Figure – A swarm cognitive map (pheromone spatial distribution map) in 3D, at a specific time t. The artificial ant colony was evolved within 2 digital grey images based on the following work. The real physical “thing” can be seen here.

[] Vitorino Ramos, The MC2 Project [Machines of Collective Conscience]: A possible walk, up to Life-like Complexity and Behaviour, from bottom, basic and simple bio-inspired heuristics – a walk, up into the morphogenesis of information, UTOPIA Biennial Art Exposition, Cascais, Portugal, July 12-22, 2001.

Synergy (from the Greek word synergos), broadly defined, refers to combined or co-operative effects produced by two or more elements (parts or individuals). The definition is often associated with the holistic conviction quote that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Aristotle, in Metaphysics), or the whole cannot exceed the sum of the energies invested in each of its parts (e.g. first law of thermodynamics) even if it is more accurate to say that the functional effects produced by wholes are different from what the parts can produce alone. Synergy is a ubiquitous phenomena in nature and human societies alike. One well know example is provided by the emergence of self-organization in social insects, via direct (mandibular, antennation, chemical or visual contact, etc) or indirect interactions. The latter types are more subtle and defined as stigmergy to explain task coordination and regulation in the context of nest reconstruction in Macrotermes termites. An example, could be provided by two individuals, who interact indirectly when one of them modifies the environment and the other responds to the new environment at a later time. In other words, stigmergy could be defined as a particular case of environmental or spatial synergy. Synergy can be viewed as the “quantity” with respect to which the whole differs from the mere aggregate. Typically these systems form a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, sociological, or psychological phenomena, so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable from its parts in summation (i.e. non-linear) – Gestalt in one word (the English word more similar is perhaps system, configuration or whole). The system is purely holistic, and their properties are intrinsically emergent and auto-catalytic.

A typical example could be found in some social insect societies, namely in ant colonies. Coordination and regulation of building activities on these societies do not depend on the workers themselves but are mainly achieved by the nest structure: a stimulating configuration triggers the response of a termite worker, transforming the configuration into another configuration that may trigger in turn another (possibly different) action performed by the same termite or any other worker in the colony. Recruitment of social insects for particular tasks is another case of stigmergy. Self-organized trail laying by individual ants is a way of modifying the environment to communicate with nest mates that follow such trails. It appears that task performance by some workers decreases the need for more task performance: for instance, nest cleaning by some workers reduces the need for nest cleaning. Therefore, nest mates communicate to other nest mates by modifying the environment (cleaning the nest), and nest mates respond to the modified environment (by not engaging in nest cleaning).

Swarms of social insects construct trails and networks of regular traffic via a process of pheromone (a chemical substance) laying and following. These patterns constitute what is known in brain science as a cognitive map. The main differences lies in the fact that insects write their spatial memories in the environment, while the mammalian cognitive map lies inside the brain, further justified by many researchers via a direct comparison with the neural processes associated with the construction of cognitive maps in the hippocampus.

But by far more crucial to the present project, is how ants form piles of items such as dead bodies (corpses), larvae, or grains of sand. There again, stigmergy is at work: ants deposit items at initially random locations. When other ants perceive deposited items, they are stimulated to deposit items next to them, being this type of cemetery clustering organization and brood sorting a type of self-organization and adaptive behaviour, being the final pattern of object sptial distribution a reflection of what the colony feels and thinks about that objects, as if they were another organism (a meta- global organism).

As forecasted by Wilson [E.O. Wilson. The Insect Societies, Belknam Press, Cambridge, 1971], our understanding of individual insect behaviour together with the sophistication with which we will able to analyse their collective interaction would advance to the point were we would one day posses a detailed, even quantitative, understanding of how individual “probability matrices” (their tendencies, feelings and inner thoughts) would lead to mass action at the level of the colony (society), that is a truly “stochastic theory of mass behaviour” where the reconstruction of mass behaviours is possible from the behaviours of single colony members, and mainly from the analysis of relationships found at the basic level of interactions.

The idea behind the MC2 Machine is simple to transpose for the first time, the mammalian cognitive map, to a environmental (spatial) one, allowing the recognition of what happens when a group of individuals (humans) try to organize different abstract concepts (words) in one habitat (via internet). Even if each of them is working alone in a particular sub-space of that “concept” habitat, simply rearranging notions at their own will, mapping “Sameness” into “Neighborness“, not recognizing the whole process occurring simultaneously on their society, a global collective-conscience emerges. Clusters of abstract notions emerge, exposing groups of similarity among the different concepts. The MC2 machine is then like a mirror of what happens inside the brain of multiple individuals trying to impose their own conscience onto the group.

Through a Internet site reflecting the “words habitat”, the users (humans) choose, gather and reorganize some types of words and concepts. The overall movements of these word-objects are then mapped into a public space. Along this process, two shifts emerge: the virtual becomes the reality, and the personal subjective and disperse beliefs become onto a social and politically significant element. That is, perception and action only by themselves can evolve adaptive and flexible problem-solving mechanisms, or emerge communication among many parts. The whole and their behaviours (i.e., the next layer in complexity – our social significant element) emerges from the relationship of many parts, even if these later are acting strictly within and according to any sub-level of basic and simple strategies, ad-infinitum repeated.

The MC2 machine will reveal then what happens in many real world situations; cooperation among individuals, altruism, egoism, radicalism, and also the resistance to that radicalism, memory of that society on some extreme positions on time, but the inevitable disappearance of that positions, to give rise to the convergence to the group majority thought (Common-sense?), eliminating good or bad relations found so far, among in our case, words and abstract notions. Even though the machine composed of many human-parts will “work” within this restrict context, she will reveal how some relationships among notions in our society (ideas) are only possible to be found, when and only when simple ones are found first (the minimum layer of complexity), neglecting possible big steps of a minority group of visionary individuals. Is there (in our society) any need for a critical mass of knowledge, in order to achieve other layers of complexity? Roughly, she will reveal for instance how democracies can evolve and die on time, as many things in our impermanent world.