This page is about working to develop a theory of the HiveMind.

Our theory should help us figure out what strategic steps to take, in persuit of large scale bottom-up self-organizing, the sort described in "HiveMind."

How Hive Minds Work

I think some of the major components of a Hive Mind are:

A few notes on each of those.

"Communication" refers to the ability of members of the Hive Mind to talk with each other. Without communication, obviously, not a whole lot can happen. But the idea is more than just the ability to interact. It also includes ease of interaction. Compare all the knowledge that it takes for us to do what we do here (how to start computers, how to open programs, how to enter URLs, how to scroll windows, wiki syntax, how to make a portrait, etc., etc., etc.,) vs. the start trek image of punching a communicator on your chest, saying "Bayle Shanks," and then talking with (or, more likely, leaving a message for) BayleShanks?

Fortunately, communication is getting easier and easier.

"Visibility" refers to the ability of members of the Hive Mind to see each other and what they are doing. This is related to IntComm:ActivityAwareness?, and the relationship between ContentAndCommunity that produces the InternetConcentration. This is a "pull" thing - people choose what to see, and they see it. Visibility is also about being locatable.

Fortunately, visibility is becoming easier and easier.

"SharedAwarenessSystem" refers to many people having a synchronized view of what's happening, as it happens. This is the "group eye," and in the lingo of OneBigSoup, the vehicle of the Shared Awareness System is the GroupServer. As we are still in the age of CommunityTiedToOneTechnology, this wiki's Shared Awareness System is RecentChanges. However, as we develop the glue protocols and integrate our technology, we'll gain the broader vision that we need. This is a "push" thing. Everyone sees the same thing.

Fortunately, our protocol efforts, and by extension the Group Server, seem to be well on the way.

"Commitment" refers to people and organizations that commit to projects, and see them through. An organization is only as powerful as its ability to do things in unison. This is a part of our theory that we have not explored yet, focusing mostly on IntComm:ActivityAwareness? (which I should probably relocate over here, to make fully a part of our WeldingSpace?) and Shared Awareness System.

Commitment is voluntary in a Hive Mind, driven by inner compulsion and shared perceptions of need (the Shared Awareness System at work). Commitment is aligned. That sounds sort of ominous, but it's something we are very familiar with: OpenSource developers submit patches that work with the existing system. Maintainers will reject patches that break the existing system. This is alignment.

People believe that commitment is a virtue that comes from character. I do not believe this very much, myself. I believe it is true to a degree, but that it is true to a much lesser degree than people think. I have observed many people, well committed, try again and again to cross a hurdle. And I have seen them fail, again and again, simply because the step they were trying to take was too large. With a quarter of the energy, but the right technique, they could easily walk around the wall, or climb the more gently sloped staircase. The ability to commit and perform effectively seems to me to be strongly connected to knowledge of technique.

The reason I say this is because people judge both themselves and others harshly, for moral failings, when they should be looking at technique taken and tools used.

I think that we'll see our ability to commit and follow through increase. I think that when we can easily communicate, when things are visible, when we have a shared awareness of dangers, I think that the action to take will be clear, and our UserInterface, both on-line and off, to action, will be easier to follow through with.

See also:


See also: CriticalTheory

Old, Relevant Comments from HiveMind page

The InternetConcentration has something to do with the HiveMind as well. The groups of people that want each other by some kind of impulse of interest inside of themselves find each other, and they link together.

Another major thread I find coming up a lot is, the ability to explain. It's a recurring thread in CriticalTheory, HiveMind, LinkLanguage, IdentityAndIntegration, Education, and other things we are thinking about.


I've cut and pasted this pretty much straight from HiveMind, for the time being. I've been wanting to talk about the theory distinct from the HiveMind for a while now; I intend to be adding more here.

Here's a way that a HiveMind between people resembles an individual mind:

  • People have unconscious thoughts.
  • People have conscious thoughts. (Words, signs (deaf people))
  • Between people, there is unconscious communication. (frequently BodyLanguage, ParaLanguage, clothing, faces,…)
  • Between people, there is conscious communication. (Words, signs (deaf people))

It's interesting to think about the sound of words. (Or the sign language, used by deaf people.)

In our heads, we hear the sounds of words. These are an obvious part, perhaps the loudest part, of our conscious thoughts. Deaf people hold conscious thoughts in signs.

Groups of people seem to do the same.

How analogous is group communication to an individuals internal thinking? Perhaps an individual's thoughts are dominated by unconscious communication, whereas a group's thoughts are dominated by conscious communication.

But I don't think we know that. I don't think we know the answer to this question.

Lion, you bring up communication, the ease of communication, etc. and one thing immediately sprung to mind. When one thinks of a beehive or an ant colony, there's easy communication between the respective members of the colony in large part because they share a common mindset — they truly have a hive mind, by definition. That is, every bee and ant thinks and communicates in an identical way – they're all basically clones of each other, from both nature and nurture perspectives. So the similarity in their nature is mirrored in the similarity of their way of communicating. In fact, aliens to the colony are usually found out and killed because they both smell and communicate differently than the rest of the hive. Marlon Brando (as in The Wild One) would not only not be allowed, he'd be dead.

Now, with humans, there's no such homogeneity (Marlon is not only welcome, he's iconic). Because we come from different families, communities, cultures, different parts of the world, not to mention differences in gender, age, ethnicity, moral, ethical, religious, and political beliefs (our cosmologies, perhaps), we understand the world and use language to describe it in very different ways. It's sometimes misleading to think we think alike simply because we putatively "share a language." I think you and I mutually respect each other, but I think we'd both agree that we think in profoundly different ways about certain things, not just what we think but how we think. (and I hope it goes without saying that I imply no judgment of better or worse, only difference)

So the insect world has a bit of a leg up on us in creating a hive mind, since they already think alike. We as humans, as highly individuated beings, have distinct experiences and ways of communicating, and I think this tends to work against a hive mind. Even if Jung's idea of a "collective unconscious" is true (and it's a nice idea, but I've gotten a lot more skeptical of it as I've gotten older), our outward experience is so varied as to make our intercommunication more difficult in some proportion to that experience.

If you're interested in Jung's concept of the collective unconscious I'd recommend reading Jung himself, as almost any other source is going to have a pretty strong slant in some direction, given his dabblings in spiritualism and the occult. He died the year I was born. When I was in my early twenties I devoured a lot of his work, and I still think highly of his writings (e.g., Aion: Researches into the Phenomonology of the Self, The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, Man and His Symbols, Answer to Job, and even his introduction to the Bollingen edition of the I Ching). But I don't think he's taken very seriously anymore, though the romanticism of his ideas remains very attractive and he still has a cult following. People want to believe many of his ideas are true even if they're not, and perhaps truth doesn't matter in the end, as one's spiritual beliefs can't be judged rationally — it's just that Jung wanted to call himself a scientist, and by the definition of science (thesis-analysis-conclusion) his work is very interesting but I don't think current psychology looks at he or Freud except with historical interest, though I must say I personally know of at least one practicing Freudian psychologist, and understand that Woody Allen has been seeing one for most of his life (so much for progress).

I'm sorry, you must of missed the part of HiveMind where I explicitely said that I'm not using the definition of HiveMind you just intended.

I can't really blame you, though, because the page is too big, a gigantic mess.

Perhaps a page HiveMindDefinition? should be made.

The HiveMindName discussion came about because we're trying to avoid just this misinterpretation.

And now for some DivergingArguments:

people similar / different? My dad told me: "The older you get, the more you see people are different, and the more you see people are the same." He's batting 1000 so far, by my book.

relativism: I'm a moral absolutist. I just don't claim to know what those absolute morals are, and I don't think they are knowable. But I do think that some cultures are better than others. But I don't think there's any intrinsic flaws to Islam that are not also found in (say) Christianity. I do however think that a culture of law is better than a culture of honor. But I don't know that that's an absolute truth. But I believe there's an absolute truth. I'm open to arguments for why X practice is better than Y. I can even be convinced. My conviction won't be stronger than 90%, generally, though.

working against HiveMind: What you see as working against a hive mind, I consider the proper and natural functioning of the existing HiveMind. DavidBrin argues that Americans are all conformist to our individuality, suspicion of authority. I agree. Would this mean that Americans and Chinese (say) are two different HiveMinds?? I don't think so: I think humanity is a pretty big cup, a pretty big hive mind.

The HiveMind I described on the page has no requirement of mass conformity. It does have a requirement of mass inter-communication. Two groups that never communicate are two separate HiveMinds?. Put them in communication, and they become one, even though they disagree (initially.)

Jung: In my mind, I think more about "HiveMind as in CyberNetics" than about "HiveMind as in CollectiveUnconscious?." However, I do believe that Jung's CollectiveUnconscious? is true. It looks like the CyberNetics HiveMind, but in my mind, it's a very different thing. I do believe in psychic experience, and I do believe in Spirit. The CyberNetic? HiveMind is about physical connections and signaling systems that interact. The CollectiveUnconscious?, to me, is an expression of the interconnectedness of all things, spiritual and material. This may not be Jung's CollectiveUnconscious?, and if I'm wrong, I apologize for the mis-attribution.

Spiritual beliefs and rationality: I don't think belief in the CollectiveUnconscious? is purely Romanticism: I believe it's spiritual truth, subject to analysis and perhaps even empirical study. That said, I don't go around trying to convince people of it. However, I will defend the notion. I do believe spiritual beliefs can be judged rationally: I do not accept spiritual beliefs that are contradictory. So-called "paradox" I can accept, because there is always (I have found) a complexity or subtlety that resolves the apparent self-contradiction. Buddhist and Catholic doctrine are full of all kinds of "if-this-then-that-but-what-about-foo-which-would-mean-we-have-to-believe-bar." So, there does seem to be rational analysis and disqualification at work in spiritual thought. There are still base assumptions, that are based on belief. But then again: The same exact thing is true for science.

Scientists still can't tell us why we're having an experience. Many choose to believe it doesn't even exist, since they resist the horrible consequences of there being such a thing. I, personally, think such a view is rediculous. Either they are not aware, which I seriously consider but choose not to believe, or they are not rational about awareness, which, knowing people, is far more likely.

Hmm, I don't think even social insects are all the same. You get workers, warriors, drones, a queen (or queens) … the hive just wouldn't work the same if there was only one of those types present. (Plus, even if all ants were alike, I wouldn't even say they think alike. I'd say they don't think. I don't think an individual ant manifests significantly more intelligence than the system controlling the red lights at an intersection)

Maybe a page InsectHiveMind? should be created ? To talk about what the HiveMind is not, but also about what it's a reference to ? I' do it now, but it's waaay too late, and I'm not a leading theorist in hivemindology. (It would bae a good place to remove off-topic babbling about insects like what I just wrote ^^)

You'd be surprised at how smart insects are. Compared to, say, mice or birds, they're quite dumb. But they are much, much smarter than traffic control computers. I've been told that some aeronautical engineers are still puzzling over insect wings, and how that insect brain controls the wings. As of 1998, "Despite public claims to the contrary, our functional understanding of the brain is still rudimentary."

Perhaps one reason people resist the particular name "hive mind" is because it sounds like we're telling people to turn off their creativity and "higher" intelligence, and act like dumb insects. It sounds like we're telling people to build a Wikipedia:China_brain. I hope using one of the other HiveMindNames will help a person understand that I want him to act really, really intelligent, and understand that a little bit of PeerReview will help him act even more intelligent than any isolated human.

I Googled for a chart I half-remembered comparing computers, insect brains, etc. … is there a better place for this?

David, great analysis, and great links.

I agree: "I want him to act really, really intelligent, and understand that a little bit of PeerReview will help him act even more intelligent than any isolated human."


The links are good, we should put it in HumanMachineMerger?, something like that, and list it as one of the Major themes of the HiveMind.

We brought up TransHumanism once before here.

So far, we have "GlobalBrain," "CyberneticEconomy," "HyperSocial," "OrganizedCulture," and "HumanMachineMerger?."

I strongly believe we should aggressively target brain-in-a-vat technology. It will cost far less to be a brain in a vat, and there will be far less motion in the world. Brains in vats do not require all this food, do not require all these clothes, do not require beds, do not require furniture, do not require houses (at least as we think of them,) do not need all these various other things. Brains need not die when the body dies; Brains are murdered by dying bodies.

The technology does not strike me as particularly outlandish, the brain seems to have several clear interfaces, inputs, outputs. We can make smart electric devices at ~65 nanometers, and in 10 years that'll be 20 nm, a few after that, at 10 nm. And these neural paths are at 100's of nanometers in width. It seems entirely feasable, and desirable. The only problem is possibly controversy, and even that may not be an issue- the technology may just gradually come into being, with little serious complaint or applause.

Thanks, Lion.

Futures:BrainInaJar? or future.wikicities:brain in a jar is certainly interesting to think about.

WikiNews: "Study says people don't understand the emotional tone of emails, but think they do". When people don't understand each other – or worse, when they misunderstand each other but mistakenly think they do understand – it could cause problems in the hive mind. Even face-to-face people misunderstand each other. I wonder if there has been a similar study on face-to-face misunderstandings?

"Be carefull what you wish for!"

Having been an avid reader of Science Fiction for most of my life, I can assure you that these thoughts have been explored quite extensively. I will also opin that all of these "dreams" that I've read about would form an 'inverted' "normal error curve", with most of them lying "more than three standard deviations from the 'norm'". Now…, I'm not sure whether I would lable the extreme ends of the x-axis of such a plot as "utopia & mightmare" or as "nightmare & utopia". I do know, however, that two of my business partners consistently volunteer to take custody of the "off" switch. Were I inclined to be 'suspicious'…

David: yeah, our CollectiveIntelligence systems must have something analogous to error-correcting mechanisms. People have thought about error-correction in institutions, but you bring up a good point; people usually assume that the source of the error is either malice or incorrect thinking on the part of individuals; but there is also communications errors between individuals that should be corrected.

I guess this is considered sometimes (for instance, people are encouraged to write out contracts when making business arrangements as a way of verifying that they both share the same understanding of what they are agreeing to), but probably not as much as it should be.


Define external redirect: WeldingSpace BrainInaJar ActivityAwareness CyberNetic HiveMindDefinition InsectHiveMind CollectiveUnconscious HiveMinds HumanMachineMerger

EditNearLinks: ParaLanguage UserInterface BodyLanguage CyberNetics DavidBrin OpenSource PeerReview