Humans are made up of billions of cells.

You and I are human, and we can perceive our existence.

Cells and their consciousness can be debatable, but they indeed operate in a way that indicates they are aware of their surroundings.

However, if we were a cell, we would not be able to perceive the existence of the human, where humans are just cells as a collective.

The opposite is also true from the human perspective.

How could we prove or disprove the hypothesis that society is a conscious entity and humans relate to society as cells relate to humans?

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    @ScottRowe That seems plausible! However, I am starting to realize I never set the proper boundaries for what constitutes a society, so I guess I need to rethink this entire idea. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 23:23
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    @Frank, no one is interested in whether you can define "conscious" in such a way that some X is conscious. Of course you can always do that. The philosophically interesting question is whether X is conscious by the usual meaning of the word, and exchanging meaning has no part of that meaning. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 23:44
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    @DavidGudeman Can you make the "usual" meaning of conscious more precise? That would be a philosophical first step. For starters, Wikipedia seems to say the concept is not so clear. How can we have a meaningful discussion if we are not all on the same page as to what is meant by "conscious" here?
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 0:19
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    @DavidGudeman The SEP entry on "consciousness" says: "The words “conscious” and “consciousness” are umbrella terms that cover a wide variety of mental phenomena. Both are used with a diversity of meanings, and the adjective “conscious” is heterogeneous in its range, being applied both to whole organisms—creature consciousness—and to particular mental states and processes—state consciousness (Rosenthal 1986, Gennaro 1995, Carruthers 2000)." plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness/#ConCon, so the "usual" meaning of "conscious" deserves clarification.
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 0:34
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    @Frank, it's always a good idea to clarify a term, but not to make up entirely new criteria for it. Your definition trivializes the problem. Does human society exchange information? Yes, it does. Problem solved. Clearly, that's not an interesting question to ask, so you are just defining the question away. Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 2:02

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You may like Are humans becoming more hive-like? Does this have philosophical implications?

Dawkins is fiercely opposed to the idea of Group Selection. However the leading expert on social-insects EO Wilson and others, proposed Multi Level Selection, the idea that collective behaviours which provide substantial benefits to a group, but crucially don't conflict with gene-level individual selection, can lead to group-level organisation being selected.

An example is the behaviour of slime-molds, where some seperate organisms sacrifice themselves to become spore stalks, while other cells release spores. The relatedness of the cells in a local patch, and the importance of reaching new habits when the old one becomes hostile, is thought to have led to this willingness to forego gene-level for group.

Even Dawkins doesn't consider group-level selection 'disproved', just unnecessary. There was a moment in a debate he had with Bret Weinstein I enjoyed, where they were talking about how celibate priests may have provided group benefits in foregoing their individual gene propagation, and Weinstein challenged that this may relate to how in the long term the interests of parasite and host tend to converge leading to mutualism (Dawkins calls religions 'parasitic meme complexes'), like new diseases at first prioritise spread and later become less deadly - suggesting religions have generally been through that cycle, but New Atheism may be a parasitic meme complex which has not!

So, there is a substantial dispute, about whether we can expect a level of collective organism to arise, unless who reproduces is controlled by the group - this is a hallmark of Eusociality, the trait EO Wilson identifies all hive-like organisms as sharing, including to some extent wolves, naked mole-rats, prairie dogs, and early humans. But not modern humans.

Language is an embodiment of shared intelligence, but it's more like a library than a mind. It helps us accumulate and assemble the insights of past people. There are meme-complexes within this 'cultural strata', like different modes of political organisation, which can compete for 'hosts'. See this answer on the game theory of this: Is the tyrannicide perpetrated by William Tell morally legitimate?

Many people have noted parallels between collective living like cities, and biological organisms. Geoffrey West wrote 'Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies' which explicitly investigates these parallels. I think of Tainter's 'The Collapse of Comolex Civilisations' too, a set of studies of cases like the Maya, Chacoans, & Rome, and makes the case that the scope for civilisations to respond to challenges must keep increasing, or the expansion of their problems, as perterbations, will doom them. It's like a ratchet, demanding more closer cooperation, or face disintegration.

What is 'conscious'? Addressing your question requires an answer to that. I don't think it can't be answered, but it can't be settled, you can only choose a position for current discussion. I'd be inclined to say we are experiencing the arising of something hive-like in humans, some collective intelligence. But it may be nothing like an identity, an individual, it may be language or meme-complexes, it may be the power of culture manifested in successful cities.

Our own minds are extended through communion with those of others. This is intersubjectivity, and it's key to the arising of language, as discussed here: According to the major theories of concepts, where do meanings come from? I'd relate this to a kind of 'peer-to-peer' reality, to a network that is intelligent through the interaction between units and network as a whole. That may be a better way to look at things.

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