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Imagine a species in which the ego never developed. There is no self-direction. This species is always making noise, however, and it is through this noise that the society itself experiences the world. Every individual member of the society hears the noise generated by those members closest to it (within earshot, really), and it adds its own voice to the sound.

We might think of each individual as a more complicated neuron in a brain, that communicates through the constant sound.

By what processes might this species develop technology? I know that bees and ants create "technology" in the form of their nests, and this is due to instinct. I am interested in having this species, through the apparently random actions of its individuals, create ever enhanced technology.

The motivations are unimportant. I am thinking that the creatures create more and more advanced technology simply because they keep working with what they've created until they make something different, and that difference gets added to the sound and thus the collective memory. However, does this species sound so limited that it could never create, say, space travel? If not, by what process would such technology evolve?

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  • $\begingroup$ However you want them to? I don't usually say something is too story based but animals certainly learn and we are still unsure how much behavior is instinct vs learned behavior so why can't these creatures learn by finding a pattern (either behavior or audible) that makes something better and just continuing it cause it makes things better? And if they can - they will do so however you decide they do. $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Feb 15 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ The main challenge I've set for myself is that the individual members of the society are not themselves sentient, rather acting on instinct and in response to the sound $\endgroup$ – Michael Stachowsky Feb 15 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ Are ants sentient? <- awesome thread if a bit old fyi $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Feb 15 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ It seems very similar, yes. My idea is that the individuals are not sentient, but in the aggregate some kind of sentient awareness arises. That is, the super-organism is sentient but not like we understand it (which is uh...hard to write about, which is why I'm trying to better understand it) $\endgroup$ – Michael Stachowsky Feb 15 at 20:38
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The biggest obstacle here is not about if they could develop technology, as if they could develop a hive mind like that. A neural network, whether it be biological or mechanical, relies on the consistency of connections to form memories, thought patterns, etc. A motile species moving around constantly changing who can hear them and how strong that sound is would not have enough structure to form any coherent sort of "mind". This does leave you with a few options I can think of though.

A - Use something that can semi-permanently connect your organisms. This idea works well with things like flora, fungi, and coral which are live their lives in one place and can intertwine their "roots" into a neural network, but motile species make pretty much every variation of this immposible.

B - Make your individuals semi-sentient and treat them like parallel processors. If one is thinking something, and encounters a problem too hard, he can start making his noises and all the adjacent organisms who are not thinking things through start thinking about it. The harder the problem, the more organisms they bring into the think tank. If it is a complex problem, they may instinctively be good at breaking problems down into smaller parts; so, as one organism solves parts of the problem, he relays what's left to other organisms. In this fashion a single problem, like how to design a car gets broken up among thousands, if not millions of minds, each one considering how to make a single cog or shape of upholstery, or more importantly; seeing if anyone among the millions of individuals already knows how to make things that would be helpful for making cars like rubber or alloys that they can share as building blocks for others to use to solve their own pieces of the problem. Once the organism solves his part of the problem, he relays the solution back to the organism that first had the problem. That guy is responsible for remembering how to make a car, but everyone who helped him out would remember that he knows how to make a car; so, next time someone needs to know how to do it, they just send a simple relay to that guy and he sends the whole solution back. In this way, the individuals in the species could have a large index of things they know how to access, but are only responsible for knowing a few details of the collective consciousness.

Take one away from the group, and suddenly it doesn't have anyone to query to help it break down complex problems or recall previously solved issues; so, you basically are left with simple monkey like creatures that might have one or two really advanced pieces of knowledge stored away, but otherwise only be well suited to solving simple problems on his own.

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The real question here is not about technology, but about intelligence. Technology is (arguably) a by-product of intelligence and knowledge applied to specific problems. So, what exactly is intelligence?

As an AI researcher, I can say that intelligence is the ability to identify and recognise complex patterns. Your 'hive mind', if thought of as a single processing structure, has that capability in every manner that a neural 'network' on a computer (or a cluster of computers) has that capability.

Is a single neuron intelligent? No. Is a human brain (which is a cluster of trillions of neurons) intelligent? Yes. This is a hotly debated topic in biology by the way, especially in the area of ants and other hive based colonies. Individual ants may not be intelligent, but do they all act together in a manner that defines a collective intelligence?

Short answer is that we don't actually know. That said, there is some evidence to support the possibility.

In point of fact, this has been extended to a concept in human civilisation called Collective Intelligence. This is the concept that humans as a collective interact in such a way that there is a broader intelligence at work as a result of our 'networked' individual intelligences.

Note that I say 'intelligence', not consciousness. No-one is saying that humans have a hive-mind like consciousness, merely that by the strict definition of intelligence there is a broader processing model called society beyond the individual.

What you describe in your question is a sonic-driven networked intelligence, which is similar to the networks we currently create between computers and servers via TCP/IP communication protocols, or even what the human brain does between neurons (although that's driven by electrical impulses). The point being that the capacity to develop new technology is really based on intelligence, either at an individual OR network level, not individual consciousness or sense of self.

This does not mean that the psychology you describe has the capability to work towards a common goal, merely that if it does, technology will be inevitable because your model has reduced consciousness, but higher intelligence that that is the key driver to the actualisation of technology, once a goal has been set.

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The only way I'd see this happening is via pollutant of some variety. An errant extraterrestrial signal, or spacecraft, or perhaps even some very minute biological contamination. Something to draw attention away from mere survival - without any hierarchy it seems unlikely that anything would give the necessary influence. A favorite author of mine used a somewhat different vehicle; his creatures (nameless by human standards but called "voors" for the sake of human parlance) were essentialy a form of sentient coral reef with no real tech at all until the orbit of their planet took them into the energy stream of a quasar, which ripped their conscience loose from their home planet and sent it hurtling across the universe; the tech they developed was largely based on whatever biology that was in the line of travel.
Point is, until acted upon by some external force there was simply no impetus to go anywhere or do anything other than exist, hence tired, old aphorisms like "necessity is the mother of all invention" get a rise.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Mike Given! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Feb 15 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ There is no reason this species would be the only one on its planet. It seems inevitable that evolution would create multiple hiveminds and or other non-hivemind species. Each different hivemind species operating off of a different frequency competing for resources. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Feb 15 at 22:11

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