A large group of seemingly not very intelligent on their own beings can create a collective that is much more capable than the single individual will ever be. Ants and bees are perfect examples; as individuals they cannot do much, but as a group they can achieve colossal things.
Is it then possible to think about this behavior as collective intelligence or collective mind, and in some sense, even collective consciousness?
Mirroring this image to humans, we can see that we behave similarly. As lonely individuals, we can hardly achieve any remarkable deeds, but as a collective, we can create wonders (computers, cars, space ships, aircraft carriers, pyramids, thousand-meter tall buildings... ).
Now let’s go back to the initial question.
Does one wheel make a car in the same way?
And could you say that one wheel is a car?
Someone may argue that this is a nonsensical idea, but let me ask a few questions first.
Imagine any car; can you think what parts are really important?
Are lights and windows important? Even without them, a car will still move. What about the hood, trunk, doors, fenders? If we remove each of those, the car will still move. What about the car body/shell and seats? Although it would be windy and uncomfortable, we could still drive the car. Now, we are left with four wheels, chassis, motor, fuel tank, a few pedals and a steering wheel. As we have removed so many parts, we can put in a smaller motor and it will still do the job. Furthermore, we can take one wheel from the back and the wheel that is left, we can put in the middle, and the car will still move. If we are creative enough, we can do the same with the front. Now, we are basically left with something we can call a motorbike. Again, we can reduce the motor, chassis and replace the steering wheel with a handlebar. We have removed the seats already, so essentially we are standing, but our “car” can still move. If we imagine that we replace our engine with an electric motor and battery and put in some self-balancing electronic, our “car” will become a unicycle. And we can do even more; if we replace the combustion engine with the electric motor, battery and accompanying electronic so small that will fit inside of the wheel and just have some kind of bar to stand on it, we will have a driving wheel.
So, let me ask again, does one wheel make a car?
You remember the previous story about “Ship of Theseus” and the identity question — this question is very similar.
Where am I going with this? In one of the previous posts I wrote:
“It is worth mentioning that very broad abstractions can say that if atoms are parts that create consciousness and therefore necessary for the existence of consciousness, we can say that they have, in some sense, consciousness on their own.” ^
Similar to cars, I am trying to capture what is intrinsically the smallest piece of consciousness, so I am inverting the usual way of thinking and I am asking whether one particle of matter can have or be conscious.
Can an atom think?
You can argue that in order to create thought, we need to have a brain. And to have a brain, we have to have neurons. Therefore, neurons and their “society” (network) can create thought. At the beginning of the story, I wrote that seemingly non intelligent individuals when joined together can exhibit intelligent behavior. So, it seems that neurons behave as they are non intelligent, but they are. Neurons have intelligence on their own regardless of how small the measure of that intelligence is.
If brains are made of neurons, and neurons are made out of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, can we then say that atoms can think?
The atoms are the ones that make brains, so isn’t it correct to say that brains have thinking ability because of atom’s ability to makes bonds and exchange energy in certain ways? Therefore, atom can form "thoughts". So, who is really thinking then?
And if you are still not convinced, what if we could replace neurons with equally functional electronic circuits, who or rather, what, is thinking then?
Can we think about neurons and integrated circuits as means or instruments for atoms to become aware?
Current understanding in science says that quarks are the smallest units of matter. Is there anything beyond? Although I can easily catch myself believing that there is not, there are certain limits to what we can explore with our technology. We do not know how small something can be, and because of those limits, we may never find out. Maybe our universe is just infinite mathematical fractal that reflects itself in every smallest piece of it, and in that way creates an unlimited number of other infinitely small universes.
At the end of this mind-bending thought, imagine that among all those infinitely small universes there is one that has civilization of amazingly intelligent aliens who succeeded to control every aspect of their “own” (for them very big and for us very small) universe. As they have the ability to control not just stars but galaxies and clusters, at this very moment they are trying to contact the “outside” world....
So, next time when one quark in the experiment decides to go left instead of right or your thought suddenly flickers in a surprising direction, recall this story, and consider that maybe some super intelligent aliens are trying to communicate with you....