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Setting

  • We are in a European medieval society.
  • Magic exists, but to answer this question you cannot use it.

About the creature

  • This creature could be an "Edge of Tomorrow" kind of monster, with a central core that controls a bunch of smaller "soldiers" or something like a swarm of insects - a group of creatures that have the same shape and rank. The only restriction is that it must have a collective mind.
  • The nature of the mind I'm talking about could be whatever you want: either they share thoughts or only feelings and rudimentary signals.
    But if one unit of this race is in danger their fellow companions can understand it even if they are 1000 km away.
  • There are different groups and species of creatures with collective minds which differ in shape and habits.
  • People can kill and analyze how many creatures they need.

Question
With that said, how would people be able to understand that these creatures have a hive-mind?

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    $\begingroup$ If you captured one of the 'soldiers' without it being near any home or fellow 'soldier' of the hive, and some more came to rescue it, that would help the people understand. Maybe it would provoke more experiments $\endgroup$
    – rainbowcat
    Jan 21 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ People can analyze "how many creatures they need" for what? For finding out whether they have a hive-mind? But that's assuming they know the creatures have a hive-mind, right? $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Jan 21 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Joachim "know"? No. "Suspect"? Maybe. But more likely they just want to learn more about how to deal with them, whether that be defending against them as a threat, or domestication if they are not seen as an immediately threat, or otherwise make use of them for raw materials (hides, bones, fat, whatever). They're just trying to learn about them, in general. What part of the general investigation and knowledge gathering about these creatures leads to the discovery of the hive mind? $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Jan 21 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Harthag I was asking about that specific sentence. I can surmise what it means, but it's a strange sentence, and I'd like the OP to clarify. $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Jan 21 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Joachim Yes, I should have been more clear. With "know" I meant that people believe (thanks to the evidences they have) that the kind of creature they are fighting have something like a collective mind $\endgroup$ Jan 24 at 7:52

2 Answers 2

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A hive-mind wouldn't make sense to them. So they would fit the facts to something that did make sense to them

To be frank, it's unlikely that they could figure out that they were facing a hive-mind creature because the very concept of even just "collective intelligence" was so alien to the medieval mindset, let alone the much more developed idea of a "hive-mind". Indeed even their concept of "mind" was very different from ours (it was intimately connected to the concept of a "Soul"), they just didn't think that way. How could a group of people have a single soul? How could that soul be saved or redeemed by Christ or the individual actions be judged collectively by God? Theologically, it just wouldn't make sense.

On the other hand what they did do was to ascribe intelligence to all kinds of animals (and even other things) that we would not consider intelligent today. So their most likely response to your situation would be to:

  1. Note that the individual creatures seemed to be intelligent (whether this was justified or not).
  2. Much later note that they seemed "less" intelligent when removed from their home area.
  3. Much, much later note that these "intelligent" creatures seemed to have an "Empire" (i.e., such as ancient Rome) that ordered them into coordinated behavior, and that they must therefore have an Emperor to issue orders and decrees.

The analogy to hive-type creatures may follow from there, but likely only if they are insect-like. But the analogy to a single "Hive-Mind"? Nope, that's likely only after a hundred (or many hundreds) of years of contact and interaction. Unless of course, the hive-mind finds a way to communicate with them and just tells them. Even then, they may not understand or believe it for a long time.

After their initial classification of these creatures as individually (but not collectively) intelligent with a social/governmental organization, they would likely concentrate on finding the "Emperor". On finding a core, they'd likely declare it found. Upon finding more cores, then they'd likely identify them as "royals", or maybe "centurions", etc. Or perhaps that there were multiple "empires".

In other words, they will keep trying to fit their discordant facts into a framework that makes sense to them, and some kind of analogy to the Roman Empire is the most likely to be understood, but a single collective "hive-mind" would NOT make sense to them. It would make as much sense to them as historical accounts of talking unicorns and griffins do to us.

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  • $\begingroup$ I am inclined to agree, and upvoted, but they do have one example of distributed thought that they could possibly analogize with; Athens. How they tell an insect Rome from an insect Athens seems impossible without actual science, but they could be aware of the possibility. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Jan 21 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L Athens' unique form of government was regarded as a peculiar curiosity for millenia afterwards. The medieval/feudal mindset had a much easier time with the concept of authoritative governance than it did with egalitarian ones. If you look at all of the imagined foreign/mythical nations from the dark and middle ages (ex: "Prester John"), they are all AFAIK empires, kingdoms, theocracies and feudalisms. And I used the insect analogy because to this day, we still imagine that hives/nests have royalty and have hierarchical organization, though we have known otherwise for over a century. $\endgroup$ Jan 21 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ I definitely agree there, I think Rome is a much more likely comparison, but I don't think the Athens comparison is impossible. It seems like it would become another heliocentrism-vs-geocentrism debate; two decent ideas without the scientific acumen to show which is correct. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Jan 21 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ Even in Athens, Aristotle had no hesitation to talk about the bees following their king. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jan 22 at 1:40
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TL;DR: best method below, but it has ways to pretend it's not a hivemind regardless of what you do

You capture a bunch of the "workers" or "soldiers", including a "core" if that's what they're based around. You take away all their communications equipment and any technological means they have of communicating over long distances - with medieval tech, this might mean something like a bullhorn, or signal flags.

You let them set up two nests, or dens, or houses, or creches, whatever they live in - within a range that makes it possible for one such group to respond to an attack on the other, but not within a range in which they can see, hear, or otherwise sense one another, other than via the hivemind connection they all - hypothetically - share.

Then, you attack one group with force sufficient to wipe it out - but do it slowly, give the other group enough time to mobilize a response force. If they're a hivemind, the first group will know the second group is being attacked despite not being anywhere near them, and might try to save them - especially if you capture a "core" and then threaten it.

Mind you, any such way of determining whether or not it's a hivemind can easily be subverted by it if it is a hivemind; it can simply "cut off the limb to save the body" by letting sub-units be captured and experimented on and not trying to save them - pretending that they're independent thinkers.

However, I still believe my method is the best, since it puts at risk something the hivemind values most - it's the best way of getting a reaction.

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  • $\begingroup$ So your solution will be "attack them and see what happens" ? Guess the medieval people would want to find out before the fight, if the opponent is a hive-mind.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 21 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies How else do you find out? $\endgroup$
    – KEY_ABRADE
    Jan 21 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ That is the question here.. I'm thinking of it.. there would be some symptoms, like these hive-mind folks have no names.. certain properties, like same age (?) and no individual identity.. how to make use of that.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 21 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies They might pretend to have names, they might be differently aged (not all units born/assembled/etc. at once), and they might pretend to have individual identities. $\endgroup$
    – KEY_ABRADE
    Jan 21 at 17:58

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