The idea of a collective consciousness is pretty simple: instead of cells you have small hive insects (such as ants, bees or termites) that make up a larger creature. This is different from a hive in that the individuals of the mind are not sapient, only the collective is. A collective consciousness is really defined by what the members can do; so I got to ask, what hive insect would be best suited for life as a collective consciousness?

There have been questions on the realism so please leave out answers declaring the concept unrealistic there.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, we know single eucaryote cells adapted to extreme connectivity by becoming very long in one direction, and keeping a fixed communication point with each of thousands of neighbors, works well. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 16:38

4 Answers 4


I would pick ants.

They already have a social system that includes multiple very different castes in one colony, they have a very complex pheromone based communication system, and they can grow larger than flying social insects.

Ants could easily support a new caste of slightly more intelligent ants which could form a kind of collective consciousness using the existing pheromone language to control the other castes as a kind of body.

You are getting into interesting territory when you discuss intelligences of this type. Animals, insect colonies, plants, even slime molds show many signs of complex intelligent behavior. Humanity seems incredibly bad at judging the level of intelligence even among ourselves, and we rarely recognize forms of intelligence unlike us.

The real question is why social insects would evolve more intelligence, as is their complex behaviors have allowed them to spread all over the world, and thrive even when attacked by humans. It wouldn't take much for them to seriously challenge humanity. They would need to be threatened in such a way that more intelligent behavior greatly increased their survival. Or a mad scientist could just decide to play god with them. Made me think of Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The New Tenants" - a mad scientist decides humanity is doomed and begins teaching termites tool usage and how to make fire to speed development of the next dominant species.


I'm going to go out on a limb and claim that the social insects of the real world aren't suited for being part of a hive mind, simply because they're very well optimised by evolution for their current lives, which don't appear to include a hive mind or anything close to one.

So what would an appropriate social insect be like? It probably needs to be a bit bigger than its real-world equivalent, and to eat more, simply because it has to support more nervous tissue, as a contribution to the hive mind, and more ability to communicate, so that the mind can operate. Since social insects often have physically specialised castes, such as queens, workers, drones, and so on, a caste that's specialised in being an element of the mind and nothing else seems plausible. And that allows the other castes to be fairly normal.

If the brain-caste stayed in the hive, you could have them develop direct neural connections, producing a large composite brain that worked at nerve speeds, and could thus compete with the brains of mammals. If the elements of a hive mind have to communicate between separate insects, that would presumably be via pheromones, gestures, or the like, which tends to be really slow compared to nerves. Those slower methods would still be useful for communicating with other castes.

If your hive mind concept uses all these ideas, I'd suggest making its insects bee-like, because flying gives many advantages, bee-stings are a good method of defending the hive, and people are used to the idea that a beehive can have complicated behaviour.

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, had to download because of the "direct neural connection" bit. The beauty of emergent intelligence in eusocial creatures is that by acting massively in parallel, they can do intelligent things while being individually, well, ants. Turning them into an actual, singular brain loses that elegance, which is kind of the whole point... $\endgroup$
    – ckersch
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 2:28

Ants, bees, wasps then way down the line termites.

Ants exist in extremely complex, yet basic hive societies, perfect for specialization. Not to mention that fire ants already group together during floods.

Bees and wasps. Line ants in a lot of ways, the fact that they fly makes what you want a little hard.

Termites. while they form colonies, these are less complex and more generalized, making such an odd creature type unlikely.



Actual biological comparatives may be irrelevant.

Look into the terms 'gestalt' (or as wiki terms it 'holism') and 'gestalt psychology' - they may be what you are looking for and you can apply the theoretical underpinnings of the idea to any creatures or society you conceive.

From wiki:

Holism (from Greek ὅλος holos "all, whole, entire") is the idea that systems (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) and their properties should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts. This often includes the view that systems function as wholes and that their functioning cannot be fully understood solely in terms of their component parts.[1][2]




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