Saturday, September 18, 2010

Something From Bees

Something is up in the human hive. If we think about evolutionary intelligences, the metaphor of the human hive discloses something about ourselves, not just at the city level, but at the humanity level.

While we can't know these things clearly (being mere drones within the system of emergent patterns), I suspect until this point the metaphor of the hive did not really apply to humanity, only to the colonies of our parts. Our cities and organising structures (i.e. trade cartels, workforce corporate identities, professional designations, and even generational patterns of consumption) have been our isolated hives, which together accumulate as the patterns of mankind and its effects on many landscapes (physical, sociological and psychological).

Yet looking to the clues within these meta-patterns, the divided hives are now becoming connected autonomous functions within a larger collective organisation. Something new is newly happening in the human hive.

While its simply misleading to take and stretch a metaphor too far, or to apply observations of one phenomenon that exists only in the eyes of the observer and apply them to other systems without new observations, what might the amateur apithological apiarist see happening right now in the human buzz?

One event is the launch of the connected and universal 'Like This' voting in the ever expanding and interlinking social network space. This will communicate collective information in new ways and prioritize information to awareness, both for astute use and in collective delusion (and perhaps manipulation) exponentially in feedback loops outside the governance of our previous close trust relationships. Another is the expansion of the virtual-teleconference experience where networks of people previously unconnected are now simultaneously connected into discourses previously outside of their reach. We have new content and new communication. The big two in apithological integration.

The theory says that the third element in the apithology trichotomy will then arise. A new clarification of Intention. This is the finding of a direction for humanity that is causing so much cacophony. According to Karl von Frisch (1967) in The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees:

"Departure only occurs when all the scouts are pointing to the same goal. Accordingly, the moment when the swarm will dissolve can be foretold, and from the dances of the victorious group that is advertising it can be deduced with certainty in what direction and to what distance the swarm will fly." (p. 271)

We are seeing the lead up to the decision of direction in Intention in fractal forums where ever the question is being asked at a sufficient level of complexity to reflect the question with integrity. Like the human hive, bees in the period prior to swarming have patterns of confusion which move eventually to resolution. There is, however, firstly a period of incoherency before a quorum in the decision making arises. The piping tune, heralds triumphantly the new direction found through the 'checking-out' of places recommended in a complex multi-criteria process of collective site rating and selection. The similarities with Web 2.0 are easy to formulate.

In making this comparison we should distinguish between the swarming of bees that occurs with the hive 'propagating', splitting in situations of abundance - and the alternative of the hive 'migrating' in scarcity when the environment begins to appear unviable and new territory is required. The dynamics are apparently similar in external behaviors to the casual observer. Yet, just like in the patterns in the transitions in levels of consciousness, they are very different in their motivation, form and effect when motivated by sufficiency or deficiency. Possibly one leads to a new location armed in hope with confidence, the other in cautiousness and defensiveness with all lacking in a sense of abundance.

According to Michener (1974) in 'The Social Behavior of the Bees: A comparative study', the capacity for complex communication in eusocial bees is what enables the evolutionary advantage of migration in pleisiomorphism. How the mysterious formation of an intention to leave for a new nesting location in response to unsuitable environmental conditions is formed, is unclear. He notes: "... a sharp difference exists and no intermediate conditions are known, so that understanding of the origin of Apis swarming is not so easy." If the existing colonies of humanity are our thought communities located around single ideas (our metaphorical queens of memetic reporduction) it is the capacity of our networks for communication that will enable the evolutionary leap to a single unified location. The new 'nesting location' for humanity is its common intention as a single eusocial entity. It is worth noting that the queens are pushed from the hive. They do not lead the swarm. No one existing idea will lead the way.

In the usual pattern of propagation of the hive in situations of abundance, food collection declines as storer-workers increasingly refuse to accept food from foragers, with foraging activity becoming a search for new nesting locations, the role of foragers moving to scouts. In migration (known as absconding) different triggers may need to occur. What we do know is for both patterns the trigger to actually swarm is the 'buzzing run' where pheromones and vibrational signals are rapidly spread communicating the moment of decision and the signal to depart. It is this I am listening for.

What is also interesting is how the bee life-stage progression from cell cleaner, to nurse, to food storer, to forager is both developmental and yet highly diverse in its sub-roles, and how transitions in population cycles probably create overall mitigating responses to fluxing role-needs as the fortunes of the hive change (see Seeley, T. (1995) The Wisdom of the Hive: The social physiology of honey bee colonies). If we think about the changing population in the spread of generations, differing roles in global production and developmental levels in the human hive, perhaps the 'fifth' life-stage role we are about to see is the 'migration monitorers' who trigger the relocation of the hive in an environment of decline where food and foraging conditions have created the consternation of confusion. Who will be these guides to a new location in thought when propagation of separate hives is no longer the hive's primary question?

Perhaps from the world of the bee in its adaptiveness and evolution, we might find the key to humanity's own evolutionary next stage. As the bees produce honey, so we daily produce thought, described in the poetic words of Maurice Maeterlinck in the translated classic The Life of the Bee (1901):

"I know of no other creature that has thus been fashioned to produce this strange fluid, which we call thought, intelligence, understanding, reason, soul, spirit, cerebral power, virtue, goodness, justice, knowledge; for it has a thousand names, though only one essence. ...
A time will then come when all things will turn so naturally to good in a spirit that has given itself to the loyal desire of this simple, human duty, that the very suspicion of the possible aimlessness of its exhausting effort will only render the duty the clearer; will only add more purity, power, disinterestedness, and freedom to the ardour with which it still seeks. (p. 349-350)

Buzzzz .....


  1. Wow. Having participated in some of these 'discourses previously outside our reach', this post is a powerful explanation of what is possible happening.

    What a wonderful metaphor this hive and bee behaviour is. What a wonderful post - roaming great expanses, yet always referencing the depth present everywhere across the territory.

    And to think that the emerging element in the trichotomy is clarification of Intention! Wow. It seems both unlikely, but also completely true to my experience.

    Although I've often hear talk of this 'global mind' emerging, it's always seemed too metaphorical, too sci-fi. This post frames and redefines that possibility in a way that strikes me as so tremendously implicating, real, massive, here, now.

  2. the irony is that the global mind has always been there, and humanity has always been aware of the mind of the group in some form, but now the mind itself may be becoming aware of itself. Neon genesis talks about this, in that the only way to achieve the so called "god sentience" is to sacrifice individuality.