Superorganisms are hives of organisms that work together to function as a whole. The most notable cases are ants and bees, but other organisms work together as superorganisms as well. Superorganisms are fascinating due to the emergent "intelligence" that arises from the sum of unintelligent parts. We would not call one ant intelligent, yet a hive functioning together can complete remarkable feats, such as building a bridge or creating a complex social hierarchy. As Stewart Brand, paraphrasing Tim Flannery, notes:
The first tightly connected superorganism came 100 million years ago when cockroaches invented agriculture and the division of labor and became termites, building complex skyscrapers with air-conditioning, highways, and garbage dumps. Only 10,000 years ago, humans did the same, inventing agriculture and the division of labor in cities, becoming the most potent superorganism yet.
Taking the superorganism as the unit of analysis, rather than the relatively "stupid" individual organisms, allows us to see the importance of connections and protocols in forming knowledge and completing tasks, rather than the isolated minds that function within the network. Advances in communications seem to be pushing us toward a larger globalized superorganism.
- Brand, Stewart. Analysis of Tim Flannery SALT Lecture (5/3/11), SALT mailing list