Worldbuilding

The Three Types of Group Minds

What do the Borg from Star Trek, the Formians from Ender’s Game, and Gaia from Foundation have in common? They’re all group minds. What is a group mind? Essentially, a group mind is the connected consciousness of at least two individuals.

There are lots of different methods for such a connection; anything from magically connected consciousness, to radio links, to telepathy. But the result is a group mind if the members are linked in such a way that they can think, act, and/or perceive together.

Depending how they organize members, group minds can be categorized as one of three archetypes: the hive mind, the overmind, or the egalimind.

The Hive Mind: All is One and One is All

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Hive minds are the most famous form of group mind. The Borg from Star Trek is one such group mind. Hive minds feel very alien because they form one great mind of many parts. Unfortunately, the nature of this group mind also tends to reduce the individual members’ minds to mere cogs in the machine.

A hive mind has many consciousnesses linked together, and can manifest powerful cognitive abilities. These links allow it to transcend the limits of individual minds in a single existence. It experiences the world as a single gigantic creature, wholly aware and able to process multiple events happening to its individual members simultaneously. The extent of this awareness is limited only by the number of its members. Furthermore, it’s capable of contemplating these experiences and taking action at the same time. Equal attention can be given to engineering and building a new ship, monitoring security, grocery shopping, and watching the children. It can potentially execute even more tasks simultaneously, assuming it has enough members. This kind of omnidexterity for what is effectively a single entity is what gives a hive mind its power. It can literally do everything at once.

For this to be possible, a hive mind usually requires instant communication between minds and complete merging of all members with each other. We’re talking full integration here. Members aren’t simply aware of other member’s thoughts, but have them as their own. Members don’t just join a hive mind, they become it. This connection is the substance of the hive mind. If it is severed, consequences can be dire. An individual or individuals split from the hive for even a short time may have trouble re-integrating, and may create psychological chaos when reconnected.

Hive minds are usually cast as the villain, but could fill other roles in a story. They could be a social club that prides itself on giving members access to larger minds and greater experiences, or giant corporations threatening the livelihood of regular folks the world over. In a fantasy setting, they could be a league of powerful wizards literally shaping the world to some unknown end. Or the senate in a Roman Empire styled setting might convene as a hive mind, eliminating records of their arguments and decisions, and behaving more as a multi-bodied tyrant than a democracy. Or maybe the whole of society could be a hive mind utopia, where to be a citizen is to be one with the hive, and outsiders are made into slaves or worse. They could be an accepted facet of society as well. A hive mind construction company or accountant might just be more economical than a team of single minded agents. Whether big or small, a hive mind has potential to change the way the world works.

The Overmind: One Mind to Rule Them All

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The overmind is similar to the Formics in the Ender’s Game universe. This entity functions in many ways like a gigantic, telepathic ant colony; it acts only at the will of the central intelligence. Though it has many parts, overminds are organized by a single mind (or possibly a small group) with overarching control of its members, controlling the non-ruling members like extra appendages.

There are many tasks for which an overmind might be ideal. An artist working on larger scales could utilize an overmind system to create greats works with willing volunteers. An engineer could coordinate the maintenance of a spacecraft, or a general could synchronize military actions. In all cases, an overmind is better at tasks requiring group coordination than individuals lacking a group mind.

When you get down to it, an overmind is essentially an expanded individual, with a specific personality and thought process. Greed, pride, aversions, attractions, or any other psychological quirk can be part of an overmind’s psychology. They can be manipulated, tricked, deceived, and distracted in the same way an individual might be.

Even so, an overmind is a good candidate for an influential personality or character in any world. They can be both alien and mysterious as well as personable and relateable, depending on their psychology. A small group of humans with an overmind could be a gang that take turns controlling the group and pulling heists around town. Maybe the next dance fad in a futuristic city could be to use an overmind between friends to do the most complicated, coordinated routine possible. Alternatively, as the secret master of a shadowy organization, the head of a cult, or a counsel of elders dictating the actions of their people, an overmind can be made into a pivotal character.

The Egalimind: This Mind is Your Mind, This Mind is My Mind

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The third of the major types of group minds, which I will call an egalimind, is the most relatable to individuals like me and you. The entity Gaia in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is one of these. All of the members can share the same mind, memories, and thoughts, and each member is an individual, and acts as an independent agent when they so desire.

In the egalimind’s unique alliance between minds, disputes between members can be resolved instantaneously, and understanding can be shared and built upon. Planning that utilizes everyone’s experience can be highly efficient. The multi-comprehension the members gain from their connection allows for members to make huge advances in their own projects, combining ideas of disparate fields in a way that would be otherwise impossible. Egalimind members’ ability to instantly inform their group of any pertinent information makes them excellent scouts and spies.

Without a central authority to control or regulate the group mind, some disagreements may not subside. If enough members think differently, they may wish to splinter off. This can make for extraordinarily diverse groups, able to specialize into specific jobs or schools of thought to a degree that would be impossible for individuals.

An egalimind would work well on most scales. The newest social network could consist of telling everyone connected to you your status in real time. Or maybe there’s a small group of college students using their secret egalimind to cheat on tests. Egaliminds can fit into almost any setting seamlessly. Their type of connection can be completely hidden in most cases, as it might only appear externally as expertise or a well informed individual. Nevertheless, even functioning as a simple communication network can be influential in the world, especially in a low tech setting.

Regardless of the Type, Group Minds Are Influential

However you use group minds, remember that they are rarely extras in the background. Don’t just plop a group mind into your world before knowing their role, capabilities, and intentions. Whether terrifyingly alien or almost understandable, group minds always influence and change their world.

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