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Imagine that human beings in a parallel world evolved with hive mind, so that they can communicate telepathically almost instantly at infinite range. To put thoughts into writing requires effort and not only does it slow down thinking process. It is also hard to describe thoughts in plain words sometime.

For this purpose assume all the population are savant, genius and ironically not a psychotic sociopath. Would they develop writing? What are the advantages if any?

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    $\begingroup$ do you mean that all humans are essentially one organism telepathically linked, or are there several such, like the Buggers from Ender's Game? This might make a difference... $\endgroup$ – akaioi Oct 10 '17 at 6:22
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs I had to ask because of the note about "not psychotic sociopath". If all humanity is one brain, well, "the majority is always sane". There's no community to be sane/insane next to. ;D $\endgroup$ – akaioi Oct 10 '17 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ No shopping lists? No maps? No "back in 5 minutes"? $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Oct 10 '17 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ Do these humans have spoken language? How do they use it and why? $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Oct 10 '17 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ Uhmmm. did I ever confuse this, or is OP misunderstanding the concept of a hive mind? Hind mind doesn't mean anything about telepathic abilities, does it? Its more of a behavioral system, which can easily evolve if telepathic would exist. But in that case the question requires to give a bit more info about your telepathic abilities for that race. $\endgroup$ – Zaibis Oct 12 '17 at 10:01

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What you describe for a hive mind is also true for a single mind. And yet we all write down things not only for other people, but also for ourselves.

The hive mind would not need the first reason, but would still need the second.

At first it would surely develop specialized members ("druids" or "librarians" or "lore-keepers") to act as memory cells for the whole, as it's immediate and faster than any alternative (supposing it evolved as hive mind and did not become so after a technological and writing stage). The hive mind can literally grow its memory, human beings can't.

Much would depend on "copying" speed and fidelity, and resource usage: a book needs no food and very little care per unit, a memory drive requires little in the way of power and environmental control and more, but still manageable, care; a living being on the other hand, while being much faster, has in comparison huge costs.

In the end, there would probably be a "L2 cache" made of librarians and a hard storage made of books (and, later, computers?).

In absence of computers, the hive mind will probably carefully develop indexes and, as Joe Bloggs noted, reading abilities - data could be "read in" by several readers in parallel and written down also in parallel.

The biggest limitation in recording technology will be the "plain words" problem - that of only being able to read back factual details and descriptions, not the "real thing", and the very limited bandwidth; a panorama that can be taken in in a heartbeat still requires thousands of words. Even if surely libraries would be soon be accompanied by picture and map galleries, there would still be a strong need for "druids" remembering complex pictures and sensations, and having these memories copied (how faithfully, remains to be seen) from older, failing druids to newer young storage units. To avoid accidents wiping out parts of its memory, the hive mind would soon see the advantage of a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Druids configuration.

(At least until direct brain-to-hardware technology gets invented).

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    $\begingroup$ Hah! Hadn’t even made the connection between librarians and the cache. I wonder what other analogies there are if all the psychics are perfectly logical.. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 10 '17 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ This depends if the question is about if the individuals learn to write, or the organism as a whole. If it is about individuals, I don't think this answers the question, as a human neuron does not write, the collective does. $\endgroup$ – Sentinel Oct 10 '17 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ Nice answer. It has both the rare data and transfer speed problems. The books only cover the rare data problem though. Signs like "exit" and "toilets" could cut down on unnecessary traffic. Time tables, restaurant menus? $\endgroup$ – JollyJoker Oct 10 '17 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ I think "disk cache" is a better analogy for librarians than L2 cache. RAM cache of contents of hard / non-volatile storage, and miss-time ratios are more like DRAM vs. magnetic hard drives than L2 cache vs. DRAM. (Well, depending on the latency / bandwidth of links between members of the hive mind...) But yes, excellent point. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Oct 10 '17 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ What would be especially interesting is the form it would take, if the writing developed AFTER the hive mind, there would be no reason to write information in one neat package, instead similar to a hard drive, fragments of the information required for recall would be stored in random parts of "the library" or over multiple libraries. You could imagine a none hive mind human walking among the library being very, very confused, even if they could understand the language. Great Question & Great Answer :) $\endgroup$ – chrispepper1989 Oct 12 '17 at 10:53
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Permanence and veracity.

Thought is fleeting, memory is imperfect, even for a genius. This hive mind might require a Looong term memory store to add to it’s already prodigious mental capacities, both to increase the time it can hold onto a ‘thought’ and how perfectly it can capture information. Essentially the reason people write notes to themselves, or todo lists.

In a way: librarians, readers and writers might end up performing the same role as long term memory does in the human brain: permanently storing facts but only retrieving them when called for. Libraries would end up indexed to high heaven to allow for rapid, perfect recall of important facts.

I expect writing would be very, very precise for this species, as the only reason it is needed is precise, unambiguous recall of information rather than being expressive (which I suppose for your hive mind is analogous to daydreaming??)

So: Your telepaths all know Lojban.

ADDENDUM: given the telepaths communicate instantly not all parts of even a single fact need to be written in the same place. If writing evolved along with the hive it’s entirely possible that ‘chunks’of information can be written out in geographically distinct locations and read back in simultaneously to bring the fact back into the collective consciousness, effectively parallelising the hive’s record/recall ability. A non-telepath would find this nigh on impossible to read.

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    $\begingroup$ @Lserni: though a well indexed library would improve recall speed, so having librarians to keep the library neat and tidy isn’t a bad idea. Otherwise every so often the hive would have to have periods of ‘inactivity’ to allow people to reorganise it’s ‘memories’/write down new information for long term recall, being exposed to random combinations of information snippets as they did so. Wait just a second... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 10 '17 at 7:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Lserni: though you could have specialists in certain types of knowledge who each maintain their own, smaller libraries, given that request time is near instant. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 10 '17 at 8:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs Your local hivemind is currently not available due to a running defragmentation process. Please stay in the line... $\endgroup$ – Aron_dc Oct 10 '17 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ FYI, it's Lojban, not Logban. :) $\endgroup$ – doppelgreener Oct 10 '17 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Jab: full of lots of people asking each other how Dewey Decimal is supposed to work, I suspect. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 11 '17 at 15:45
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TL;DR -- No written language

Hmm, okay, I'm going to have to make some assumptions:

  • All humans are part of one hive mind, one consciousness

  • Humans evolved into hive mind before evolving intelligence

Given these assumptions above...

Why would the World-Human have developed a language at all? There's ... nobody to talk to. [1] I think its mentality would be extremely different from ours -- it wouldn't just be like everyone having a cell phone in his head. The World-Human would see patterns, quickly and deeply. But I wonder if it would be good at future planning, checklists, and reductionist thinking. I mean, that consciousness would be fractured among so many bodies, it might be impossible to sustain that monomaniacal focus so typical of mathematicians, poets, and Java programmers.

So, no language. No binary computers (they might make a mean analog computer, though!). This creature might be the supreme intuitive thinker. It comes up with a problem, the problem disperses among all the bodies, and the answer just kind of "pops up". Not so much introspection here.

Nor precise memory, I think. Memory might "come in waves" and be hazy, like your memory of summers as a child.

The more I think about it, the more I think that for more "typical" species, dealing with this entity might be a huge pain in the butt.

[1] One notes that even chatty Earth-humans who are raised by wolves or the like seldom develop language when re-introduced to society. Look up "feral children" for some heartbreaking tales

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  • $\begingroup$ There is an argument that consciousness cannot develop without language. How could the hive mind know that 'a human' saw a wolf on this ridge yesterday so humans on that ridge should all now carry weapons, if we don't have some token to hold the concept of 'wolf' 'ridge' or 'weapon.' You cannot think to yourself without language, so if that mind existed in one brain or in multiple brains, why would that be any different? ( or so the argument goes! one for philosophers!) $\endgroup$ – JeffUK Oct 11 '17 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffUK I wouldn't go that far. Animals have memory, and can think out plans. Orcas train each other in hunting techniques (some of them quite outre). Our language-less hive mind may well be able to think, but I'll posit that it won't be in the same fact-chopping way we do! $\endgroup$ – akaioi Oct 11 '17 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @JeffUK So you believe that infants have no consciousness? I believe that would be a hard sell. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Oct 13 '17 at 7:07
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Reasons for using written language:

  • If the population shrinks, some stored information may become unavailable because their capacity of keeping things in their hive mind may shrink proportionally. There needs to be a way to prevent this.

  • If they would develop disciplines which use number processing e.g. accounting or weather monitoring, there is lot of information which needs to be registered but there is no point of keeping it all in the memory.

  • If they would develop computers, reading and writing are inevitable phase of interaction with them. (Whether they will later achieve more advanced communication with them, e.g. on mind level or not.)

  • There are many simple devices which humans need to extend their senses which are to be kept simple and cheap so their information has to be simply read, e.g. timer, voltmeter, speedometer, blood pressure monitor, ...you name it.

  • Some information must come to an individual early also if not requested from the rest of the mind, e.g. individual who enters hazardous area/environment might not inevitably share this fact with others, but they need to see warning signs to prevent an accident.

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I think they are unlikely to develop a written language of words as they do not use words (I assume?) but they might develop a written language for math and physics because everyone can't be Stephen Hawking and work out those problems in their heads. Of course, if your hive mind is akin to networked computers, put 20 or 50 of them together and concentrating solely on this task and they might.

If they develop cities for example, they might need a way to mark things. I'm thinking street signs, traffic signs. If they develop technology they might need symbols for different danger warnings.

And they could develop art, so maybe their written language would be more like paintings or music notes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe they would not need to mark things—I come to an intersection or building, and I just check the map in the collective memory. Same for street signs. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Oct 10 '17 at 9:55
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    $\begingroup$ We once saw a car that was identical to my wife's. We were seriously wondering if it had been stolen from us until we saw the licence plate. $\endgroup$ – Shawn V. Wilson Oct 12 '17 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ @ShawnV.Wilson Why would you have stolen your other car? $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Oct 13 '17 at 7:08
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They might not have a way to write words, but still a way to write numbers.

I remember seeing, years ago, a "living history" exhibit in which someone was making barrels by hand. The staves of the barrel (the staves are the long, bowed pieces which give the barrel its "barrel" shape) were numbered with Roman numerals. This way, you could disassemble the barrel for transport, and when you went to reassemble it, the Roman numerals told you which stave went where.

So, my guess is that their writing system would basically be a sort of code for labeling things

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An alternative timeline to my other answer:

Language has developed at least once. As part of the expansion directive underlying the hive's development, seeder ships were sent to remote stars in the hope that some of them could support new growth. However, one seeder ship had a series of rare mutations in the template genome. The set of mutations both prevented the proper development of the coordination organ and prevented proper full differentiation of sub-units.

When this set of mutations (what humans might analogously call 'cancer') occurs within the hive proper, the immune sub-units deal with it swiftly and efficiently, but the nature of the interstellar seeding program means that the template developed in isolation. These developing sub-units, lacking a functional coordination organ, developed a crude form of communication using language, allowing them to progress and shows signs of a pseudo-intelligence, despite being cut off from the one true mind.

Unfortunately, as interesting as this cancer has been to observe, it's beginning to show signs of mutating to metastasis. It has started building star ships and exploring its system. If this trend continues, it will be necessary to terminate the experiment for the good of the hive.

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Yes, though it wouldn't look anything like what we're used to.

Ideas are exceptionally fuzzy, which works really well for making short term decisions in rapidly changing situations, like hunting.

It follows reasonably that the hive mind would probably have a similar structure to their thoughts, provided they evolved from carnivorous or omnivorous roots.

Written language would be needed once longer term planning, or planning for highly detailed projects, is needed. Writing something down makes it easier to reason about, identify missing details, etc.

This would be especially critical for the hive mind if underlying assumptions are implicitly shared, as it would make catching errors by getting a second option near impossible. The hive mind wouldn't have access to an equivalent to editorial or peer review.

The language itself wouldn't be used to transmit ideas as much as refine or store them (as noted in other answers, a hive mind doesn't imply perfect recall), so having many forms of writing would be possible.

The language used for long term knowledge storage could be vastly different from the way plans are initially recorded for consideration, which could be very different from the way refinements to that plan would be recorded, which could be jarringly dissimilar when compared to the notation used to flag errors.

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A hive mind race would discover the need for some sort of long-term storage after it had made some sort of useful discovery that is not used often, though when it is needed, it's vital. When most of the cells that initially discovered and used this discovery -- how to make accurate measurements for cultivation, perhaps -- have died, would that discovery still be accessible to the current hive mind? That depends on whether the hive mind still has access to that information after the cells containing that information die.

That depends on the structure of the hive mind. Does the hive race has an eidetic memory which can never forget anything? Perhaps it will retain the memory of how to do something but it will also remember every mistake it made in excruciating detail in finding that useful information.

I think that some sort of writing system would become necessary. A specialist sub-type drones would evolve (or would be evolved) to handle this useful information. (You can't necessarily call this useful information "true" or even the final development. Useful information is developed only as far as the hive-mind needs it developed. In some cases, it may be extensively developed. In others, it may be stunted. There probably would not be an application of a development in one field being used in another field.

It would only take one near-extinction event -- where the hive would have to start over by making the machines that make the machines that make the machines that they currently use -- to show that there is no "useless" information, only information that is not currently useful.

In a hive mind, there would be no impetus of war to develop weapons and technology because there is no competition. Psychology would not exist since there is only one being: the hive mind. It might have gotten as far as "it" and "not-it", with not-it being automatically categorized as non-sapient. The concept of sanity would not exist since sanity depends on comparisons.

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I find it hard to imagine a telephatic hive mind to develop a spoken language at all - I find it even hard to imagine they would develop something like the concept of individuality - in case anyone's thoughts are yours and vice versa, none of this is really necessary from a Darwinistic point of view.

I would guess they'd store collective information just like some species of ants, for example, store food - Inside members of their own hive. Just like those ants developed workers, warriors and queens, a human ant hive would develop a subspecies just to store the collective information - Specific individuals that do nothing more than train and provide their long-term memory to the hive. In order to work around imperfections of this biological storage media, they would probably even implement concepts of a "biological RAID server", storing information in redundant places in order not to forget anything.

Telephatic access to that long-term storage would most probably be instant, so no need for shopping lists and anything in a written form. Even street signs are entirely unnecessary when you can instantly "know" where you are by accessing this collective knowledge.

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I'm assuming that a hive mind has no spoken language and no need for one as such I wouldn't expect them to have a written language of words the way modern humans do. I would expect that a hive mind with a sense of time will have to keep notes though, because humans have a finite memory. I'm not thinking an encyclopedia or history book or even hieroglyphics but more like the wall scenes found in Egyptian temples that depict battles, rituals, and coronations etc... in a strict stylised format. A history book written in an art language governed by strict rules, stable over deep-time, that can be scaled according to the material format being used and can depict all the bits that the hive considers worth noting at the time. The existence of this history is based on the ability of the hive mind to learn that "those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it" otherwise it doesn't even need to keep track and has no use at all for records of any sort, and thus no physical medium of communication verbal or written would be needed.

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If the hive mind evolves in parallel with the development of 'humans', I think it's highly likely that it will evolve specialized roles for the biological sub-units making up its mind and body. Similar to ants or bees, they will be fed special foods or given other specific stimuli which result in differentiation on a biological level. Actuator sub-units would become stronger and perhaps even develop specialized limbs, say, with claws. Breeder sub-units would be kept protected and have limited mobility, spending all their time breeding. And then you get to the mnemonic/analytical sub-units, whose job would be to help store and process knowledge.

So, if language does develop, it will likely only apply to these latter sub-units. Actuators, breeders, care-takers, transporters and sensors would likely never learn language. For those sub-units that do use it, it will likely be highly technical and specialized, with lots of short-hand and high symbolic density. After all, there's no need to try to describe context by verbose analogy, since all sub-units contribute to the same overall context. It's only necessary to more efficiently encode excess data for later access as needed.

If the one true mind eventually discovers apparently 'intelligent' life on the scale of one of its sub-units, it might eventually develop more generalized language in an attempt to experiment with these strange forms. Much as we study molecular biology and adapt structures like CRISPR-Cas9 to manipulate genomes and observe the results, the one true mind could decode this inefficient inter-sub-unit communication protocol that has allowed these disparate forms to coordinate, albeit at a crude level. The scientific sub-units would hypothesize that they interact via vibrations transmitted through the air and even electromagnetic signalling in some cases, providing a wealth of interesting possibilities for experiments.

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Lots of great answers already. One thing that looks like it's been missed is that language influences the way we see the world. If a Hive mind existed, how would thoughts be shared between entities? Specifically, if I see a boar over there, in what format does that information arrive at my hunting buddy? Do they see a picture? Does their map of the world gain a new entity where I see the boar? Or do I send them language indicating what kind of animal and where? There is ample evidence that language affects the way we see the world. I'd change your statement from "It is also hard to describe thoughts in plain words sometimes" to 'It is hard to describe thoughts without words'. If creatures communicate, they will use language. If they forget or need to share that information, they will write it down.

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Isn't the human brain already kind of a hive? Maybe the individuals of this community would behave as neurons so all the whole information is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! Unfortunately, this doesn't answer the question as it doesn't explain whether or not they need a written language, so would you be able to edit your answer to explain this? Thanks $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Oct 13 '17 at 9:46
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If they developed a "Distributed" storage system they would probably be able to preserve and pass down memories so why would they record them... In fact the entire concepts of mortality and individuality may not occur to them since everything an individual ever did is completely preserved and shared.

This leads to some really interesting possibilities...

You could probably spend a lifetime just delving through memories instead of creating your own. Maybe this is why we didn't evolve this way :)

If a good deal of your race was wiped out or a group separated by enough space they would probably start to lose random memories which would be a really weird concept to a race that has every memory available at any time.

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