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One of the main species in my world has human level intelligence and works as a "pseudo-unified consciousness", in that the creatures are capable of intra-species telepathic communication, and are constantly sharing information with others within range (the process here is not the main interest, for all intents and purposes, it's magical). Most of the time, this constant communication and the way they work instinct-wise leads them to act much more like a single being who happens to be made of many bodies than as a proper group of individuals.

Now, the problem I'm having with this is the impacts it can cause on the development of a culture. As I understand, a culture in its most basic form comes from a mix of a group's various needs and how they view the world, as well as the sharing of the information. A rough version of this is easily seen in how different groups of more social animals act differently from one another, easily seen in orca pods in terms of how they communicate differently between one another and how their hunting strategies and seeming favorite prey vary.

As of now I do have a decent notion of how they functioned at their most basic level: they are arthropod-like and have specialized limbs for predation and burrowing. They're not the most dexterous and have somewhat limited tool use, as their most dexterous limbs are closer to the back of their bodies. They relied mostly on a mix of observation, traps (usually pits they'd dig) and venom-assisted physical attacks to hunt prey as a result. Their caste system is relatively underdeveloped, meaning the physical differences between, say, a worker and a reproductive member are relatively small.

My main problem overall is understanding how exactly the hive mind aspect of the species influences their cultural development. They may be similar to humans in some ways, but at the same time they have little to no concept of individuality, to the point where each member of the group is seen more like another "body part" than as an individual. Our world, as far as I'm aware, has no examples of a hive mind species whose members are also smart enough to develop a culture, and even in fictional works most societies with a culture are, understandably, heavily influenced on our own, including an usually high level of inviduality between its members.

I have no intentions of slapping on them a culture that completely ignores how the species works on a basic biological level, because that's not how cultures as we know them work, but I still wanted them to have one, if possible. My main issue is understanding whether the almost complete lack of individuality that comes from being organized as a hive mind does or does not fundamentally interfere with the social processes that, as far as we know, are necessary for new cultures to be formed.

With the context laid down: would the lack of individuality and constant information sharing that comes with being part of a hive mind prevent the development of a culture as we define it?

As for the criteria of what I'd define as a best answer:

the best answer would say whether or not it's possible for a culture to form among a hive mind species, accompanied by some explanation based on what we know about the functioning of real life hive minds, such as those seen in social insects, and/or the social behaviors necessary for the formation of cultural traits among humans and other intelligent social animals, such as orcas and certain primates.

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  • $\begingroup$ It'd just be like how your household is run differently than another household. Everyone goes about the particulars of their house a little bit, or a lot differently. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 27 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ Hi ProjectApex. Is there a question here? Asking whether or not a fictional something is possible is, if you think about it, not a practical question. It's always story-based. Do you want a hive mind with a culture? Then let's develop one. Don't want one? OK! Don't have one. But what's the point of asking if such a development is or is not possible when the only references we have to work with are ants and bees? So, can you reword your question to not be story-based or, basically, an invitation to have a discussion? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 27 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ Yup. It's marked in bold. And while it's spelled "would the development of a culture be hindered or outright stopped in a 'hive-mind' style species?" it's pronounced, "write my story for me." What's stopping you from simply making a decision and moving on? Do you need help developing a culture? Because as-written you seem to be looking for permission to not have a culture. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 27 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex Here is the problem: "they have little to no concept of individuality," and "are constantly sharing information...leads them to act much more like a single being." This destroys all art. Why go to a museum when Bob is there now? This destroys crime. Everyone knows who you plan to kill or rob or lie to, so, no police. No government, because, no disagreement. You have no schools, because if one member is a doctor, everyone is a doctor. You have one inventor, everyone is an inventor. Everyone is Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mozart, & Albert Einstein. Why see a movie? A concert? No culture. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Jul 28 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex, remove all individuality, AND connect all thoughts, then all experiential learning is redundant. A newborn child knows all of human knowledge instantly. Everyone does, in fact. Why would "you" (the individual named 'Bob') go study ants? 'Jane' can do it and you instantly know what she knows. You don't need books, or stories, or anything at all to help you remember. Someone remembers it, so everyone remembers it. No computers. What would you possibly search for on some cheap little electronic network? Your mind already has all human knowledge. No religion either. No culture. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Jul 28 at 18:01

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A lack of individuality might hinder the development of multiple cultures, but would not interfere with the development of a singular culture. Almost any common set of behaviors/beliefs/customs could be considered a culture, so a culture is in some ways already a shared thought process. The singular "personality" of the hive mind, when extended to many individual members, becomes a "culture" of the society, and would be defined by what the individuals eat, how they interact, how they understand the world around them, and so on. A culture of this kind would be quite uniform and not hallmarked by individuality, but a lack of individual expression can itself be viewed as a culture. Human cultures can be described in part by their sense of individualism vs. collectivism, here we just have an extreme example of a collectivist culture.

The culture would not necessarily be completely focused on practicality, as the hive mind might still enjoy dancing, making music, or other cultural activities. An individual may still play music or write a story for their own enjoyment, even if there is no other "mind" to share it with. That said, I don't imagine you'd have quite the diversity seen within human cultures, as all creative works would be developed by a single mind - it'd be like having all music written by Mozart, rather than having the general genre of classical music.

Even with a hive mind, it could be possible for multiple cultures to develop, as culture is strongly linked to the physical environment. A singular hive mind could have individuals spread over different biomes, which could result in different cultures. Hive mind members living on different parts of the planet might eat different things, wear different things, build their houses out of different materials, or have different daily/seasonal schedules, all of which could contribute to cultural differences even within a non-individualistic society.

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An interesting aspect of a hive/group mind is that there is an inherent cooperation for the greater good. The pain experienced by one is shared by all, as is the pleasure. As elderly members reach an infirm age, the hive mind will likely want to reduce their pain, or even help them transition to their deaths painlessly. Biological organisms can be influenced by sound, sight, smell, and other sensations, so a hive mind species would likely develop methods of calming or relaxing the whole. This could be in the form of artwork which causes feelings of pleasure when looked upon, or music which relaxes those who hear it. If there is an area which is dangerous, the hive mind might place markings which cause individuals to feel anxiety or caution. This emotion-based artwork could become a cultural aspect.

A benefit of a hive mind is the rapid adoption of new things. Say one of the individuals creates a new bread recipe which is better than the old one. This information is quickly passed through the entire group and everyone switches to using the new recipe. An issue occurs is when not everyone agrees that the new recipe tastes better. What happens when half like the new recipe and half like the old? Two individuals tasting the same food will send different signals. How is that resolved? You are going to have instances like that which will cause this sort of cognitive dissidence. Finding areas where there is a dissidence can help give your hive mind a unique culture.

Things to think about: There will likely be less of an emotional familial connection and something more along the lines of compatible “personalities”. Things are more harmonious if everyone in the room enjoys the same type of music/food/entertainment. This will likely create an ever-fluctuating group dynamic as members transition into compatible groups based on the activity. As such, a hive mind can develop quite a complex culture, but one that caters to sub-groups within the whole as opposed to the whole. A group forms to listen to a certain type of music. That group splits and forms into new groups, based on food preferences, when it is time to enjoy a meal. There wouldn’t be any pressure to stay with the same group because “enduring” an activity you disliked would simply cause distress among the entire group. Just because they are sharing information, does not mean each individual will react the same way to that information.

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    $\begingroup$ I’m pretty sure everyone will very rapidly be insane. A population of 10,000 minds sits down to dinner. What did we have? Everything. I hate mushrooms but 759 people ate them. Liver is disgusting but I had it 261 times. And some idiot ate a habanero. How will you take a shower when 3,726 people in your head are having sex, 1,047 are driving cars, 2,290 are sleeping, and 8,102 are playing video games? $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Jul 29 at 0:02
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A cultural development is entire possible for a hive mind species.

Nature of the Hive Mind

Brain-Fi Range

The first point to consider is the range of the arthropod race's hive mind. If the range is effectively global, then there is effectively one individual, and their culture would develop from effectively one perspective with many eye-things.

In the event that the range is smaller, then it they will develop several hive minds, each one its own entity, or "person" if you will. There may even be a demonstrable sort of "parent" and "child" hive minds if individuals split from a colony and formed a new one outside the influence of any other hive minds.

Personally, either one is fine -- it's more a case of how many effective individuals would affect the culture of your arthropods.

Establishing Connection

The next big deal is when the young are wired into the hive mind, so to type. Once they are fully tapped into the collective, any further developing individuality will be prevented by the weight of the collective upon them.

Given the description, my guess is that for this particular race their connection fully develops in childhood, before the onset of adulthood begins. It gives them enough time to develop just enough individuality to do some things different to potential benefit of the hive-mind, but not enough of it to give them ideas about being a true individual.

Cultural Norms

While your species is definitely Not Human, they are intelligent. While many equate that to an ability to Science, it also means that they have the ability to Art. No matter the art form -- oral stories, written tales, physical art, or whatever, there will be creative outlets to stave off boredom while they are waiting for their meals to come to them.

Their culture may actually revolve on the premise that they have a shared collective -- another person to converse with may just be a thought away. Perhaps their idea of relaxing and culture is to sink into the hive mind and just let the thoughts of the multitude wash over them like lapping waves and see what filters up to the surface.

Religious Culture

While there is not a mass of individuals that would generate many tales about a creator deity, there is going to be consensus on what each collective's beliefs are. A single collective consciousness is not going to have a religious schism unless enough of the hive mind has an actual honest to deity religious experience.

Are the beliefs and superstition unscientific? Sure, but until they are a detriment to survival, there is no reason to quash it. Likewise, art and non-productive activities are only a problem if they impair survival. As they advance, the hive-mind might develop an artist caste of their species to keep them entertained as they have the intelligence to be bored.

Scientific Culture

A culture of science is something that will be either very easy for your arthropods or very difficult.

On the one hand, a hive mind will make it easier to share information around so that no advances will be lost easily. On the other hand, few individuals in the collective may have enough individuality to question everything and actually experiment with things. To advance scientifically is a balancing act.

But I don't see anything that would prevent a scientific culture from emerging. The spirit and drive to experiment might be present enough to make a bit of a culture out of it. They probably wouldn't have famous people in the STEM fields like we do, nor would they necessarily quote (or misquote) them in the Age of Memes like we do today.

But they might have a holiday devoted to the sciences, with a recollection of what the Science Caste has done to improve their life.

I'm specifically avoiding the premise of their technological development -- the point here is that they could develop a bit of a scientific culture if the hive mind had a drive to, not what they'd research.

Personal Thoughts

Overall, I would be of the assumption that the culture of a hive mind would be based on one individual. That if you looked at every unit in the collective, you could paint a picture of a sort of the hive mind archetype. Might have the wrong word there.

Each unit of the collective would be a particular distillation of that individual collective. They are all slightly different based on caste and what the hive mind gives them, but overall are very similar.

My thought is that their culture, both artistic and scientific, would advance in spurts. A golden age triggered by the right distillation of the hive mind into a unit and set to the right task. Perhaps their art would change in a cycle as the overall feelings of the hive mind changes -- not unlike how our favourite colour might change over time, or how fashion can be a bit cyclic.

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