Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wiscon Recap- Hive Mind!

I had this song going in my head throughout the panel. Give it a listen, it's only 7 seconds. Bless you, TMBG.

The panel: Group, Individual, Hive Mind. The panelists:
So this panel was a blast, and the room was packed! Super-brief notes, and then all the suggested works that I managed to scribble down:

  • The Argentine ant structured a lot of the discussion, looking at how superorganisms work at that level--there is no centralized controller, just individuals that act certain ways in response to stimuli from others in the group.
  • Colony Collapse Disorder in bees also discussed quite a bit for what it reveals about group entities. It was suggested, rather tragically, that humans are often suffering from different kinds of CCD, as we "are" more than ourselves, we're part of larger groups--partners, friend-groups, businesses--but frequently changing them.
  • Interesting talk about individuality (hard to see in much of the rest of the biosphere), and the fairly recent invention of modern individualism.
  • "Big Beast Chauvinism"--humans assuming that our experience as the kind of organism we are is normal and widespread.
  • Much talk about "hive mind" as a horror trope, very few positive examples--that discussion linked back to capitalism, fear of Soviets etc. So the panelists then tried to hunt up positive examples of group mind.
  • Rosenbaum: "Merging into one mind is like the stereotype non-telepaths have for telepaths, it's like a microagression."
  • Some talk about how business/corporations/groups function as superorganisms, especially how that parallels ants in counter-intuitive ways. The importance of having lots of "lazy ants" around who can swarm jobs when needed, for instance.
  • Talking about corporations reminded me of Charles Stross's concept of corporations as "invaders from Mars", and conversely that line from William Gibson's "New Rose Hotel":
    • Imagine an alien...who's come here to identify the planet's dominant form of intelligence. The alien has a look, then chooses. What do you think he picks? ...The zaibatsus...the multinationals. The blood of a zaibatsu is information, not people. The structure is independent of the individual lives that comprise it. Corporation as life form.
  • Rosenbaum finished the panel with a high-speed rant that I really wish I would have recorded. Leaping off early Abrahamic conceptions of selfhood, group identity, and continuity, he spun out a theory about how Hellenism created individualism, shattering simple family-continuity model of self and requiring ecstatic religions that promised individual immortality. But then others on the panel pointed out that the current conception of the afterlife actually looks a lot like the hive mind--a sort of glorious togetherness. "The dream of heaven is the individual's nostalgic vision of pre-individual hive-mind."
Lots more I didn't write quick enough to record. But! Here's some of the works discussed for those interested:
  • Marvin Minsky's "Society of Mind"
  • The Borg in their various incarnations on Star Trek
  • Ursula Le Guin's "Solitude" and  "The Silence of the Asonu"
  • George Lucas's "THX-1138"
  • Work by magical realist/slipstream author Jonathan Carroll
  • Television series "The Fringe", "The 100", "Sense8", and "Orphan Black"
  • "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov, possibly first nerd rapture sighting.
  • Greg Bear's "Blood Music"
  • Octavia Butler's Patternmaster series
  • Alfred Bester's "The Demolished Man"
  • Rosenbaum & Doctorow's "True Names"
  • Matt Ruff's "Set This House in Order"
  • Pixar's "Inside Out"
  • Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep"
  • Ernest Callenbach's "Ecotopia" & other communal utopian projects
  • Ramez Naam's "Nexus"
  • Adam Robert's "New Model Army"
  • Tamora Pierce's "Circle" fantasy series


  1. Nice recap!

    The Le Guin story I wanted to reference was actually "Solitude", from _The Birthday of the World_, but "Silence of the Asonu" is relevant too...

    1. Cool, added that in there! Thanks for the awesome panel.