part of a group. Isolation is intensely painful for humans, it is used as punishment for criminals already in jail, and long periods of it will often drive people past sanity. Infants who grow up in isolated environments die at an astounding rate, are physically sicker, and are often unable to function in society when they mature.  Neuro-typical humans seek out others to be around, creating surrogate families if the ones they were born into don’t fit them. I’m not implying that we have evolved for the purpose of being sub-agents of larger meta-individuals. This desire is seen in many social species and is probably simply a side-effect of kin selection. However this desire, combined with our ability to mingle our mental processes through language, has made us uniquely suitable to form super-individual agents.

These meta-agents we form are macrocosms of our own minds. As postulated by Minsky, our various mental sub-agents often do not agree, and sometimes are at odds with each other. Some agents are strongly involved in some processes and not at all in others, and which agents compromise what we consider “ourselves” changes from moment to moment.

Much like individuals, meta-agents often propagate their own survival. They can issue statements that are supposed to represent the group as a whole. The biggest difference between our society of mind and the society of a meta-mind is that our society of mind is physically trapped within a single skull, whereas a meta-mind is distributed.


*A great exploration of a species that can do this is found in Vernor Vinge’s Fire Upon The Deep, wherein individual “Tines” are quite feral and dumb, but their high-bandwidth vocalization allows them to form conscious minds when in close proximity.

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