We are Bee-men

Aug 27, 2021Philosophy/Ethics, Tech0 comments

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Rather than speak of a group mind, it may thus be more appropriate to consider a beehive as a special kind of singular mind, albeit one that is spatially distributed over many (insect) bodies.

Theiner 2014, 304

What is so special about our brains?
Our brains somehow make it possible for us to think. How? And why?
As long as we don’t know, we should keep an open mind about how this works.

You get brains in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Among humans, now and up and down the evolutionary tree, as well as animals.
How large and complex does a brain need to be in order to produce consciousness?
Do minds also come in all sorts of shapes and sizes?

The more an animal is similar to us, the more their brains and perceptual organs are similar to ours, the more we might assume that their minds might be similar to ours as well. We might be able to imagine what it is like to be a primate, like a chimpanzee, or a mammal, like a dog or a cat.
Can we also imagine what it’s like to be a bat ?

Our experiences are very different: echolocation, flying, liking the taste of bugs, etc. And then there might be truly alien minds, like hive minds in a swarm of bees. Can we ever know what that would be like? How each tiny member of a hive contributes to the emergent complex behavior of the swarm as a whole? Actually, what if we are a hive mind ourselves? After all, our conscious mind emerges from the complex interaction of millions of neurons.

Maybe the hive mind of a swarm of insects likewise doesn’t even consider itself to be a “hive mind”, but thinks of its components just like we sometimes think about ours: we have a brain, a body, limbs, etc. None of them is conscious in the way that “we” are conscious, as individual subjects, just like a single bee isn’t conscious in the way that a hive mind might be conscious. But if all it takes for us to be conscious is a bunch of neurons having complex interactions, why couldn’t parts of our brains be also independently conscious, just like individual bees have some form of autonomous consciousness? Where does consciousness stop?

In this post the images comes from:

  1. Foto di Mariya 🌸🌺🌼 da Pixabay
  2. Foto di PollyDot da Pixabay

If we think that humans are conscious thanks to their brains, then primates, mammals, vertebrates, etc. with ever simpler brains should have ever simpler minds, but still have some form of consciousness. Where do we draw the line? By some estimates, a bee has about a million neurons, compared to a human brain having around 20 billion.

Can we imagine, internally in our own brains, that there would be “swarms”, sub-groups of neurons exhibiting some limited from of consciousness, independently from our overall consciousness? Then we might start to relate even to hive minds. Still, we do not experience ourselves as brains, as a swarm of neurons, as something emerging from layers upon layers of complex interactions of less conscious entities.
We cannot ultimately assume that perspective, we cannot experience the “what it is like” of the individual composing the swarm, just like a hive mind cannot take the perspective of a single bee.

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