I started this business law class as well as a Science and Technology class that sought to teach the history of technology, and I was thinking about my research on AI and classes that teach about ancient societies...

I think we've already created ai 1000's of years ago with forms of governments and societies.

Our laws and industries make up the "code" and "functions" of society.

Our "research"/technology is the product of our "ai".

Our legislative body and makeup of statute's and delegation to agencies, creates basically "self-organizing" code/sub-functions.

We can compare statutes and administrative bodies changes of legal conduct with diff patches...

Yeah, deep right?

The coming together [of ourselves as a society] shows that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. By combining, we can create more intricate ideas and technologies.

It's weird, but it's almost as if societies have a soul, a zeitgeist if you will.

The only catch:

Societies can't operate without a recollection of past events.

Which requires individuals remembering things, but soon databases will do that...

Update. Thanks virmaior.

Aristotle had hit on this concept early in Greek philosophy. I think Aristotle held the Greek state as superior to all the other states for it's purity, but that is conjecture. It may be why he advised Alexander to besiege his enemies as if they were beasts but his kinsman as equal or something. I think I presented this question because it blew my mind that societies like Ancient Greece and Egypt were able to self govern themselves and created a mutually beneficial relationship with it's constituents to the point of producing some of the greatest minds of the time (more so with Greece).


Here appears to be a case of it's use in the field of AI... Scary, but supposedly it's intent is for knowledge acquisition.


Update While I do like Bartek M's point of view, I have already come to realize this about neural networks. Yes, they are just 1's and 0's, and a static representation of a model that produces it's own approximated function estimation of some problem.

However, imagine a universal approximation machine (this is not insanse. Imagine calculus and integrals, yet each neuron is set to a specific input of a domain problem. ANN starts it's error checking based on input/output, and it applies a Genetic Algorithm of evolution.

Something that has the ability to reproduce 1000 times over while applying a minor mutation, pick the best performing 2 copies, and then following successive generations are produced. Somethings humans can't do internally.

I've just described a genetic algorithm of evolution. Some could argue it is also "learning". Only problem is... memories. However, databases serving as input solve the issue with memory. The ANN can serve as the brain or thought processor. In essence I think there is a formula for self awareness and consciousness at the bottom of all this.

Apply this to a social problem, like figure out how a society would operate, and you can function approximate down to a lot of levels.

  • Possibly relevant: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisdom_of_the_crowd Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 9:44
  • When individuals forget how to use databases they are of no use. You might want to read up on "Weltgeist", a concept Hegel developed to describe how society develops. I found no good English article on it, so I can't provide a link (except for German wiki). It is controversial but it might interest you!
    – Einer
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:23
  • 2
    I basically agree with you (I've actually done a lot of work based on this concept, although not from a specifically AI perspective). With that said, I don't really perceive an answerable question here --you might want to make it more specific, otherwise it devolves into differing opinions on what constitutes being an entity. Re: Your comment on social recollection -- Why would you distinguish between a database and (say) a history book? Isn't one as valid a form of social memory as another? How about rituals and traditions? Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 15:13
  • the distinguish is made to encapsulate more knowledge and process it faster. Passed down knowledge in the forms of rewritten material is like a version of the telephone game; however, applied to AI. You have original data and what you want to do with it, transform it or whatever. In a sense, you have access to a standardized set of empirical facts to work with, no rewritten spin. Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 17:34

3 Answers 3


You're vocabulary on this question is a little weird and backwards insofar as you are projecting AI terminology onto societies, but I don't think your insight is fundamentally flawed. As Einer suggests above in the comments, you might want to look at Hegel. What he's doing can be said in many ways including Weltgeist = "World Spirit."

Here, I'll just briefly explain what Hegel (who we could call the grandfather of sociology is up to) with regards to society. To do so, we need to start with Aristotle.

One of the most interesting claims Aristotle makes is that the polis is prior to the individual, and the family on a smaller scale is prior to the individual. What he means by these claims is that people function optimally in a type of political society made up of families and the individuals in them. He draws explicit analogy to bees. For Aristotle, we have a type of social unity in which our individuality rests.

Hegel agrees -- but adds an interesting modern idea: self-consciousness. Hegel's Phenomenology is a history of epistemology (of sorts). In it, he's moving through several different recognitions in the life of mind (Geist). For our purposes, we don't need all of them. One of the more interesting (and misunderstood) dynamics is the Master-Slave dialectic. At this point, we already have individual selves who are conscious. For Hegel, the master to validate his identity as master needs the slave to recognize him as such. And this ultimately means that he doesn't have full mastery over the slave but rather needs the slave to be anything. (Here's where Marx gets off the train).

For Hegel, this is just a middle phase to the point where you get positive mutual self-recognition -- in the family. In the family, the members affirm each other and give each other identity. Moreover, you get action for the sake of the family as a whole and then family-consciousness. From there, things scale up until there's a Volk with its own "consciousness."

  • thank you, I just started getting into Aristotle. "An intuitive and often-cited explanation for this phenomenon is that there is idiosyncratic noise associated with each individual judgment, and taking the average over a large number of responses will go some way toward canceling the effect of this noise" Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 17:38
  • I'm thinking that one could attempt to emulate a society, or even refer to a society as a greater power than the individual. I use AI as a good analogy to contrast. I am not really proposing emulating a society. I think that would be very dangerous. However... it gets me thinking if it could be done, how would one do it. Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 17:44
  • I don't have any idea what you mean by "emulate" in this context nor of how you imagine an AI could do so...
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 18:06
  • that's fine, that wasn't essential to the original question. But with integral's, function approximations can be made based on human observed behaviour... which leads to the way one could emulate a society. Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 20:52
  • Only if equations can be made that scale...
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 23:59

First of all, you interchangeably use expressions "consciousness" and "artificial intelligence" while it is an open question wheter the latter one must come with the first or not and how they are related (check out for example Searle's Chinese Room : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room).

Secondly, let me use another anology to the computer science: you can write some code in an advanced programming language, handling difficult computations, database queries, sending graphical output and reading input of all sorts etc... But any software you write is actually compiled to some binary code: a bunch od 0's and 1's with nothing else, which then are represented in hardware as different levels of voltage (I'm simplyfing it a bit).

The way one can look at it: as a binary mess or as a great piece of code is just the case of perspective. We can tell that the computer is brilliant, because it can do such things, or we can tell that computer is just doing what a simple voltage detector had told it. However, we usually do not make assumptions such as that a computer has a soul or awareness (or do we? again - Searle's Chinese Room). It is just a machine that works well. What's more - if it didn't work well, we would have invented something better.

The point you make is that the whole is greater than just the sum of parts - but it can also be applied to the computers, as an analogy to the hardware. The magical mist fades, because we know that the computer is nothing else, but the wires, transistors and some other stuff. Certainly no-one puts a soul inside a computer!

Surely, we can tell that a computer is greater (understood as more valuable) than just the parts we used to build it. That is true, because there has been some research and effort put in sticking those parts together and making it work. We can underestimate the pieces and praise the whole. But in a society, especially since the World War II, I would say that such a statement is "highly deprecated".

Impersonating a society is highly essentialistic, can lead to devaluating a person in general in comparison to a society, and therefore brings a threat of totalitarianism. The procedure of destroying the myths of the past and replacing them with new myths covered in a quasi-scientific vocabulary is widely discussed by the Frankfurt School, especially by T.W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer in their Dialectics of Enlightment.

To sum up, a society is indeed a great and valuable human invention and surely deserves the highest appreciation - but never at a cost of underestimating the individual.

  • 1
    Welcome to philosophy.se. That's a great answer.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 1:28
  • I'm thinking this type of concept can be applied to AI by using Databases of knowledge, Neural Networks, and Genetic Algorithms, and finding integrals for unknown functions. We could attempt to simulate the understandings of a society in someway. You mention how things are "coded" one way or another, and the result is just the process of that code. But give a computer the ability to autocorrect itself coupled with actual database of knowledge... Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 17:35

First of all I would say be careful, this whole area is a battleground. Consciousness and artificial intelligence are areas of controversies enough. Drawing speculative conclusions about self awareness of assemblies, will draw a lot of pre-made hostile fire in academic circles.

Consider the area of kin and group selection. Over half a century of acrimonious debate these have been dismissed. And it is very relevant to your question, exactly why. Instead Multi Level Selection is on the table, in which gene selection of individuals is not overhwelmed by the group, but other layers of complexity do also influence selection.

Consider also Gaia Theory, a systems view of the whole of Earth's ecology. This is widely held to be unfalsifiable, and to contribute nothing as an explanation.

Are you asking are societies aware, or self aware? The first, sure. Through the experiences of individuals, societies are reified. But do societies have a self-identity seperate to individuals? No evidence. They could in principle, according to models of consciousness like Strange Loops. Like the slow climb from single-celled life, through slime molds & corals to truly multicelled lifd. But there is a long way to go before any evidence of that. Generational identity can be explained far more easily other ways.

I asked a related but more tentative question Are humans becoming more hive-like? Does this have philosophical implications?

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