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Living organisms can collectively contribute to higher-level self-aware organisms.

Depending on how we define self-aware life, our society is alive. Just as each cell in your body is alive, yet contributes to a unique living organism called 'you', our societies and governments might be alive. How could we know? How can we validate these are living things - might we be able to communicate with such living organisms? Maybe we already can but we only perceive the response as something reducible to activity by individuals (spokespeople are alive, not the government). This concept is not even limited to collectivity by humans or 'living' organic creatures. Perhaps organizations of intelligent robots could form 'living' organisms at a higher level. Where does God fit into this? Is it possible we create God, even if it is God that is of limited power? If societies or even collective-mind gods are alive, how can we define the boundaries of these living organisms?

  • Mar 8 2012: The first problem with attempting to engage the issue is that humans have absolutely zero understanding as to what sentience is, how it works etc. This is also why the topic of sentience is avoided like the plague, because big names do not want to have a conference about what they don't know. However, sentience is the absolutely most miraculous thing that we know to exist (pun not intended). It's a phenomena that opens up a can of worms for many. This is one of the many reasons Einstein scoffed at anti-semitism. People do not know what intelligence is, yet they are sure that a sentience didn't exist. The mind is the connection to reality. How did the mind find it?
    • Mar 8 2012: I was thinking we could all just bluff past that part! ;-)

      I would not say we have zero understanding of sentience. I would think certain definitions of sentience exist such that the majority of people can be in general agreement over the definition. That in itself presents a form of understanding what we're talking about. Perhaps discussions beyond that point, discussions of the origins of sentience, end up being tautological discussions of the definition itself.
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    Mar 6 2012: George Maclay has written a fascinating book about the idea of society as a organism. It includes a fascinating take on the work of Emile Durkheim.
    Personally I am wary of reification - e.g. the way we talk about "the state" sometimes obscures the fact that it only exists as a mental construct in our heads. This tends to give authorities power that can be, and is, abused and limits our horizons of what is possible (and may indeed be necessary) in terms of change.
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    Mar 9 2012: Hello Robot,

    My original experience into God as a cosmic singularity occurred when I was nine years old. It still guides me to this day, and I am 59. When I studied the unified field theory of physics, that was the first time in eleven years that I would actually be able to put a name to what I had experienced (other than God). The patterns I have described, I saw in another experience sometime after studying physics. It was while in an industrial training center for electrical generation. It was contained within an airlock because it was nuclear powered. Upon entering the airlock, I felt like a cell entering a larger organism. As I looked at the control center, I could sense my own brain as a comparison. As I walked down the passageway and heard the steam flowing through the turbines, I could sense my own lungs breathing oxygen into my body to supply its energy needs. As I picked up the phone to report an indicator reading to the control center, I felt like a nerve ending sending a message to the brain.

    For several hours, I felt like I was in the "Fantastic Voyage" 1966 movie, seeing things on multiple levels, all guided by the three basic energies. It began a thought process that would take several years to formulate. These experiences have evolved into a book "The Merging of Two Worlds". You may find it interesting. I have a website that reviews the book;
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    Mar 9 2012: There are three basic energies; Heat, mechanical, and electromagnetic. In the human body, the mechanical systems are the skeletal and muscular systems providing mobility (along with many of the organs in their processes). The heat systems are the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems, which deliver energy throughout the body. The electromagnetic systems are the brain and central nervous systems. Within the center of all three is the immune system that protects them.

    In a social order, you have mechanical systems; factories, construction, transportation, farms. You have heat engines providing energy to the community. You have a brain; the administration and organization heads that oversee all of the above. Within the center are law enforcement and safety, and the military that protects them.

    The patterns are the same, and how they remain healthy is also the same.

    As for God, God is the ineffable mystery. We create our own conceptions of God to help us understand our world. But any such conception is limited by our own limitations in how we see the world.

    God is the creator. If you want to know who the creator is, then look at what is doing the creating. The word God comes from a right brain perspective. It sees everything in associations, so it sees the forces of creation as a creator.
    The left brain hemisphere, which is dominant in the scientific method, sees the forces of creation as mathematical models. It is my opinion that God, and the unified field theory of physics, are two different expressions of the same thing. The brain is using two different hemispheres to express either/or.
    • Mar 9 2012: Thanks for commenting, Roy. I feel that you're fortunate to have an indelibly positive experience that guides your purpose. I'm still waiting for mine. After seeing your reply through insufficiently corrective glasses, I wondered if I recognized your name. I realized I had the wrong first name (not Ray) when I didn't see "NHL Defenseman" as one of your former occupations. ;-) Still, I find your profile more interesting than the NHL anyway.
  • Mar 7 2012: Thanks, Matthew. I've added your suggestion to my reading list. :-)
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    Mar 6 2012: Interesting point. I suppose a society deserves to be called a living organism since it seems to fit in our definition of "alive".
    But I don't think it can be smart (or "high level / self aware" or whatever) without some kind of nervous system.
    So far, the behaviour of societies looks more like that of bacteria than anything else. There is no analysis whatsoever of what happens to it, or at least it doesn't act that way.
    It's only range is to cause humans to keep it going, since a society that fails in this will be superceded by one that succeeds. And thus there is a selection going on, and they've evolved into what they are now.
    And as I speculate, they are blind.

    So, what would it take for a society to have a nervous system allowing it to figure things out?

    If we take our own brain as a model, then let's say that the society would need specialised people. People dedicated to be part of a computational system. And you'd need people connecting the "neuron" people to the rest of the population, and to transform human behaviour into a signal that could be worked out in the brain by the circuitry.
    Then, with the proper number of people acting as transistors, a society could be self aware.
    And if it evolved into this, which I doubt (I'll come back to this), we of course would be able to communicate with it. If our cells were smarter, we could have conversations with them, couln't we?

    to be continued
    • Mar 7 2012: Wouldn't we (you and I) be the nervous system, as we doing the analysis right now?