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mind hypothesis, it does so only via the ¬rst view above, and so there is no
independent path from the social manifestation thesis to the group mind
hypothesis. It could still be true, of course, that there are important senses
in which group behavior cannot be reduced to or be derivable from that
of the individuals within it, even if what explains that behavior are the psy-
chological states of individuals of whom the social manifestation thesis is
Cognitive Metaphor in Biology and Social Science

true. These points together suggest that the nonreductionist motivation
undergirding the collective psychology tradition, especially in its latter,
more optimistic phase from 1895 to 1920, does not lead indelibly to the
group mind hypothesis.
These two views, the group mind hypothesis and the social manifes-
tation thesis, are logically independent. Clearly, the social manifestation
thesis could be true without entailing the group mind hypothesis if group
minds did not exist. Conversely, the group mind hypothesis could be true
without entailing the social manifestation thesis if the relevant groups
were comprised of individuals that did not have minds at all. We will re-
turn to further explore the relationship between the social manifestation
thesis and the group mind hypothesis in the next chapter.

6 collective psychology, superorganisms,
and socially manifested minds
Shifts between the group mind hypothesis and the social manifestation
thesis are common in the collective psychology tradition. But I also want
to make the perhaps initially puzzling proposal that those in this tradition
in fact have a primary preoccupation with the social manifestation thesis.
Although they often express their views in ways that suggest an explicit
endorsement of the group mind hypothesis, the broader context in which
their views are developed makes the social manifestation thesis a more
plausible interpretation of what they mean. I shall provide support for
this view by discussing a few representative quotations from the work of
Wilhelm Wundt and Gustav Le Bon.
For example, consider the chapter headed “Mental communities” in
Wundt™s Outlines of Psychology. Here Wundt focuses on the importance of
the environment, especially the social environment, both to the develop-
ment of the child and to the sorts of properties that are signi¬cant for
individual consciousness. This focus is appropriate if the social manifes-
tation thesis is one™s primary concern. But Wundt says, strikingly, that

these social interconnections have just as much reality as the individual con-
sciousness itself. In this sense we may speak of the interconnection of the ideas
and feelings of a social community as a collective consciousness, and of the common
volitional tendencies as a collective will.20

The ¬rst of Wundt™s claims here, and the chapter in general, supports
some version of the social manifestation thesis, even if his second claim
expresses a version of the group mind hypothesis.
Group Minds in Historical Perspective 283

We see the same shift in Le Bon™s The Crowd, which, as we have seen,
attempted to delineate the psychological characteristics of crowds and
their degrading effect on individual human cognitive performance.
Le Bon says

Whoever be the individuals that compose it, however like or unlike be their mode
of life, their occupations, their character, or their intelligence, the fact that they
have been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort of collective
mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from
that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and act were he in a state
of isolation.21

This is a version of Le Bon™s law of the mental unity of crowds, a view that
the sociologist Clark McPhail has called the transformation thesis, since it
is a thesis about how individuals are transformed when they belong to a
crowd. As such, clearly this is a view about the abilities and proclivities
of individuals, and should be subsumed under the social manifestation
thesis. Le Bon™s “law” implies the group mind hypothesis only if individ-
uals are transformed because a group mind is formed, or a group mind
is a consequence of this transformation. Each of these is a further claim,
however, one for which no further argument is given. This is, in part,
because Le Bon himself has not distinguished the two theses in the ¬rst
place. If Le Bon™s chief concern is with how the capacities and abilities
of individuals are changed when they form a crowd, as I have been sug-
gesting, then talk of group minds is a confusing (even if vivid) way of
expressing something like the social manifestation thesis.22
Prima facie, there is less room in the superorganism tradition for this
sort of melding of the social manifestation thesis with the group mind
hypothesis, chie¬‚y because of the more circumspect and limited appeal
to psychological properties at all within it. For the social insects, recall
that the group mind is posited as a group-only trait, and at least in this case
there are no individual minds to have socially manifested, psychological
properties. In the case of plant communities and plant-animal biomes, as
I have already noted, there is a more circumscribed tendency to endorse
either the group mind hypothesis or the social manifestation thesis at all.
There is in the superorganism tradition, however, a shift between two
views that parallel our two theses, between a nonpsychological version
of the social manifestation thesis, and the claim that certain communal
groups are (literally) superorganisms. In addition, in at least places it
is the former of these that captures the heart of work in the superor-
ganism tradition, even when language that suggests the superorganism
Cognitive Metaphor in Biology and Social Science

conception predominates. For example, although Clements and Shelford
postulate the biome as a living entity in its own right, the primary con-
cern of their book as a whole, and the guiding idea of early ecology more
generally, is that animals and plants exert a ubiquitous, mutual in¬‚uence
on one another. By virtue of this in¬‚uence that exists between individual
organisms, each is able to act in ways that it could not otherwise act. This
is a behavioral or physiological version of the social manifestation thesis,
and is independent of the postulation of communities or biomes as su-
perorganisms. Likewise, at the core of Allee et al.™s review of the social
insects is a discussion of both “the division of labor between individuals
composing the group and the integrative mechanisms that give unity to
the group,” both of which concern properties of and relations between
individuals. Individuals take on these properties only in the “true social”
insects. While Allee et al. take this to support the postulation of superor-
ganismic status for the group, this is clearly a further claim, one that was
particularly pronounced in the contributions of Alfred Emerson to the
Chicago school™s approach.23
I suspect that it is likely a fruitless endeavor to attempt to defend the
idea that one or the other of these ideas is overall more fundamental
within the superorganism tradition, for each of them was drawn on and
developed for different purposes. My chief point here is that expressions
that suggest something like the group mind hypothesis should not always
be taken at face value, and that thinking about the ways in which groups
serve as a crucial context for the manifestation of individual capacities,
including cognitive capacities, may more adequately take one to issues at
the heart of the both traditions.

7 from the past to the present
In the previous section, I said that the superorganism tradition is mo-
tivated in large part by the observation of a variety of forms of social
harmony in the living world. Peaceful coexistence and cooperation are
viewed as constituting natural relationships between individual organ-
isms, and there are mutual bene¬ts gained by individuals through these
forms of social organization. The social manifestation thesis and the
group mind hypothesis represent the foundation of two different ways to
develop a scienti¬c account of this observation.
The social manifestation thesis places an emphasis on an individual™s
abilities and dispositions, albeit those manifest in particular social con-
texts. Here whether an individual belongs to a group of a certain kind
Group Minds in Historical Perspective 285

becomes important to understanding that individual™s psychology, but
there is no need to posit psychological properties of groups themselves.
The group mind hypothesis, by contrast, does look to levels of organiza-
tion larger than the individual in identifying the subjects of psychology,
claiming that groups themselves have minds. To many, this will seem to
involve a more far-reaching revision to our ideas of what minds are, and
what can possess them.
The argument in this chapter, particularly in the previous section,
has been that many putative expressions of the group mind hypothesis,
particularly those in the collective psychology tradition, are in fact better
characterized as expressions of something like the social manifestation
thesis. If this is correct, then, given the distinction between these two
theses, there is a real issue as to whether the group mind hypothesis does
form a central part of either the collective psychology or superorganism
traditions. If the social manifestation thesis more accurately captures both
traditions, then contemporary defenses of the group mind hypothesis are
misconceived if they are viewed as revivals of lost traditions of thought.
I shall argue, in the next chapter, that there is an additional layer of
misconception in such a construal of the group mind hypothesis. This is
because its contemporary putative expression is also better construed as
an expression of the social manifestation thesis.

The Group Mind Hypothesis in Contemporary
Biology and Social Science

1 reviving the group mind
In the previous chapter, I suggested that the group mind hypothesis could
be understood either literally or metaphorically. Expressions of the group
mind hypothesis, both in the collective psychology and superorganism
traditions and in contemporary discussions, often lend themselves to the
literalist interpretation, although I argued in the previous chapter that in
fact many of these are better understood as somewhat confusing attempts
to state a version of the social manifestation thesis. I shall begin by brie¬‚y
looking at contemporary views that appear to express the group mind
hypothesis, and then raise questions about how they are best understood,
and what notion of mind they draw on.
David Sloan Wilson has been a key advocate of the group mind hy-
pothesis in the biological sciences, casting his advocacy in terms of the
notion of cognitive adaptations and locating it within his broader de-
fense of group selection and group-level adaptations. Group-level adap-
tations are species-speci¬c phenotypes, including behaviors, that evolved
because they conferred a selective advantage on their bearers, that is, on
the groups of organisms that have them. In extending the notion of a
group-level adaptation to cognitive phenotypes, Wilson says,
Group-level adaptations are usually studied in the context of physical activities
such as resource utilization, predator defense, and so on. However, groups can
also evolve into adaptive units with respect to cognitive activities such as decision
making, memory, and learning. As one example, decision making is a process
that involves identifying a problem, imagining a number of alternative solutions,
evaluating the alternatives, and making the ¬nal decision on how to behave. Each
of these activities can be performed by an individual as a self-contained cognitive

The Group Mind Hypothesis 287

unit but might be performed even better by groups of individuals interacting in
a coordinated fashion. At the extreme, groups might become so integrated and
the contribution of any single member might become so partial that the group
could literally be said to have a mind in a way that individuals do not, just as brains
have a mind in a way that neurons do not.

Examples of group-level cognitive adaptations that Wilson cites here are
foraging and resource allocation strategies in bee colonies, as discussed by
David Seeley, human group decision making, and what Herbert Prins has
called “voting behavior” in buffalo herds in deciding in which direction
to move.1
As the passage above indicates, part of Wilson™s argumentative strat-
egy involves showing that cognitive or psychological processes are no
exception to the general phenomenon of group-level adaptation. Wilson
himself identi¬es his defense of the group mind hypothesis as a revival
of an idea prominent in the foundations of the social sciences. What he
¬nds problematic about “early views of the group mind in humans” is
that they “were usually stated in a grandiose form and without attention
to mechanisms, similar to naive group selectionism in biology during the
same period.” His revival of the group mind hypothesis within a sophis-
ticated group selectionist framework is a remedy to at least the latter of
these problems.2
The group mind hypothesis has received a more cautious and cir-
cumscribed defense within the social sciences, where intimations that
groups can think, decide, remember, or cognize more generally are typ-
ically hedged in ways that invite the metaphorical interpretation of the
hypothesis. For example, in her How Institutions Think, the anthropolo-
gist Mary Douglas urges a reconsideration of the contributions of Emile
Durkheim and Ludwig Fleck to the foundations of sociology, particularly
their treatment of institutions and social groups “as if they were individ-
uals.” Recognizing “a tendency to dismiss Durkheim and Fleck because
they seem to be saying that institutions have minds of their own,” Douglas
attempts to “clarify the extent to which thinking depends upon institu-
tions” through a discussion of Durkheim™s priority of the social over the
individual and Fleck™s notion of a thought collective.3
Likewise, in attempting to demarcate cultural psychology as a distinct
¬eld, Richard Shweder introduces the idea of intentional worlds that
individuals share, taking cultural psychology to be the study of such
worlds. But Shweder is, like Douglas, wary of understanding such a study
as implying that social structures in and of themselves have minds, apart
from the intentionality that individual agents have. In both cases we need
Cognitive Metaphor in Biology and Social Science

to move beyond the attribution of in-the-head representations to individ-
uals in order to do full justice to the complexity of social and cultural
phenomena, and this is done through making cognitive attributions to
entities larger than the individual.4
David Sloan Wilson has recently extended his thinking about the group
mind hypothesis to understand the nature of religious ideas and social
organizations. In doing so, he bridges between the biological and social
sciences, a trademark of some of his earlier work. Wilson™s basic idea is
to see society and particular social structures as organisms, with religion
being one of the culturally evolved adaptations that maintain this social
organism over time. Again locating his views against the background of
his multilevel theory of selection, he says

If the individual is no longer a privileged unit of selection, it is no longer a
privileged unit of cognition. We are free to imagine individuals in a social group
connected in a circuitry that gives the group the status of the brain and the
individual the status of the neuron.5

While Wilson considers religion as a group-level adaptation, his expres-
sion here is interestingly neutral between a literal and a metaphorical
reading of the group mind hypothesis.
Critical to determining the plausibility of the group mind hypothe-
sis, on either the literal or metaphorical understanding, is some further
discussion of what it means to have a mind at all.

2 on having a mind
A common reaction to the group mind hypothesis, at least among many
working biologists and social scientists, is that it has no real empirical


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