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content because mindedness, the property of having a mind, is so vague.
This view of the group mind hypothesis is, no doubt, facilitated by the
ubiquity of the cognitive metaphor in describing biological and social
processes. But I suspect that this view also re¬‚ects an ignorance of and
an insensitivity to the conceptual work necessary to articulate what it is
to have a mind. Regarding this latter point, I think we can make some
In order for some entity to have a mind it must possess at least some
psychological properties (states, processes, dispositions). Rather than at-
tempting to offer a de¬nition or analysis of what a psychological property
is, let the following incomplete list suf¬ce to ¬x our ideas. There are clas-
sical faculties, such as perception, memory, and imagination; processes
The Group Mind Hypothesis 289

or abilities that are the focus of much contemporary work in the cognitive
sciences, such as attention, motivation, consciousness, decision making,
and problem solving; and common, folk psychological states, such as be-
lieving, desiring, intending, trying, willing, fearing, and hoping. But what
is it to possess one or more of these?
Whatever else is involved in having a psychological property, it surely
turns largely on how one is physically structured. In particular, one must
have a physical structure that realizes or implements that property (state,
process, disposition). If we put this together with the standard view of
realization discussed in Part Two, to possess a psychological property is to
contain what I called an entity-bounded system or systems that realize pro-
cesses that generate or physically constitute that property (state, process,
disposition). For at least our paradigms of cognitive agents “ intact, fully
functioning, normal human beings “ I have argued that we need a more
general concept of realization, what I called the context-sensitive view,
which allows that the systems that realize cognition can extend beyond
the boundary of the individual. Replacing the standard with the context-
sensitive view of realization gives us the following account of what it is for a
paradigm cognitive agent, A, to possess or have a psychological property:

A possesses psychological property (state, process, disposition) P just if A either
physically contains an entity-bounded system or systems, or is part of a wide system
or systems, that realize the processes that generate or physically constitute P.

So when Tom feels pain, he has that property by virtue of physically con-
taining a nociceptive system that generates that feeling. When he believes
that snow is white, it is by virtue of being part of a folk psychological system
that extends beyond his own head.
This account does not tell us why it is A “ rather than, say A plus or
minus bits of the physical world (including bits of A) “ that possesses a
given psychological property. Rather, we start with paradigm cognitive
agents and attempt to explain what it is for them to possess psychological
properties. For the most part, both in common sense and in the cognitive
sciences, individuals rather than their parts or larger units of which they
are a part leap out at us as the bearers of psychological properties. It is Tom
who feels the pain or has the belief, and not Tom™s nociceptive system
or the folk psychological system at large. In passing, I have suggested
that this is because we physically contain at least the core realizations of
our mental states (even if not their total realizations), and are the locus
of control for the actions that result from those states. There are special
cases, such as those of split-brain patients being tested under special
Cognitive Metaphor in Biology and Social Science

conditions, or when people have speci¬c neural de¬cits, where it may
be compelling to attribute (say) folk psychological states to entity-bound
systems themselves, and we might view the group mind hypothesis as
implying the need to consider something like wide systems as the subjects
of such states.
Clearly, in considering the idea that other kinds of entities, such as
groups, might have minds, we need to attend more closely to the issue of
just which entity it is that possesses psychological properties than in the
case of individuals. In particular, I have been arguing that at least histor-
ically many of the claims about group minds and group psychology are
best understood as making a claim about the role of groups in regulating,
developing, or disabling individual minds. In moving from individuals to
groups as putative bearers of psychological properties we need to ensure
that the multilevel or group-only traits we are ascribing are not better
understood simply as individual-level traits.
There is a second complication as we move from paradigm cognitive
agents to groups as putative cognitive agents. We do not simply instantiate
a few psychological properties but many, and these encompass a diverse
range of states, processes, and dispositions. Following my discussion of
folk psychology in Part Three, I shall say that in virtue of that we possess
full-blown minds. But I know of no defense of the group mind hypothe-
sis that has claimed that groups have full-blown minds. (Talk of “group
consciousness,” for example, is nearly always talk of an aspect of the con-
sciousness of individuals.) That is clearly science ¬ction, not borderline
science, in the league of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes rather than, say, the
Gaia Hypothesis. Moreover, there would seem to be little explanationist
motivation for adopting the full-blown group mind hypothesis.
As is the case in striving to make sense of the idea of animal minds
or of arti¬cial intelligence, we should probably start with something less
than full-blown minds in trying to understand what group minds might
be. Consider, then, in light of our account of what it is to have or possess a
psychological property (state, process, disposition), the notion of minimal

X has a minimal mind just in case X has at least one psychological property (state,
process, disposition).

Given that we have full-blown minds, the group mind hypothesis and
minimal mindedness together entail that groups either literally have at
least one of the psychological properties that intact, functioning individ-
ual human beings have, or can usefully be treated as if they do. At least
The Group Mind Hypothesis 291

the literalist reading is quite a strong and striking thesis about groups,
and seems the right way to understand the group mind hypothesis inso-
far as it has formed part of the collective psychology and superorganism
traditions. Where discussion of “the group mind” concentrates on just
one psychological process or ability, as it often does, I will refer to that as
the focal process or ability.
Can a group literally have a minimal mind? I want to argue ¬rst that the
most obvious reasons for saying “yes” or “no” won™t do, and that resolving
even this question is more dif¬cult than it may initially appear.
Consider a problem with one “obvious” reason for answering “yes.”
It isn™t suf¬cient for a group to have a minimal mind for that group to
engage in some action that is caused by psychological processes. For if
those processes take place entirely in the heads of the individuals in those
groups, then the action can be explained adequately without positing a
group minimal mind. This implies that socially distributed cognition, at
least considered as a multilevel trait, does not entail even a group minimal
mind. For example, consider the (by now familiar) action of navigating a
navy vessel, which requires a complex social and mental division of labor,
or decision making in medical diagnosis. In these cases, the social con-
text is integral to the way in which individuals process information and
cognize. If, despite this, it remains true that every psychological process
or ability that causes and thus explains the acts that constitute the navi-
gation of a navy vessel, or that leads to a medical diagnosis, belongs to an
individual member of the group, then there is no group minimal mind
in addition to these minds. The statement “the crew saw the oncoming
ship and decided to change direction” might be made true simply by
individual-level psychological facts, together with other, nonpsychologi-
cal facts about social organization. Thus, those who grant the existence of
group actions but think that psychological processes and activities are es-
sentially individual-level (and so neither group-only nor multilevel) traits,
could deny the existence of even group minimal minds. Such a position
might be attractive to one who held the social manifestation thesis.6
As an aside, note how this points to an important disanalogy between
spatially organized neurons in someone™s head, and socially distributed
agents in some larger system, an analogy that we have seen David Sloan
Wilson make and that has been mentioned by others in conversation and
correspondence. Individual neurons do not perceive (but ¬re in response
to a stimulus), remember (but transmit information about the past), or
plan. By contrast, individual agents do all of these things, and these are
just the sorts of properties attributed in socially distributed cognition.
Cognitive Metaphor in Biology and Social Science

This suggests that the clearest cases that exemplify group minds will be
those that involve group-only, rather than multilevel traits. For in iden-
tifying a cognitive process found only at the group level, we preempt
the objection that the social manifestation thesis suf¬ces to capture the
phenomenon being explained. Group-only cognitive properties can be
posited for human social groups, but as I implied in the previous chapter,
they are clearest in the case of superorganismal colonies.
Consider the claim that beehives have the focal ability of planning to
acquire honey from a given source. The action of the beehive is systematic,
structured, and predictable, and involves the coordination of hundreds
or thousands of bees. Putting together the group mind hypothesis, the
notion of minimal mindedness, and the account of what it is to possess a
psychological property, we have the following

A beehive possesses the psychological property of planning to acquire honey from
a given source just if that beehive either physically contains an entity-bounded
system or systems, or is part of a wide system or systems, that realize the processes
that generate or physically constitute such planning.

In this case, the entity-bounded systems are the individual bees that partic-
ipate in the process of planning to acquire honey from the given source.
But since it is implausible to think that any single bee does this planning
(so little brain, so little time . . . ), such planning, if it exists, must be a
group-only cognitive process.
Turn now to the objection that entities that never have full-blown
minds “ minds in much the sense that we have minds “ cannot possess any
psychological properties. Prima facie, some groups seem able to initiate
actions or behaviors “ such as collecting food, steering a steady course
north, or building a school “ that would be explained by positing under-
lying psychological processes and abilities were those actions performed
solely by individual agents. This is true even if those individual agents lack
full-blown minds, as is the case with current robotic and computational
systems. We readily and typically speak, for example, of a chess program as
knowing that you are about to take its bishop, of deciding to castle early,
of trying to dominate the center of the board, of remembering where
your Queen is. It may be that the best way to view these attributions is
as metaphorical, but it seems to me that a literal understanding of them
is not ruled out simply because we do not think of those programs as
complete psychological agents, agents with full-blown minds.
Consider the case of a person who has lost a range of her psychological
functioning, perhaps permanently. Suppose that signi¬cant parts of her
The Group Mind Hypothesis 293

visual system, her memory, and her language abilities are impaired in
ways that limit what states we can plausibly attribute to her. Still, there
are likely to be clear cases where she literally tries to do something (such
as reach a glass or ¬nd the words to ask where your children are), or
knows or decides to do something. In short, she might be literally, and
not just metaphorically, minimally minded. And if individual agents can
have minimal minds, then so too can groups.

3 minimal minds, consciousness, and holism
Construing the group mind hypothesis in terms of the notion of a minimal
mind brings with it more speci¬cally philosophical concerns. In imply-
ing that a minimal mind could lack consciousness, doesn™t this construal
of the group mind hypothesis stop short of giving us the real cognitive
McCoy, leaving us only with ersatz minds? And by suggesting that there
could be a group mind with a solitary psychological state, doesn™t it like-
wise trade real for mere “as if ” intentionality and cognition? While I think
that both of these implications hold, I don™t see them as problematic for
this way of construing the group mind hypothesis.
In effect, we could see each of these objections as placing a putative
constraint on the types of minimal minds that can exist without full-blown
minds: Minimal minds must be conscious, and minimal minds must be
holistic, respectively. Consider the latter of these ¬rst.
Mental processes and states in general are, I think, instantiated in clus-
ters, and so are, in some sense, holistic. That seems to be true both of
individual and group minds (compare the characterization of arti¬cial
minds above). Thus, I see no problem in group minimal minds satisfying
some version of the holism constraint. Since my characterization of mini-
mal mindedness allows for the possibility of a minded entity with just one
psychological state, it is not compatible with one predominant view of
the holism constraint in the philosophy of mind. On this view, holism is
an a priori constraint on psychological attribution. But I reject this view of
the constraint. Rather, the constraint is empirical in re¬‚ecting the way in
which psychological states and processes cluster. This clustering should
be viewed as underwritten by homeostatic mechanisms and constraints
that determine the ways in which these properties are realized in the
actual world.7
The consciousness constraint, however, would make the group mind
hypothesis implausible, since the claim that groups have consciousness
has been central to neither of the collective psychology and super-
Cognitive Metaphor in Biology and Social Science

organism traditions, nor in their contemporary revivals. Indeed, at least
those in the collective psychology tradition have often tried explicitly to
distance themselves from such claims. For example, William McDougall
devotes an early chapter of The Group Mind to criticizing those in the
German idealist tradition who talk uncritically of “the consciousness of
the group” as something more than the consciousness of each of the
members of the group. Recall also the af¬nity between the collective
psychology tradition and the postulation of unconscious processes in
In Part Three, I distinguished between six mental phenomena that
have been considered as exemplifying consciousness, classing these as
processes of awareness (higher-order cognition, attention, and introspec-
tion and self-knowledge) and phenomenal states (pain, bodily sensation,
and visual experience). While some groups might be thought to manifest
something like processes of awareness “ for example, consider quorum
sensing in bacteria as a form of self-awareness “ none plausibly instantiate
phenomenal states.
This can be readily accounted for within the framework I have intro-
duced in this chapter. If the chief motivation for positing a group mind
is explanatory, and we start with the notion of a minimal mind and add
speci¬c focal abilities as they seem justi¬ed, then we would expect to
¬nd paradigmatic intentional states (including processes of awareness)
among the constituents of the group mind, but not the “what it™s like”
of mental life. This reinforces two negative themes from Part Three: that
“consciousness” is not the name of a unitary mental phenomenon, and
the intentional and phenomenal aspects to the mind are not inseparably
bound together.
Interesting in this regard is the status of emotions, which one might
well think of as straddling the putative divide between intentional and
qualitative states. Emotions are psychological states that are typically
about something “ they have intentionality or mental content “ but there
is also something phenomenally distinctive about them: there is some-
thing it is like to have them. Both McDougall, and before him, Le Bon,
considered the ways in which emotions such as fear and panic can be
properties of groups that degrade the abilities of the individuals in those
groups via the sympathetic responses of individuals to one another™s re-
actions. If this is to be consistent with the denial of group consciousness,
then these group emotions must be nonqualitative, even though the emo-
tions in individuals that give rise to them (the “sympathetic responses”)
need not be. The same would also have to be true of the “positive”


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