7
$\begingroup$

Question: Could colonial organisms form into a sentient being, something like a human, for example? Could they evolve into beings with thoughts and feelings? A race of colonial organisms taking the form of humans would be interesting... but I'm not sure if its plausible.

PS: by 'colonial organism' I dont mean ants, (This type of question has been asked before), I mean siphonophore (this is just an example, I don't mean colonial organisms that are aquatic, specifically) type organisms, like the Portuguese man of war.

Could a human-like sentient being made of these type of organisms exist?

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ The short answer would be no. Not with the complexity of humans and to the degree of plausibility you require. If you want something less science based and more "fantasy-y" I think we could elaborate more. $\endgroup$ – Faed Oct 25 '18 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ yea, i mean more fantasy esc $\endgroup$ – Uncertainty Oct 25 '18 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't that what the Lekgolo (Hunters) in the Halo series are suposed to be? A colony of worm-like creatures that cluster to form a larger being. $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Oct 26 '18 at 13:02
7
$\begingroup$

I don’t see why not.

Colonial organisms, or at least the example you gave in the siphonophores, aren’t really all that different from more complex multicellular organisms. Both types of organism arise from a single egg cell which divides to generate the rest of the organism. In both organisms the constituent parts, cells or zooids, differentiate from each other in other in order to perform specific functions. In complex animals we have thousands of different cell types that all work together. The colonial organisms are generally somewhat simpler with a few different types of zooids specialized for feeding, defense, reproduction, and movement. But I don’t see any reason why colonial organisms can’t become just as complex as multicellular organisms can. One might imagine a colonial organism that developed a zooid that served a function analogous to our nerve cells. Carrying messages and signals throughout the organism and potentially synthesizing and networking those signals into what we refer to as intelligence.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

We can't say it's impossible, but we also have no examples in our planet. So we are stuck with speculation.

There are philosophers who believe that sentience and consciousness (which is something different, but also interesting) are emergent properties of the brain. Some scientists are looking into this, though it seems at the moment that we might be unable to ever satisfactorily gather evidence for it.

Supposing it is, it is no stretch for an artificial system to be sentient. And if such an A.I. is running on a distributed system over a network, it will be a colonial mind. And it may build a host of humanoid bodies for itself. This has appeared in literature in the form of the Geth people. Each Geth physical body is actually a server holding thousands to billions of minds that act like a colony.

If such a complex system exists due to distributed computation, there is little to no reason why a natural system could not evolve in a similar way. Again, literature presents this in a work of art: Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series of books has a species that is a sentient colonial fungus. This fungus sometimes lays "eggs" out of which come some furry creatures, which are its children in a solitary (i.e.: non-colonial) generation (just like some coelenterates have alternating generations). The solitary furry animals are the same species as the fungal colony and can telepathically commune with it, and act as the fungus's avatars.

Another instance of this is the fungus called Planet in Sid Meyer's Alpha Centauri. It covers the whole planet and absorbs other beings into both of its mass and conscience. Late in the story it joins with some humans in mind only, with the human bodies serving as Planet's avatars.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

I am pretty sure that multi-cell organisms have evolved from colonial ones. So it could be possible.

But it would be a lot harder. Humans and other advanced organisms have extreme specialization between their cells, and I bet this specialization might not be possible if every cell is supposed to be same, or at least be able to change to any other role.

I think a colony organism can act as a brain given that is has enough nutrient available to let some cells focus on information processing rather than food gathering. But those pseudo-neurons will be a lot less efficient than dedicated real neurons of multi-cell organism, so your intelligent colonial will be the size of an elephant, but have intellect of a bee.

Also, I really do not see how a colonial can develop conventional skeleton. Perhaps it can just absorb rocks or sticks into its body, and glue them with secretions of its cells.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.