IAS-Research Talk by Marc Canciani: “Revising the Superorganism: An Organizational Approach to the Superorganism Concept”

Date and Time: November 7, Tuesday, 11:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Marc Canciani

Abstract: The superorganism, in the context of eusociality, is typically either understood as a heuristic tool used to better understand group dynamics within colonies or as a form of biological individuality, based on an evolutionary notion of individual. We argue that the concept should be understood similarly to that of its original notion, as denoting higher-level individuals, rather than heuristically. However, the definition of an evolutionary individual (a unit of selection, or alignment of fitness of the parts) is too vague and therefore there are no clear conditions for ascertaining whether a colony is a superorganism or not. We develop a synchronic, organizational approach derived from the Autonomous Perspective, which defines organisms as autonomous individuals. As opposed to the Self-Organization notion (the current mainstream synchronic approach), we argue that the organizational complexity within eusocial colonies should the basis for defining the notion of superorganism. Even though there are processes that are the result of self-organization in superorganisms, we show that there are also forms of higher-level control and regulation between distinct sub-units within the system. Therefore superorganisms are more than just the result of self-organization. Moreover, superorganisms possibly represent a unique form of autonomy: a minimal form autonomy in a multi-agent system.