# Group Intelligence

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Some insects seem to show very intelligent behaviour. Ants make nests, and engage in farming. And termites build high-towering cities. Also bees construct hexagonal cells in their hives, or "colonies". And the bees in these colonies, communicate information to each other. They perform the "figure-8" dances. The dances advise all the other bees, how far away some food is, and in what direction to fly, to get to it.

Yet each individual bee, has only got a tiny brain. A brain the size of a pinhead of tissue. But somehow, all these tiny brains, combine to make the whole colony, consisting of 100,000 bees, behave intelligently.

Now, bacteria exist in colonies far exceeding 100,000 individual organisms. There are millions or billions of individual bacterial organisms, living in bacterial colonies.

So is it not at least conceivable, that such bacterial colonies, could be capable of intelligent behaviour?

Has any microbiologist on these forums observed bacteria behaving in a manner possibly indicative of group-intelligence?

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Group behaviour is highly complicated as an emergent property (though astonishingly simple in mechanism), but note that each individual has a much higher complexity than bacteria. They have a simple nervous system, for instance.

That being said, simple group behavior can be found in myxobacteria, who hunt other bacteria in packs (and only in packs) or the formation of fruiting bodies, in which some bacteria form the structure and others the spores.

Edited by CharonY
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Group behaviour is highly complicated as an emergent property (though astonishingly simple in mechanism), but note that each individual has a much higher complexity than bacteria. They have a simple nervous system, for instance.

That being said, simple group behavior can be found in myxobacteria, who hunt other bacteria in packs (and only in packs) or the formation of fruiting bodies, in which some bacteria form the structure and others the spores.

Thanks CharonY. Appreciate your reply. I take your point about the possession of a nervous system. I suppose a bacterium can't be said to have one. Your mention of bacteria hunting other bacteria in packs is very interesting. May I just ask you, it's probably a silly question, but - is it possible to train such bacteria in any way?

I mean, in the way slugs can be trained to go to the left or the right, to find a source of food.

Could bacteria ever be trained to hunt in a particular direction?

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Some insects seem to show very intelligent behaviour. Ants make nests, and engage in farming. And termites build high-towering cities. Also bees construct hexagonal cells in their hives, or "colonies". And the bees in these colonies, communicate information to each other. They perform the "figure-8" dances. The dances advise all the other bees, how far away some food is, and in what direction to fly, to get to it.

Yet each individual bee, has only got a tiny brain. A brain the size of a pinhead of tissue. But somehow, all these tiny brains, combine to make the whole colony, consisting of 100,000 bees, behave intelligently.

Now, bacteria exist in colonies far exceeding 100,000 individual organisms. There are millions or billions of individual bacterial organisms, living in bacterial colonies.

So is it not at least conceivable, that such bacterial colonies, could be capable of intelligent behaviour?

Has any microbiologist on these forums observed bacteria behaving in a manner possibly indicative of group-intelligence?

The intelligence of a committee varies approximately as $\dfrac {1}{(no. \ of \ members)^4}$ The group intelligence of the U.S. Congres with 535 members is practically 0.

Edited by DrRocket
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Bacteria are single cells, they do have little in way of mechanism to retain memory (there is something like that though, which is based on translational modification status, but it is really just faintly comparable).

All their reactions are directly controlled by biochemical conditions (internal as well as external). The only way to "train" is to disrupt or modify the regulatory system, e.g. rendering them non-responsive to certain stimuli.

This is mostly genetic manipulation, though.

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• 3 weeks later...

Bacteria are single cells, they do have little in way of mechanism to retain memory (there is something like that though, which is based on translational modification status, but it is really just faintly comparable).

All their reactions are directly controlled by biochemical conditions (internal as well as external). The only way to "train" is to disrupt or modify the regulatory system, e.g. rendering them non-responsive to certain stimuli.

This is mostly genetic manipulation, though.

One type of amoeba will under certain circumstances, form a slime mold slug that will move in colonies that snake around obstacles. The also form into small towering edifices on the weight of each other to form structures that deposit new cells on passerbys to spread to other bodies of water.

This has nothing to do with intelligence but instinct. We tend to avoid the word because we cannot trace it to genes yet, but as a concept, it is vital to understanding biology. It is also offensive to the faithful when applied to us, we humans, but I hope that will not deter us here, for we too have social instincts. We are small group primates that have a long list of social-related instincts which have also been amply observed in chimps. We do not learn morals from religion. It is our social nature that develops moral codes for the sake of efficiency and as part of our cultural adaption to changing need.

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It is not instinct either. It is in essence a biochemical reaction cascade (or the result thereof). We have a long way to go to bridge the understanding of these relatively simple chemical processes (which, to a large part, we still do not really understand), to the much more complicated question regarding intelligence and consciousness (or the illusion thereof).

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It is not instinct either. It is in essence a biochemical reaction cascade (or the result thereof). We have a long way to go to bridge the understanding of these relatively simple chemical processes (which, to a large part, we still do not really understand), to the much more complicated question regarding intelligence and consciousness (or the illusion thereof).

By saying it is not instinct, I think you are inferring that it is not neurological. It seems to me that the word "instinct" refers to a behavior pattern without inferring its basis. You suspect it may be based on a biochemical process. Can you also say it is genetic?

I make such a big deal over this because in my experience I find a lot of resistance to the use of the word "instinct"--especially in refernce to we humans. I suspect it has to do with possibly being offensive to the religious. Yet, in social theory at least, the genetic-chemical mechanism of instinct is of no importance.

This is a biology forum, but the question did involve social theory.

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To be precise, I do not like the term instinct too much as the definition has been muddled quiet a bit. In general it refers to a series of behaviors that are initiated upon a certain stimulus. However there are many issues with that. A less complex behavior are reflexes. While less complex, they are still orders of magnitude more complex than certain regulatory circuits that are based on biochemical reactions (i.e. receptor-ligand binding leading to activation of transcription factors, leading to gene expression changes, to give a rough example).

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To be precise, I do not like the term instinct too much as the definition has been muddled quiet a bit. In general it refers to a series of behaviors that are initiated upon a certain stimulus. However there are many issues with that. A less complex behavior are reflexes. While less complex, they are still orders of magnitude more complex than certain regulatory circuits that are based on biochemical reactions (i.e. receptor-ligand binding leading to activation of transcription factors, leading to gene expression changes, to give a rough example).

Certainly, the instinct concept would not be used in biology and organic chemestry, but I find it useful in animal behavioral study and social theory as long as we keep in mind that the behavioral differencfes between, let us say, Europeans and Sudanese is ideological/cultural. It is useful because there are hman social behavioral patterns ("instincts") that are common to all the apes, most of all primates, and many other small group social mammals. For example, the females care for the young, the males compete for the responsibility of protecting them, ones that do not return a favor are rebuked, Teenagers are rebellious, the actions of the dominant male are closely watched, the group has a territory ("home," "private property" amd "national borders." There are many more.

A century ago, people careless compiled a list of so-called "instincts" such as compassion, altruism, prejudice, religiousness, ambition, etc. As it became realized that their list was riddled with error and inaccuracy, the term came into disrepute and has remained there.

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• 2 months later...

If there is no intelligence of bacteria colonies then why are they now measuring social intelligence among bacteria and assigned P. Voltex as the smartest bacteria?

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Well, there's a kind of group intelligence with bacteria called "quorum sensing" involving cell-cell communication both within and between bacterial species for the purposes of symbiosis, virulence, competence, conjugation, antibiotic production, motility, sporulation, and biofilm formation.

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Human Intelligence is the emergent property of interacting and sharing information which we call the ability to learn and this is the same concept that can be applied to bacteria by quorum sensing. It is also noted that bacteria colonies when threatened they will make decisions - to disperse from the colony - to suspend all biochemical activity until conditions improve - HGT from other bacteria to use different chemical processes to sustain their existence.

We have a brain and a central nervous system while bacteria do not and this is believed to be a requirement for intelligence, however the biochemical processes that enable our brain and nervous system to work is also in bacterial colonies. If our origin is microbial and our current status is that we are 90% microbial/10% Human that it is logical to believe that our abilities as a entity able to process information and to make decisions comes from our microbial origin and our current microbial fingerprint.

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Except that the processes that are possible in the brain (i.e. integration of signals above the cellular level) are not present in bacteria. Sure, there are certain bacteria that create multicellular structures, however the involved signalling cascades allow only for simpler (though overall, still relative complex) information processing as compared to even relative simple neuronal systems.

The point is that multicellularism allowed the evolution of novel information processing methods that are not possible with a bunch of individual cells. However, some bacteria are borderline multicellular (in certain developmental stages) and show the first signs of emergent properties. Though certain limitations (e.g. possible length scales) exist that true multicellulars have eventually overcome.

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I agree that all species that have a brain uses the same or similiar process of activities that allow the properties of intelligence to emerge but I don't believe it is a necessary requirement in species that do not possess a brain but is still capable of obtaining information using a different process that allow similiar emergent property of group intelligence.

Our social intelligence is only important within our species group and I seriously doubt that any other species are envious or even care since they have their own method of social intelligence that is perfect for them. The point I am trying to make here is that our arrogance of believing that our intelligence is far superior to any other species ability that produce the same end result is narrowing the scope of truly understanding the behavior of all biodiversity of this planet. I think it exists on all levels of life and it would be logical to accept this since we evolved from our bacterial ancestors.

Our brains are wired to produce the necessary traits that allow us to be successful within our own species. The traits we deem important are not necessary in other species in their abilities to survive and in fact have traits that we wish we possessed in our genomes.

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• 5 months later...
This has nothing to do with intelligence but instinct.

Is it intelligence ? Is it instinct ?

Take the example of a slime mold, an amoeba which is able to form colonies that work like mulicellular organisms : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictyostelium_discoideum

They organise themselves by emitting pheromones. These pheromones trigger a reaction of the next cell, which emits pheromones again, which trigger a reaction...

A set of a few rules carried out by a great number of individuals can create a system of linked cells interacting with each other and creating something new. Such a mechanism also works in entirely different systems, for instance in oscillating chemical reactions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belousov-Zhabotinsky_reaction) or for the propagation of a flu epidemy ( http://www.kanitrino...eEN/Grippe.html). It can be computer-simulated and abstracted from any biological subject. So, I would neither call it instinct nor intelligence. What is another word for "following abstract rules"? -> It's mathematics.

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• 4 weeks later...

Sorry, the last link has changed, it is now http://kanitrino.org/en/Page/Grippe.html

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• 4 weeks later...
Yet each individual bee, has only got a tiny brain. A brain the size of a pinhead of tissue. But somehow, all these tiny brains, combine to make the whole colony, consisting of 100,000 bees, behave intelligently.

Right. Simple rules can produce complex games. Most eusocial organisms (bees, multicellular bacteria, your cells, Portuguese man of war -- a bilateral colony of radially symmetrical polyps, human markets, etc) read local information. That is, they play by local rules to establish structures "imperceptible" to them. Such "perception" is not needed by neither the group nor individual member. If a fish in a school of fish benefits by following the local rules (and it does) then that's all that matters.

Until cancer sets in...

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