This point in the video Re: Escape Velocity makes an intriguing conjecture about the role and influence of the individual brain within modern urban contexts. In particular, he makes the point that while the advanced brain provides us our abilities to discover natural laws and exploit that knowledge to create innovations, the advanced nature of the brain begins to matter less as our organizations into groups expand. In other words, as we branch out beyond ourselves and our immediate families, the capacities of the more primitive parts of our brain or endocrine system increasing matters more than the human-unique parts of the brain. He points to the fact that modern cities look pretty much the same even when they emerge within very different cultures and philosophies/religions.
Modern cities across the globe exhibit a mono-culture comparable to how a specific species of ants or termites will construct very similar colonies that are unique to their cultures. Obviously it is not inherent in the human condition to behave like insects, but we become more concentrated in cities, our collective behavior increasingly resembles the same kind of emergent behavior we observe in colonial insects. Insects do not require much individual brain capacity to build very elaborate colonies with specialized compartments and a large scale structure optimized for such things like ventilation and logistics. Using that analogy, the effort to sustain a working city may operate primarily on the most primitive level of our brains, parts that may be more primitive than even vertebrates.
The difference between human colonies in modern cities and insects in mud mounds is that humans gather in cities to gain the best benefit for the brain power instead of nurturing an otherwise immobile queen. People with intelligence and specialized education will tend to migrate to cities, and cities need efforts of a broader population to provide the support for the city itself. Due to the technological complexity of the city, the many of the supporting roles also require intelligence and training, but their efforts are more devoted to sustaining the city (or corporation) instead of creating value that can deliver products to other cities or other parts of the world.
Humans are not naturally hive-beings in the same way colonial insects are. If a extra-terrestrial culture encountered the earth before the industrial revolution, that culture would have a hard time recognizing that the various clusters of hairless bipedal apes belonged to the same species. Local cultures resulted in very different living arrangements as well as variations in physical appearance. Certainly, an intelligent extra-terrestrial culture will figure out that these are all the same species. My point is that that task was more difficult than it would be if the first encounter occurred in modern times. All across the globe are easily recognized urban structures that are nearly identical. Just like an entomologist who can recognize a species by viewing a distant colony mound without looking at any individual insect, our extra-terrestrial visitor would recognize the human by the cities humans always build when they build modern cities.
This is the interesting idea. Humans by nature are highly intelligence and when left to small communities will exhibit tremendous diversity with each community developing unique cultures and eventually even differences in their physical appearances based on culturally influenced selective breeding. It is when modern cities emerge that the higher intelligence of the humans becomes less relevant to determining the emerging culture.
Modern cities lead humans into a more hive-like behavior and a hive intelligence. Because modern cities rely heavily on more rural areas for support, the hive influence extends far outside of the recognizable city boundaries. There may still be remote an isolated areas where local customs can flourish and grow influenced by the human intelligence of the locals, but my guess is that these are very rare, remote, and isolated. Certainly, the vast majority of human population is participating in a near mono-culture of modern cities following some hive-like thinking rather than individual intelligent direction.
If the large scale organizations of humans exhibit insect-like behaviors, then there is a part of each human’s individual behavior is influenced by the more primitive parts of the brain or endocrine system, closer to insects and further from human intelligence. As our organizational structures become more advanced, more of each individual’s behavior will be governed by this lower level intelligence or instinct.
I find this easy to accept because what we create on the grandest scales such as content available on the Internet does not appear to be part of any conscious choice or planning. Certainly, the Internet is built up of parts based on very deliberate and very sophisticated thinking, but the breadth and patterns of content found on the Internet somehow emerges on its own based on seemingly random contributions of millions allowing unexpected patterns to emerge. Those emerging patterns frequently resemble the creations of lower creatures, murmurations of sparrows, the schooling of fish, or the mounds of termites.
To be possible, these patterns had to come from humans, but the human behaviors that specifically contribute to these patterns derive from neurological and hormonal responses far below the conscious part of the brain, far beyond the awareness of the part of intelligence we consider to be uniquely human.
The growth in the complexity of our large scale society is dependent on our growth in aggregate intelligence, more people being educated and educated to higher levels of understanding and skill. I take for granted that we are living in a time when there has never been a larger portion of people who are not only very intelligent but more intelligent than people in the past.
An obvious counter argument is to point to examples of historically brilliant people like Einstein, Newton, Galileo, etc. It is hard to point to contemporary people who exceed these intellects because of the examples are so numerous. The names listed above stand out because their names defined the eras when they lived. Today, we are overwhelmed by the quantity of intellects superior to those historical examples. Their numbers are so overwhelming, they are lost in anonymity.
That is part of the explanation for the emerging hive behavior: superior intelligence is so numerous it is impossible to recognize them individually. When we try to recognize one, we are suddenly introduced to numerous others who are equally intelligent in their own ways, or have intelligence in some area considered more important for the concerns of the moment.
We reached a point where we can’t decide who is most deserving of the status of being among the most brilliant of thinkers or creators. Brilliance disappears. Sure, we routinely identify certain individuals for specific recognition as being especially accomplished, but that quickly is followed with revelations about deficiencies in the person’s character or with discoveries of someone else whose contributions are more important or more unexpected. We may know who is the smartest of the day, but we can’t remember who was the smartest a couple years ago.
There is no lasting recognition of the individual’s accomplishments. The accomplishments get woven into our social project in a way that we lose track of who introduced the idea to us. The resulting project becomes a collection of now anonymous contributions. The anonymous contributions combine to produce something that has character of something that is inevitable as if coming from instinct.
The combinations of anonymous contributions combine into multiple copies of urban areas resembling each other far more than they are distinguished from each other. Cities that emerge as if dictated by genetic instinct instead of human design, cities that are as characteristic to man as certain mounds are to a specific species of termite.
Our cities would be impossible without human intelligence, and our modern cities would be impossible without the abundance of highly learned and skilled intelligence. Yet equally, the cities would be impossible without a primitive instinct that lies far below anything we would consider to be intelligent.
For that instinct to be realized, it has to be acted out from within each human. Each human individual, no matter how intelligent or how well trained, must have devote some of his daily effort contributing to the instinct that results in building cities following what appears to be a consistent plan no matter where it emerges.
I acknowledge obvious counter-arguments such as the fact that despite arising from different cultures, the builders of cities have access to communication of what worked in other cities and they would unlikely to ignore what works unless they have some better idea. No city is going to experiment with not having modern waterworks of distribution of reliably clean water and collection and treatment of wastes, each by one of the few processes that work. The conformity comes the rarity of optimal methods.
I’m following the hive-mind instinct explanation in part as a thought experiment. Even so, I’m inclined there is some element of hive-mind instinct to what we are building. In either case, for the hive-mind to emerge, part of each individual’s behavior is guided by some instinct. The more advanced and interconnected our cities, the more of each individual’s life becomes taken over by instinctual hive-mind thinking.
As modernity advances at ever quickening rate, we lose more of our individuality. Maybe we are still 99.9% individual, but we used to be 99.999%. From my own observations, I would say a more realistic number is that if we were once 99.999% individual, we are now something much closer to 50% individual and 50% hive-mind instinct. I will probably live to see the day when we are 75% hive-mind driven.
Despite the rapidity of change, we will not notice. We don’t notice how our behaviors today with everyone walking around with smart phones held in front of them, taking pictures or videos of ever more mundane sights or occurrences. We are not noticing that everyone is talking to these devices in ways that in my youth we would assume the person was talking to himself and should be kept a safe distance away. People shouting into their phones within arms distance from strangers who pretend like nothing is happening.
It is not that these things are occurring, it is that they are occurring with uniformity. At any time, the majority of people around are looking at or talking to their smart phones. If you would have dropped a billion smart phones on the streets of the 1980s, no one would be behaving that way. This insect-like uniformity of behavior emerged when the overall society reached a level that made that uniformity necessary.
One may counter that it is ridiculous to claim that modernity is characterized by increasingly uniform behavior. We are overwhelmed with increasingly diverse and divisive points of view about politics, morals, self-identity, and philosophies. In recent months, I personally feel that we are approaching a point of some collapse in our social cohesion. If it all does collapse, I would point out that it too may be instinctual part of being human.
I’m guessing we won’t collapse. Our hive-mind like behavior will increasingly take over most of our behaviors even as we retain some essential part of ourselves that we can relish our individual intellect or capability.
The two trends are feeding on each other. The reason why the hive mind is growing in terms of governing our behaviors is because we are getting smarter, both more innately intelligent and more educated. The reason why we are getting smarter is because we all shedding parts of life to instinct. As we focus on more specialized thought or skill, we willingly reject what doesn’t require our thought. A large part of the population is no longer bothering to think through decisions that are no longer as important as they were in earlier times.
One of my favorite expressions is the idea there is an inverse relationship between learning and common-sense. The more intelligent you are, the less common sense you have. I never saw it as some absolute statement, but more of an observation that as we specialize our thinking, we spend less time devoting our minds to solving everyday problems. When I use the term common-sense, I use it to mean an intelligence, often at an human level of intelligence, but this intelligence is devoted to common situations, perhaps things as simple as knowing what is appropriate to wear for a particular occasion.
Poor common sense may mean doing something with very bad consequences. Walking outside in freezing rain wearing thin summer clothing would be an example.
Alternatively, poor common sense may exhibit itself by avoiding the situations where such common sense is required. In the above scenario, and example of this approach would be to decide not to go outside at all if there is no real pressing reason to do so.
I believe the original observation at the top of this post, that cities emerging in different cultures exhibit what appears to be a human mono-culture, is the result of avoidance of no longer necessary activities. As we become more selective about what we do, we lose more control over our individual lives. We allow things to happen to us when we decide those things are not necessary for our increasingly specialized and focused goals. Those things we neglect will get done by others, or we’ll pay attention when attention is urgently necessary. Otherwise, we just ignore it.
We are increasingly ignoring what our ancestors would never dream of ignoring. This has been going on for a while. When I was growing up, I never thought it necessary to learn how to fix my own car, or sew (or mend) my own clothes, but these are skills that were deemed an important part of life skills earlier.
We’ve come a long ways since the times of my youth.
One of the life skills we once thought was essential was that of starting and nurturing a nuclear family with a stable marriage with specific nurturing roles assigned to the mother and father. Such a family required a lot of mental investment. Even though so many people have to go through the experience, we continually acknowledge that it is hard work where part of what makes it hard is the fact that so much has to be learned intelligently as the events come up. Parenting is a draining experience and can be mentally draining even long after the children become adults.
I think that many of the modern controversies are the result of a probably subconscious awareness that nuclear family ideal is no longer necessary. On the feminist side, there is the emphasis on careers and the acceptance of divorces due to the acceptance of single parenthood (especially single motherhood). On the men’s side, there is the as yet not well explained phenomena of men deciding not to fully participate in terms of pursuing education, ambitiously pursuing careers, or seeking out commitment relationships with women.
A part of me imagines a common explanation for both feminists ideology and male dropping out of traditional roles. That explanation is the growing recognition of the decreasing importance of nuclear families for raising children. Children can be raised by single mothers with sufficient support from the state. While some men vocally complain about taxes they are paying for other people’s children, I suspect many don’t pay any attention about this connection of taxes to entitlements. My suspicion is a consequence of the hive-mind, we don’t think it is important enough to spend time thinking about.
As men stop thinking about the connection of taxes to paying for supporting single mothers, we permit the hive-mind to emerge. The state will replace the man’s role as provider to the next generation. This allows the men to focus on their specialty. In the extreme example of MGTOW, men exploit the abundance of free time by minimizing time devoted to employment or pursuit of advancement and pursue their own interests with more intensity. Even if many (like myself) will end up spending their time with no accomplishments, there will be plenty who end up accomplishing fascinating things they would not otherwise be able to do.
Not only are more people finding nuclear families to be irrelevant, they are finding relationships to be unnecessary, and even sex to be unnecessary. Men in particular are opting out of pursuit of even casual sex with partners. Some explain this as the easy access to pornography or sex toys, but I suspect the majority are just ignoring the thought (or urge) entirely and successfully. The sexually active sometimes assume abstinence to be similar to monastic vow to celibacy or self-controlled rejection of temptation, but the reality may be more mundanely explained by the individual being too busy to think about sex, a task easy for someone with strong interests and even easier after the age of around 35.
Younger ages are similarly avoiding relationship and sex as a result of modern opportunities that often are more compelling to pursue than relationships. This may be a minority, but my impression is the minority is larger portion of youth than it was a few decades ago, and the portion will continue to grow in the future.
For the more sexually obsessed, there is the gender-identity that explicitly rejects the biological notions of sex and replaces is with more creative thoughts of how to think about relationships. The growing young transgender population go further by taking actions that risk or fully guarantee infertility to redefine what sex means in their particular instance.
They have growing acceptance because we assume that it doesn’t matter. Most of the criticism against this assumption is based on the idea that we need to be reminded why traditional concepts of sex are essential for the continuation of the species, and especially of specific cultures. A different explanation is that our increasingly hive-driven society doesn’t require such genetic- or cultural-specific inheritance.
Even with the modern trends, plenty of women are having children with a growing proportion who end up being single mothers. We are currently in a period of transition as we strive to get the fathers to pay child support for the children, but increasing number of fathers are escaping this obligation, placing the burden on the state. There is increasing acceptance of this. The hive-mind hypothesis might predict that we may accept the idea that all mothers will receive their child support payments by the state. Also, those payments may represent very comfortable earnings for the mothers.
If we are following the colonial insect model, we may end up with a small portion of men who will father children. The remaining men may or may not pursue sex, but if they do, it will be without the consequence of fathering children. As in the insect world, we will end up with most men becoming workers who are for all practical purposes infertile. The collective population of women will provide the population’s breeding needs with a much smaller number of men. Again, this is a speculative prediction of our increasing hive-like society, but I wanted to make the point of the relative non importance of most men to the needs of reproduction. They will be free to focus on their individual interests with no commitment to careers or to women, viewing sex as an option for entertainment rather than procreation.
While many men are not needed for reproduction, most women are needed for reproduction. The excess men will be spending their time with their individual interests that will advance the state. The exceptional men will provide many (but not all) of the advancements for society. These advancements will be in increasingly narrow specialized areas so that individual achievements will be largely anonymous. These achievements may be technological, scientific, or creative. Many other achievements will be athletic or acrobatic in nature taking full advantage of modern technology to do things not possible before.
To close this post, I can think of one more prediction of the hive-like society, and that is of the excessive specialization of individuals. Excessive specialization is a specialization that has a shorter period of relevance than the individual’s life span. Many jobs, especially in the STEM fields, requires specializations that are relevant to the market for only a few years at most. People have to keep retraining for new skills in order to continue to participate.
More generally, there is an emergence of a gig economy where people take very short lived tasks to get some money. This has become more unavoidable in the rapidly changing society. Many tasks are short lived in nature. People adapt by taking maximum advantage of opportunities that come up, devoting all of their attention at the task while their skills are relevant. People also adapt by minimizing their life expenses to better weather the inevitable dry spell when they will not be relevant to the market. The modern gig lifestyle results in a hive-like devaluation of the individual, but it also contributes to the emergence of more hive-like behaviors by encouraging individuals, especially men, to maximize their efforts in a gig when they are needed and minimize their obligations when they are not relevant. While difficult or even devastating to the individuals, the hive thrives and thrives to the extent that overall it seems everyone is doing pretty well.