A superorganism or supraorganism (the latter is less frequently used but more etymologically correct)[1] or extended organism[2] is a group of synergistically interacting organisms of the same species. A community of synergistically interacting organisms of different species is called a holobiont.

Termite Cathedral DSC03570
A termite mound made by the cathedral termite
A coral colony


The term superorganism is used most often to describe a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labour is highly specialised and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods. Ants are the best-known example of such a superorganism. A superorganism can be defined as "a collection of agents which can act in concert to produce phenomena governed by the collective",[3] phenomena being any activity "the hive wants" such as ants collecting food and avoiding predators,[4][5] or bees choosing a new nest site.[6] Superorganisms tend to exhibit homeostasis, power law scaling, persistent disequilibrium and emergent behaviours.[7]

The term was coined in 1789 by James Hutton, the "father of geology", to refer to Earth in the context of geophysiology. The Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock,[8] and Lynn Margulis as well as the work of Hutton, Vladimir Vernadsky and Guy Murchie, have suggested that the biosphere itself can be considered a superorganism, although this has been disputed.[9] This view relates to systems theory and the dynamics of a complex system.

The concept of a superorganism raises the question of what is to be considered an individual. Toby Tyrrell's critique of the Gaia hypothesis argues that Earth's climate system does not resemble an animal's physiological system. Planetary biospheres are not tightly regulated in the same way that animal bodies are: "planets, unlike animals, are not products of evolution. Therefore we are entitled to be highly skeptical (or even outright dismissive) about whether to expect something akin to a "superorganism"". He concludes that "the superorganism analogy is unwarranted".[10] However, as Gaia is another systemic level of integration in Nature, precisely has properties that cannot be inferred from their components.[11]

Some scientists have suggested that individual human beings can be thought of as "superorganisms";[12] as a typical human digestive system contains 1013 to 1014 microorganisms whose collective genome, the microbiome studied by the Human Microbiome Project, contains at least 100 times as many genes as the human genome itself.[13][14] Salvucci wrote that superorganism is another level of integration that it is observed in nature. These levels include the genomic, the organismal and the ecological levels. The genomic structure of organism reveals the fundamental role of integration and gene shuffling along evolution.[15]

In social theory

The nineteenth century thinker Herbert Spencer coined the term super-organic to focus on social organization (the first chapter of his Principles of Sociology is entitled "Super-organic Evolution"[16]), though this was apparently a distinction between the organic and the social, not an identity: Spencer explored the holistic nature of society as a social organism while distinguishing the ways in which society did not behave like an organism.[17] For Spencer, the super-organic was an emergent property of interacting organisms, that is, human beings. And, as has been argued by D. C. Phillips, there is a "difference between emergence and reductionism".[18]

The economist Carl Menger expanded upon the evolutionary nature of much social growth, but without ever abandoning methodological individualism. Many social institutions arose, Menger argued, not as "the result of socially teleological causes, but the unintended result of innumerable efforts of economic subjects pursuing 'individual' interests".[19]

Spencer and Menger both argued that because it is individuals who choose and act, any social whole should be considered less than an organism, though Menger emphasized this more emphatically. Spencer used the organistic idea to engage in extended analysis of social structure, conceding that it was primarily an analogy. So, for Spencer, the idea of the super-organic best designated a distinct level of social reality above that of biology and psychology, and not a one-to-one identity with an organism. Nevertheless, Spencer maintained that "every organism of appreciable size is a society", which has suggested to some that the issue may be terminological.[20]

The term superorganic was adopted by the anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber in 1917.[21] Social aspects of the superorganism concept are analysed in Marshall (2002).[22] Finally, recent work in social psychology has offered the superorganism metaphor as a unifying framework to understand diverse aspects of human sociality, such as religion, conformity, and social identity processes.[23]

In cybernetics

Superorganisms are important in cybernetics, particularly biocybernetics. They exhibit a form of "distributed intelligence", a system in which many individual agents with limited intelligence and information are able to pool resources to accomplish a goal beyond the capabilities of the individuals. Existence of such behavior in organisms has many implications for military and management applications, and is being actively researched.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Lüttge, Ulrich (ed.); Cánovas, Francisco M. (ed.); Matyssek, Rainer (ed.). Progress in Botany 77. Springer, 2016, p. 223. “Note that etymologically, the Latin word ‘supra’ means ‘higher’ in the sense of ordination, whereas ‘super’ implies a spatial order. Thus, in contrast to the mainly used notion of ‘superorganism’, we prefer to stay with the notion of a ‘supraorganism’.”
  2. ^ Turner, J. Scott 2016. Semiotics of a superorganism. Biosemiotics 9: 85–102.
  3. ^ Kelly, Kevin (1994). Out of control: the new biology of machines, social systems and the economic world. Boston: Addison-Wesley. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-201-48340-6.
  4. ^ Deneubourg JL, et al. (1989). "The Self-Organizing Exploratory Pattern of the Argentine Ant". Journal of lnsect Behavior. 3 (2): 159–168. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/BF01417909.
  5. ^ O'Shea-Wheller TA, et al. (2015). "Differentiated Anti-Predation Responses in a Superorganism". PLOS ONE. 11 (11): e0141012. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141012. PMC 4641648. PMID 26558385.
  6. ^ Britton NF, et al. (2002). "Deciding on a new home: how do honeybees agree?". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 269 (1498): 1383–1388. doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.2001. PMC 1691030. PMID 12079662.
  7. ^ Technium Unbound, SALT The Long Now Foundation
  8. ^ Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, James Lovelock, Oxford University Press, 1979
  9. ^ Tyrrell, Toby (2013), On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 209, ISBN 9780691121581
  10. ^ Tyrrell, Toby (2013), On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 209, ISBN 9780691121581
  11. ^ Una revolución en la Evolución. Gaia y la colonización de Marte. Lynn Margulis y Oona West. Una revolución en la Evolución, páginas 227 y 229, Editorial Universitat de Valencia, 2003.
  12. ^ Kramer, Peter; Bressan, Paola (2015). "Humans as Superorganisms: How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes, and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior". Perspectives on Psychological Science. 10 (4): 464–481. doi:10.1177/1745691615583131. ISSN 1745-6916. PMID 26177948. Free Full Text
  13. ^ Gill, S. R.; Pop, M.; Deboy, R. T.; Eckburg, P. B.; Turnbaugh, P. J.; Samuel, B. S.; Gordon, J. I.; Relman, D. A.; et al. (2 June 2006). "Metagenomic Analysis of the Human Distal Gut Microbiome". Science. 312 (5778): 1355–1359. doi:10.1126/science.1124234. PMC 3027896. PMID 16741115.
  14. ^ Salvucci, E. (1 May 2012). "Selfishness, warfare, and economics; or integration, cooperation, and biology". Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 2: 54. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2012.00054. PMC 3417387. PMID 22919645.
  15. ^ Salvucci, E. (May 2016). "Microbiome, Holobiont and the net of life". Crit Rev Microbiol. 42 (3): 485–94. doi:10.3109/1040841X.2014.962478. PMID 25430522.
  16. ^ The Principles of Sociology, Vol. 1, Part 1. "The Data of Sociology", Herbert Spencer, 1876
  17. ^ The Principles of Sociology, Vol. 1, Part 2, Chapter II, "A Society Is an Organism" (sections 222 and 223), Herbert Spencer, 1876
  18. ^ Holistic Thought in Social Science, D. C. Phillips, Stanford University Press, 1976, p. 123
  19. ^ Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences with Special Reference to Economics, Carl Menger, Louis Schneider (translator), New York University Press, 1985
  20. ^ The Political Philosophy of Herbert Spencer, Tim S. Gray, 1996, p. 211
  21. ^ Patterns of Culture, Ruth Benedict, Houghton Mifflin, 1934, p. 231
  22. ^ Marshall, A. (2002). The Unity of Nature Archived 2007-07-06 at the Wayback Machine, Imperial College Press, London.
  23. ^ Kesebir, Selin. The Superorganism Account of Human Sociality: How and When Human Groups are Like Beehives. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2012, 16, 233-261.
  24. ^ Kelly, Kevin (1994). Out of control: the new biology of machines, social systems and the economic world. Boston: Addison-Wesley. p. 251. ISBN 978-0-201-48340-6.

    If Col. Thorpe [of the US DARPA] has his way, the four divisions of the US military and hundreds of industrial subcontractors will become a single interconnected superorganism. The immediate step to this world of distributed intelligence is an engineering protocol developed by a consortium of defense simulation centers in Orlando Florida ...


  • Jürgen Tautz, Helga R. Heilmann: The Buzz about Bees — Biology of a Superorganism, Springer-Verlag 2008. ISBN 978-3-540-78727-3
  • Bert Hölldobler, E. O. Wilson: "The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies", W.W. Norton, 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-06704-0
  • Selin Kesebir (2012). "The Superorganism Account of Human Sociality How and When Human Groups Are Like Beehives". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 16 (3): 233–261. doi:10.1177/1088868311430834. PMID 22202149. SSRN 1933734.

External links


Cephalotes is a Neotropical genus of tree-dwelling ant species, commonly known as turtle ants. All appear to be gliding ants, with the ability to "parachute" and steer their fall so as to land back on the tree trunk rather than fall to the ground, which is often flooded.

Crystal Monee Hall

Crystal Monee Hall is an American singer, vocal arranger, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Crystal holds a master's degree in Education from the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education as well as undergraduate degrees in English and African American Studies. She began her career with the Tony–Award winning musical, RENT, playing numerous roles in the Broadway and National Touring companies. In 2010 Crystal independently released her debut album "River Train", garnering the attention of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. In 2011 Crystal joined the newly reformed all-star Mickey Hart Band. Crystal contributed songwriting and vocals to both of the band's albums Mysterium Tremendum (2012) and Superorganism (2013).As a vocalist, Crystal has provided supporting vocals for Elton John, Mariah Carey, Jason Mraz, India Arie and Ledisi.She is currently an adjunct professor of music at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts while she puts the finishing touches on her third solo project.

Francis Heylighen

Francis Paul Heylighen (born 1960) is a prominent Belgian cyberneticist investigating the emergence and evolution of intelligent organization. He presently works as a research professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the Dutch-speaking Free University of Brussels, where he directs the transdisciplinary research group on "Evolution, Complexity and Cognition" and the Global Brain Institute. He is best known for his work on the Principia Cybernetica Project, his model of the Internet as a global brain, and his contributions to the theories of memetics and self-organization. He is also known, albeit to a lesser extent, for his work on gifted people and their problems.


Gaianism is an earth-centered philosophical, spiritual, holistic, scientifically-rational, opinion that shares expressions with various religions such as earth religions and paganism while not identifying exclusively with any specific one. The term describes a philosophy and ethical worldview which, though not necessarily religious, implies a transpersonal devotion to earth as a superorganism. Practitioners of Gaianism are called Gaians.

Marcel Wissenburg has described Gaianism as a "modern variant of philosophical determinism". Gaianism has been associated with the New Age movement due to sharing similar viewpoints, but is not typically identified as strictly part of the New Age movement as a whole. Scientific support of belief comes from Gaia hypothesis and living systems theory. Supporting Gaia's homeostasis, ecological activism, with spiritual belief is compatible with deep ecology.

Global brain

The global brain is a neuroscience-inspired and futurological vision of the planetary information and communications technology network that interconnects all humans and their technological artifacts. As this network stores ever more information, takes over ever more functions of coordination and communication from traditional organizations, and becomes increasingly intelligent, it increasingly plays the role of a brain for the planet Earth.


The Gravemind is a parasitic, hive mind intelligence in the Halo universe. While only one Gravemind is ever seen in the games, the title is given to the final stage of Flood evolution, in which the Flood becomes a superorganism. The Flood is a highly-infectious parasite which is released several times during Halo's story. The Chief and the Arbiter (Thel'Vadam, during the course of Halo 2 and Halo 3) are captured during their separate missions on Delta Halo, or Installation 05, by a Gravemind, which resides in the bowels of the ancient Forerunner ringworld, where the Flood creature forges an alliance between the two foes in order to stop the activation of the ringworld — an event which would destroy all sentient life, and, therefore, starve the Flood. The character is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.

Making its first appearance in Halo 2, the Gravemind was introduced to dispel the idea that the Flood is a mindless virus. The character was designed by a Bungie team, including artists Robert McLees and Juan Ramirez, and slowly developed into a massive creature with tentacles and a frightening level of intelligence. Driven by a desire to spread, the Gravemind is cunning and manipulative; he forges alliances as often as he tries to consume his allies, tricking the Master Chief into aiding him while infecting the Chief's compatriots at the same time. The character has had a mixed reception by many critics upon his appearance in Halo 2, and reviewers including found his role in Halo 3 confusing and without clear motive. More positively, critic Aaron Sagers used Gravemind as an example of a "frenemy" — the creature's appearance made the Master Chief's fight against the Flood more personal and more dramatic.

Holistic community

A holistic community (also referred to as closed or unitary) is an ecosystem where the species within the community are interdependent on each other for keeping balance and stability of the system. These communities are described as working like a superorganism, meaning that every species plays an important part in the overall well being of the ecosystem in which the community resides; much like the organelles within a cell, or even the cells making up one organism. Holistic communities have diffused boundaries, and an independent species range. Co-evolution is likely to be found in communities structured after this model, as a result of the interdependence and high rates of interaction found among the different populations. It is said that species compositions of communities change sharply at environmental edges (known as ecotones).


Holobionts are assemblages of different species that form ecological units. Lynn Margulis proposed that any physical association between individuals of different species for significant portions of their life history is a symbiosis. All participants in the symbiosis are bionts, and therefore the resulting assemblage was first coined a holobiont by Lynn Margulis in 1991 in the book Symbiosis as a Source of Evolutionary Innovation. Holo is derived from the Ancient Greek word ὅλος (hólos) for “whole”. The entire assemblage of genomes in the holobiont is termed a hologenome.

Humility (song)

"Humility" is a single by English virtual band Gorillaz featuring American jazz guitarist George Benson. It was released on 31 May 2018 along with "Lake Zurich" as the first single from their sixth studio album, The Now Now. On 12 July 2018, two remixes of the song by Superorganism and DJ Koze were released. It charted in a total of 8 countries reaching number 85 on the US Billboard Hot 100, with its highest position in any chart being number 7 in Billboard's Hot Rock Songs.

MTV Europe Music Award for Best Push Act

The MTV Europe Music Award for Best Push Act (Best Breakthrough Artist) was first awarded in 2009.

Medea hypothesis

The Medea hypothesis is a term coined by paleontologist Peter Ward for the anti-Gaian hypothesis that multicellular life, understood as a superorganism, is suicidal. In this view, microbial-triggered mass extinctions are attempts to return the Earth to the microbial-dominated state it has been for most of its history. The metaphor refers to the mythological Medea (representing the Earth), who kills her own children (multicellular life).

Past "suicide attempts" include:

Methane poisoning, 3.5 billion years ago

The oxygen catastrophe, 2.45 billion years ago

Snowball Earth, twice, 2.4-2.1 billion years ago and 790–630 million years ago

At least five putative hydrogen sulfide-induced mass extinctions, such as the Great Dying, 252.28 million years agoThe list does not include the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, since this was, at least partially, externally induced by a meteor impact.


Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism (ISBN 067170723X) is a 1993 book by author Gregory Stock. The title refers to a superorganism comprising humanity and its technology.

While many people have had ideas about a global brain, they have tended to suppose that this can be improved or altered by humans according to their will. Metaman can be seen as a development that directs humanity's will to its own ends, whether it likes it or not, through the operation of market forces. While it is difficult to think of making a life-form based on metals that can mine its own 'food', it is possible to imagine a superorganism that incorporates humans as its "cells" and entices them to sustain it (communalness), just as our cells interwork to sustain us.

Organismic computing

Organismic computing is a form of engineered human computation that employs technology to enable "shared sensing, collective reasoning, and coordinated action" within human groups toward goal-directed behavior. This biomimetic approach to augmenting group efficacy seeks to improve synergy by allowing a group of individuals to function as a single intelligent superorganism.

Superorganism (Mickey Hart Band album)

Superorganism is an album by the Mickey Hart Band, a musical group led by former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. It was released by 360° Productions on August 13, 2013.On Superorganism, musicians singing and playing instruments such as guitar, bass, keyboards, and various drums combined their music with sounds created using Hart's own brain waves. The brain wave sounds were created by using computers to change electrical impulses from an EEG cap into audible frequencies.The lyrics for four of the songs were written by Robert Hunter, who wrote the words for many Grateful Dead songs.In the album liner notes, Hart wrote, "A superorganism is a complex organism composed of many smaller organisms.... A band is a superorganism, so is the universe. For the last few years I have been creating music from the source sounds of the cosmos and now the body. These sounds are noise — harsh, strange — and it is only after dancing with their essence face to face that music can be created."

Superorganism (Superorganism album)

Superorganism is the self-titled debut studio album by indie pop band Superorganism, released through Domino on March 2, 2018.

Superorganism (band)

Superorganism is an English indie pop band, formed in early 2017 and based in London. The group consists of eight members, including lead vocalist Orono Noguchi, alongside Emily, Harry, Tucan, Robert Strange, Ruby, B, and Soul.Their self-titled debut album, Superorganism, was released on 2 March 2018 through Domino Recording Company and Hostess Entertainment.Four of their members originally performed together as The Eversons.

Superorganism (disambiguation)

Superorganism may refer to:


Superorganism (band)

Superorganism (Superorganism album)

Superorganism (Mickey Hart Band album)

The Eversons

The Eversons are a four-member indie pop band originally from Wellington, New Zealand, currently living in London. Self-dubbed "a guitar group," vocals are handled by all members. They released their self-titled debut EP in 2011 on Lil' Chief Records, with a follow-up LP, Summer Feeling, released in 2012 through Lil' Chief Records in New Zealand and ThisTime Records in Japan.

The Lucifer Principle

The Lucifer Principle is a 1995 book by Howard Bloom, in which the author argues that social groups, not individuals, are the primary "unit of selection" on genes and human psychological development. He states that both competition between groups and competition between individuals shape the evolution of the genome. Bloom "explores the intricate relationships among genetics, human behavior, and culture" and argues that "evil is a by-product of nature's strategies for creation and that it is woven into our most basic biological fabric". It sees selection (i.e. through violent competition) as central to the creation of the 'superorganism' of society. It also focuses on competition between individuals for position in the 'pecking order' and competition between groups for standing in pecking orders of groups. The Lucifer Principle shows how ideas are vital in creating cohesion and cooperation in these pecking order battles. Says The Lucifer Principle: "Superorganism, ideas and the pecking order...these are the primary forces behind much of human creativity and earthly good."

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