The Hive Mind In Democracy


David Dobbs quotes from Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy

We will see that the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective.

His assessment of Seeley's lessons for group decision-making:

  1. Create groups with mutual respect and shared interest
  2. Minimize the leader’s influence on the group thinking
  3. Seek diverse solutions
  4. Aggregate the group’s knowledge through debate
  5. Use quorum responses for speed, cohesion, and accuracy

These work fairly well in small-town meetings, not so well at larger democratic scales, as we’ll see vividly demonstrated over the next year or so — at the larger scale, we can’t get past step 1, and disrespect for the other party seems increasingly a fundamental requirement for candidacy, at least among the GOP. … Honeybee Democracy provides not just a look at a particularly rich life of inquiry but some nice, unforced parallels between the workings of honeybee colonies, small human societies, and our great big human brains: Certain group dynamics, it seems, are scalable and fractal.

(Photo by Max Westby)