What is a Super Organism?

A superorganism occurs when a group of synergetically (that is they cooperate to the benefit of all) cooperating organisms of a single species work together to create something greater than themselves.

This is in contrast to the idea of a holobiont which is when a group of different species works together in synergy.

Let’s take a look at why this concept matters.

The Superorganism Concept: Micro-Organisms And More

A superorganism occurs when a group of eusocial animals cooperates to create a society that encourages individual specialization to the point where the individual cannot survive without the efforts of the other organisms.

Social insects such as ants are often the example offered up of a superorganism in action.

In this case, they say that a superorganism is “a collection of agents (individuals) that will act together to produce outcomes that are desired by the group” .

You can see this when an ant collects food, or when a bee goes looking for a new nest site.

Microorganisms are another type of single organism that can cooperate in this way to form a superorganism. Such as the way they work together to produce useful products like methane.

The idea of a superorganism was first promoted by James Hutton “the father of Geology” and it was adopted in biology by the proponents of Gaia Theory such as James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis.

It is important to note, however, that the term superorganism has a specific context and you cannot argue that all processes in life are those of a superorganism. The planet itself, for example, is not a superorganism.

The Social Theory Of Superorganisms

The idea of superorganism has also been transplanted into social theory.

Herbert Spencer came up with the idea of so-called Super-organic evolution.

However, he spent his time showing that there was a dramatic divergence between this and the concept of superorganism in human beings.

In recent decades, they’ve shown that the concept of “superorganism” is one led to by natural selection and involves things that have no choice over their participation in the superorganism of their own right.

In essence, rejecting the idea that human society is a superorganism because we have free will to act in the same way or to choose something else as we please.

Cybernetics, The Human Body and Super0rganisms

Biocybernetics is a way that we might adapt a broken or impaired human body to better carry out certain actions.

In this field of study, the superorganism idea refers to the ideas of “distributed intelligence” systems where the individual agents within a system would have limited information regarding the requirements of the whole but would still pool their resources to carry out the expected tasks.

In this case, the “hive” is replaced with cybernetic governance and processes.

Are Humans Superorganisms?

Some say that there is a human superorganism and that this comes from things like the colony of bacteria that inhabit our digestive systems.

They cooperate to form the “microbiome” which is said to contain more than 100 times as many genes as our own genome does!

This might mean that this kind of classification could apply to individual trees for example.

Final Thoughts On Superorganisms

We think the idea of superorganisms is fascinating and we like the idea that this identity depends on a lack of free will to influence the role that an individual plays in the emergence of the whole.

It’s an area of study that we expect will further develop and we can’t wait to learn more about the superorganisms in the world around us.

If you’ve found the idea of a superorganism interesting then you might also appreciate the best books on Gaia theory, 44 scientists on the Gaia hypothesis and the answer to What is Life?