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Suppose there is a sentient, intelligent species that has developed similar to a superorganism in that there is a species-wide repository of knowledge and individual members of the species are capable of instantaneous communication with any other member at any distance, but there is no controlling member, such as the queen of an ant colony, and each member has its own identity and personality. Would such a species ever have need to develop a verbal or written language prior to contact with another sentient, intelligent species or the development of computers to perform complex calculations? Would such a species even be likely to develop technology as we know it?

Consider:

  • Whenever an individual learns something new, that information is automatically added to the communal pool.
  • Any individual can freely access any piece of information in the communal pool at any time.
  • Distance between individuals is not a factor for any form of inter-member communication or accessing or updating the communal pool. (This implies FTL communication.)
  • Information in the communal pool is likely to consist of thoughts, feelings, and concepts, the foundations on which any language is created.
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    $\begingroup$ In an ant colony, the queen has no control over the others. Individuals cooperate because evolution has selected for ant colonies in which everyone cooperates. Do the hypothetical members of your organism cooperate with one another in the way that most superorganisms do, or do they just share a collective memory? $\endgroup$ – ckersch Feb 5 '15 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Members can hold discussions and arguments in the same manner as humans do, with each individual holding a different opinion derived from the communal pool of experiences. Members may disagree with each other and refuse to cooperate or event attempt to impede other members. Maybe "controlling" was the wrong word. The communication system is intended to be something like our Internet, where data is available to anyone at any time and instant messaging is how individuals "talk" to each other. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 6 '15 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ How is being an 'individual' meaningful to them? With shared memories and instant unfettered understanding of each other including emotional states, their species would likely be no different that a single human who is indecisive or feeling conflicted about something. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 6 '15 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi So, because we have access to the Internet and instant messaging, we should all really be one indecisive human? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 6 '15 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ So this instantaneous link sharing all thoughts, feelings, and concepts, is as crude as a collection of poorly written blogs, accessed through some external media, and filtered through a few layers of abstraction including the use of a crude language of expression? Then no, it may not be any different than teenagers with smartphones. Your question gives a completely different impression, which I took to mean something more like a shared memory space - you should specify in your question that it is just text messaging, and then they would already have developed a language to text in. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 9 '15 at 16:54
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Well, for one thing, I don't think they'll ever bother developing any form of communication. This will make their society markedly different from ours, I think, because they will never develop written language, or any sort of communication-based entertainment (books, radio, the internet, etc.)

Their technology will most likely be unfathomable to us, and as a race they would most likely evolve incredibly quickly. Our limitations with technological development have quite often been due to misunderstandings of science and mistrust of technology, two things which their communicative abilities would probably make nonexistant. I cannot really think of how it would affect their technology as a whole, but they would advance quickly, that's for sure.

On the downside, they would probably find it incredibly hard to converse with an outsider race on first contact, because communicating with anything besides their minds is basically unthinkable for them.

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  • $\begingroup$ With such a spectrum of thoughts and ideas in such a method, could it not be possible for one member to postulate that, should other intelligent species exist, instantaneous, thought-based communication may not be the normal or even a viable form of communication, and so attempt to preempt the initial awkwardness of an interspecies meeting by developing other forms of communication that are within their means? After all, we're humans postulating here that a species doesn't use sound waves to communicate. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 6 '15 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre True enough. But like us humans, we should imagine that they don't quite grasp the idea very well. Whenever we think our thoughts or imagine psychic communication, we think in our native languages, for the most part. That's just how we work. So imagine, for them, how baffling it must be since they may never have developed a language (as we know it) at all. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 6 '15 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps they could adapt a form of vocal communication with the same speed as they develop their technology, since they have instantaneous communication. I had a sneaking suspicion such a species would be so far beyond our ken this question might not be entirely answerable. Have a +1 for creative thinking. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 6 '15 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Thanks! The funny thing is, I actually thought about something similar to this when I was younger and questioning the meaning of life(tm). Which is why I thought of such an answer. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 6 '15 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ To help with your meaning of life quest... The answer to Life is 42 and the purpose of Life is to live, so the meaning of Life must be 42 * sqrt(living). That's as far as I've gotten. Anyway, I may accept this as the answer if nothing better comes along. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 6 '15 at 3:26
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Its a bit of a cheat, but such a super-organism would not have any more need for a written language than we would need to be able to communicate with rocks. The power to instantly communicate over any distance is unbelievably unbalancing. Any species like ours which is limited to technology that acts at the speed of light is going to be so unimaginably inferior to theirs that they wouldn't even consider it worth their time to say 'hi.'

Unless, of course, the shortest path for them to go happens to through humanity. Then they might develop written communication to aid in their harvesting of our particular space rock.

Consider their situation like a TV game show with a lifeline. Only you can call on any one of a billion billion billion members of your species, and you have unlimited lifelines.

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  • $\begingroup$ I considered this approach to the species. My solution was for a second intelligent species to develop on the same planet, but much later in the timeline, and this species established itself as gods to the later one. The inferior species lacked the mental capacity to handle mental communication, so the "gods" developed a verbal language. But this still wouldn't require them to develop a written language until they needed technology to reproduce language for their purposes. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 6 '15 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ That leads to an interesting requirement: either the "gods" need a reason to interact with the species, or interaction has to be so trivial that there's no reason not to interact. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 6 '15 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ Amusement seemed a viable option to why the "gods" would guide/control the lives of the lesser race. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 6 '15 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ research into other species is a compelling reason - I don't see why they wouldn't put time into understanding into other forms of communication (sounds, color patterns, pheromones, etc). $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 6 '15 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose it would be reasonable to develop a spoken language to research another species in the same vein as geologists have developed a whole slew of solvents to research the inner contents of rocks. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 6 '15 at 18:30
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Other posts contain the tech advances and that sort, but I suspect a written language will arise...and it's due to the individual nature you add to this superorganism. It's somewhat like cash in a futuristic society...if any transaction can be done in credits/debits in electronic form, cash could be thought of as unnecessary. However it will still persist simply because there will always arise the need to keep some transfers without electronic paper trail. Be it black market or otherwise, cash persists to allow these transactions to occur.

Now this really gets in to your definition of the individuality of each member of the superorganism. If an individual is capable of learning something without sharing with the superorganism, then the only way for this information to be transferred to another without giving access to the rest of the superorganisms would be to have a common written language. It doesn't have to be devious...something destructive that an individual doesn't want to pass on to the superorganism but still wants to record? Or it could be a revolt against the superorganism being arranged through text. The written language becomes the black market knowledge medium kept by an individual from the superorganism it is a part of.

Of course this depends on your definition of the superorganism and the level of individualitly each member holds. If there is no way any member could hide any knowledge from the rest of the superorganism, then I'd really challenge your definition that these 'individuals' are really individuals to much degree

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  • $\begingroup$ While not every piece of information must necessarily be added to the communal pool, this is the accepted and simple norm; withholding requires more resource expenditure (time/concentration/energy/etc.) than sharing. Individuals may choose to withhold information, but the species is community-oriented and secrets can lead to discord and the disruption of the general community. Because they have instantaneous communication, they can work out their issues over the span of minutes or seconds and come to (at least) a compromise. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 7 '15 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ That's my point on why a written language would exist. No written language = no ability to record and transfer withheld information from one member to another $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 7 '15 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ Just because one member speaks to another across the telepathic link doesn't mean the information conveyed is added to the communal pool. Still, I understand your point. Take a +1 for bringing up the concept of societal discord. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 7 '15 at 0:17
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  1. No, they do not need a verbal language. They may create a pseudocode to transfer their thoughts in less words.

  2. If even feelings are broadcast to the entire community, they won't really be feelings, since everyone will be more logical on the issue.

  3. They won't need any individuality in such a case. People with more wisdom and trust from the community will debate on important issues for the species, while more simpler and specific questions that arise, as well as monotonous tasks such as data collection will be passed on to the rest of the community.

  4. They will develop science much, much faster than us.

Also, the leaders may find this research pointless after some time, and focus on developing a system where people get maximum happiness. Maybe all individuals will be made to start with very little for themselves (just basic needs of food, shelter, etc.). Then their standard of living will be progressively increased till their death, to ensure they remain happy throughout their lives.

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  • $\begingroup$ On your third point: Can there even be debate if no one has any individuality? Arguments arise because individuals disagree based on their unique outlook and upbringing, the things that help to distinguish one individual from another. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 6 '15 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre 1. There will be quite less debate, since each person would know how to look at same issue in many ways. 2. What I meant to say was, they won't really feel that their thoughts are their own personal ones, they will just feel that their thoughts are part of the community's thoughts. $\endgroup$ – ghosts_in_the_code Feb 7 '15 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Something like, if one part of our brain gets a certain thought, it won't feel like its own thought, rather, you will think of it as something of the brain as a whole. The entire group will function almost like a single brain of a single organism, with different parts. $\endgroup$ – ghosts_in_the_code Feb 7 '15 at 3:57

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