What is personality? More specifically what is personality in a hive species? We have many hive species on earth, but Star Trek has produced a singularly frightening hive construct called the Borg. The Borg hive eliminates the being of the being for the collective and therefore has only hive personality, not individual personality. This study will examine personality in earthly hive species and the Borg. Why study questions of personality associated with hive species? Brent W. Roberts and Joshua J. Jackson suggest “[p]ersonality psychologists can benefit by becoming intimately familiar with personality processes and structures of other species” (Roberts & Jackson, p. 1527) I will heed this advice and conduct an analysis of personality processes and structures in earthly hive species and the Borg, and then consider some implications for humans, should we want to produce a cybernetic construct or ‘hive’ where multiple minds are connected together. This study is divided into three parts. The first part provides definition of the Borg, the hive, and seeks guidance from the different discourses about personality construction to inform a discussion about hive personality. Part two explores personality constructs for earthly hives, the Borg, and the human hive hypothesis. Part three discusses personality implications associated with future possibilities of human biomechanical interface.
First, an explanation of the construct called the Borg.
Part I: The Borg, Hive, and Personality
We first meet the Borg in the episode Q Who in Star Trek Generations. Cosmic bad-boy Q has just sent the Enterprise to a section of the universe that has not been explored by the Federation. The script introduces us to the Borg that is rapidly closing on the Enterprise:
The image on the screen enlarges. The shape of the ship is more apparent. It’s box like, with none of the aerodynamic qualities associated with most spaceships including the Enterprise. This is a case of form following function. We are about to have our first encounter with the BORG. (Bowman)
The ship is a cube, the hive home of the Borg. Commander Data explains:
The ship is strangely generalized in design. There is no specific bridge or central control area, no specific engineering section—I can identify no living quarters… There is no indication of specific life. (Bowman)
There is no specific life because the bodies within the cube have no sense of self, not individuality, and no separate personality. A creature suddenly appears on the bridge:
SUDDENLY a strange creature appears — it’s a BORG. It is a biped — a cyborg. Part organic and part artificial. There is a metal like device implanted in its head. One arm is artificial with a tool like contraption instead of a hand. The other organic except for the hand. Its eyes are artificial. (Bowman)
Q appears again (he can teleport) and says that this Borg representative is only interested in discovering what the Enterprise is and who are its inhabitants. They use phasers on the Borg and it is knocked away. Another appears immediately. It is like the action of fire ants that pour out of the nest to attack anything that causes a vibration on the ground. When one dies there is another right behind.
On the viewscreen, they see the interior of the Borg ship:
The image on the viewscreen is of the interior of the Borg ship. Not the bridge, because they don’t have one. It is a great chamber with stacks and stacks of slots in which are individual Borg. We can see over a thousand of them, but the ship probably holds more. Some of them are making small controlled movements, otherwise they would appear to be at rest. (Bowman)
Troi says, “You are not dealing with an individual mind. They do not have a single leader. It is the collective minds of all of them” (Bowman). Captain Picard comments that this has advantages, and Troi responds, “Yes. A single leader can make errors. It is less likely for the combined whole” (Bowman). We wonder about the fire ants pouring out of the nest. They too have no leader, no single individual who directs them. The caste tasked with the defense of the nest simply acts in mass.
Guinan whose home planet has been decimated by the Borg explains to Picard what they are, “They are a mixture of organic and artificial life that has been developed over a thousand centuries” (Bowman). Q reappears and says:
The Borg is the ultimate user, with the result that they are unlike any threat your Federation has ever faced. They have no interest in political conquest—or wealth or power as you know it. They simply want your ship—its technology. They have identified it as something they can consume and use. (Bowman)
The Borg are the ultimate consumer of: technology, sentient beings, and energy. They are a colonial power that sucks the resources out of any place where they find technology and sentient beings. They enslave sentient beings and consume their identity and being to incorporate it into the Borgian whole. Their accumulation of capabilities through technological and being- assimilation puts them far ahead of the Federation in almost every respect…except human empathy, a personality trait. The Borg’s personality is a thing that is driven to consume.
An away team enters the Borg ship and discover no individual life forms but see individual bodies lying on Racks. Data explains, “Perhaps because this ship was scanned for individual life signs. Apparently when they are in these slots, they become part of the whole and no longer read as separate life forms” (Bowman). Data and others of the away team discover that each individual Borg assimilate is connected to the ship and they surmise that what was an individual mind has become part of the collective ‘consciousness’ that is the Borg. They talk about Borg advantages. Commander Riker says, “Speed being the obvious one. This ship literally thinks what it wants to do and it happens” (Bowman)…Fire ants pouring out of the nest the moment a vibration is felt.
There are younger Borg, Borg children which the away team see are in various stages of being assembled into cyborgs. Riker says:
From the looks of it the Borg are born as biological life form. Almost immediately after birth they begin getting artificial implants. They have apparently developed the technology to link artificial intelligence directly into a humanoid brain. Pretty astounding. Something else — I haven’t seen any females. (Bowman)
In earthly hives, the only reproductive female is the queen. Different forms of nurturing and feeding create separate caste individuals according to the needs of the hive. Castes include but are not limited to harvesters, warriors, nest tenders, queen tenders, and the queen.
The Enterprise damages the Borg ship, but it quickly repairs itself and chases the Enterprise, looking to drain its energy. Q says:
You can’t outrun them. You can’t destroy them. If you damage them, the essence of what they are remains—they regenerate and keep coming… eventually you will weaken—your reserves will be gone… they are relentless. (Bowman)
Killer bees are so frightening because they swarm in mass and continue to chase intruders far beyond what we might think is necessary. Often, they kill the intruder. They are not looking for energy; they want only to preserve the hive. Any damage to their hive, workers are already working to fix.
Guinan says, after Q returns the Enterprise to their corner of the universe, “When you’re ready, it might be possible to establish a relationship with them, but now—now, you are only raw material to them. And since they are aware of your existence…” (Bowman).
This is only the first encounter with the Borg. There will be many more. For example, in the movie, Star Trek: First Contact, the script reveals more about the Borg:
A vast CHAMBER crammed with HUNDREDS of BORG DRONES standing upright in individual alcoves. They’re everywhere — on the ceiling, walls, floor. This is a BORG COLLECTIVE — hundreds of Borg that form a gigantic “hive” mind. The Borg are half man/half machine. No individual personalities. No feelings. They have only one goal in life: to assimilate new races into their collective. To become a Borg is to experience living death. When they speak, they speak as a collective — thousands of voices speaking as one. (Frakes)
The Borg then attacks the Enterprise and a Borg representative says to Picard, “Your defense perimeter is useless. You will be assimilated… Your opinion is irrelevant. We are the Borg. Resistance is futile” (Frakes).
The Borg collective is practically immortal. Captured children are assembled into cyborgs, and when one assimilant of the Borg dies, it is reabsorbed into the system, but its memories are retained. As we have seen, the Borg is nearly invincible because of all the advanced technology it has accumulated, including all the Federation’s defensive and offensive weaponry which it can now counter. It pursues its prey relentlessly. It is a force beyond force, something that may eventually consume the universe.
Later in the story we encounter the Borg queen. All hives have queens. However, this queen is not the reproductive factory as is the case for ants or bees. She says, “I am the Borg… I am the beginning… the end. I am the one who is many. I am the Borg” (Frakes). She is seductive and connected to the Borg ship. The Script says:
She is unlike any of the Borg drones we’ve ever seen — a humanoid female with conduits and tubes running out of her body. She has no legs. Her torso is SUSPENDED by a complex rig of CABLES and HYDRAULICS. Her face and upper-torso are much more humanoid, with the pasty pale white of Borg flesh. Her EYES have a silvery glint to them. Her demeanor is seductive and sensual in contrast to the harsh, mechanical surroundings. She is an eerie blend of two worlds—organic and mechanical. (Frakes).
Yet this queen cannot reproduce, and she is as mortal as a bee or ant queen. Unlike hive species on earth, this queen directs the Borg. She is the Borg, and is like a distributed brain, everywhere in the Borg construct, even though she is a biomechanical thing.
The Borg have no interest in power, politics, or money. They seek new assimilants to replace dead ones, and they search for useful new technology and the energy sources necessary to sustain them. We watch leaf-cutter ants strip a tree of its leaves, leaving little behind. Much the same happens when the Borg visits your neighborhood. In The Best of Both Worlds I, Picard is taken by the Borg to be assimilated. This conversation ensues:
BORG: Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile. We wish to improve ourselves. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours.
PICARD: Impossible. My culture is based on freedom and self-determination.
BORG: Freedom is irrelevant. Self-determination is irrelevant. You must comply.
PICARD: We would rather die.
BORG: Death is irrelevant.
PICARD: What is it you wish of me?
BORG: Your archaic cultures are authority driven. To facilitate our introduction into your societies, it has been decided that a human voice will speak for us in all communications. You have been chosen to be that voice. (Bole)
What is the purpose of the Borg queen? The queen is a construct of the Borg as the Borg. She is the authority, but the authority is the Borg itself. Even if the queen dies, the Borg will continue to do what it does. There is no head attached to the Borg; the Borg is all head. What service does the queen provide? She serves as the champion of Borg causes and in many respects as a lobbyist who convinces target civilizations to accept their assimilation.
In the Best of Both Worlds II, Riker, now captain of the Enterprise is on a mission to retrieve Picard, now Borg assimilate Locutus (other Borgs are just numbers, but Locutus is a spokesperson). Riker says, “We’re not just fighting the Borg anymore… we’re fighting the life experience they’ve stolen from Captain Picard… how the hell do we defeat an enemy that knows us better than we know ourselves… ?” (Bole). The Borg learns, acquires, consumes, and continues indefinitely. Worf replies to Riker, “The Borg have neither honor nor courage… that is our greatest Advantage” (Bole). What is honor, courage, which are aspects of personality, to the Borg? Nothing, nothing at all. The Borg has eliminated all distractions of individuality, ego, pettiness, and all aspects of personality that might get in the way of their mission… think the behavior of fire ants.
In the same episode Riker captures Picard (Locutus) and a medical examination finds microcircuit fibers and rewritten DNA (Bole). The Borg is a technological juggernaut ensconced in a cube, a hive, with the tenacity of fire ants and killer bees, but with amassed intelligence that is far beyond the capabilities of any Federation member. They are relentless, but not cruel. They don’t kill the body indiscriminately, but they take minds and enslave the body. They learn quickly and immediately develop countermeasures to any who attack them.
While in sick bay Picard (Locutus) asks Worf, “Why do you resist? We only wish to raise… quality of life…for all species…” (Bole). What is the quality of life for a hive species? Are all like the Borg, a singularity with a singular mission, mindless automatons bereft of individual personality? To understand more about the difference between earthly hive species and the Borg, we must first understand what hive means.
Eusociality is a term used for social insects. Bernard Crespi and Douglas Yanega provide their criterion for eusociality, “Our criterion for eusociality is the presence of castes, which are groups of individuals that become irreversibly behaviorally distinct at some point prior to reproductive maturity.” (Crespi & Yanega, p. 109). An alternative and more universally accepted definition is given by Raghavendra Gadagkar, “According to this system of classification, eusocial insects (the only truly social insects, by definition) are defined as those that possess all of the three fundamental traits of eusociality namely, (a) cooperative brood care, (b) differentiation of colony members into fertile reproductive castes (queens or kings as the case may be) and sterile non-reproductive castes (workers), and (c) an overlap of generations such that offspring assist their parents in brood care and other tasks involved in colony maintenance” (Gadagkar, p. 485). Both definitions are helpful to this study. However, while hive species are eusocial, they also have more-or-less permanent dwellings. Therefore, hive species require additional definition.
Hive is a structure, a home for bees. However, hive is also the term for the complex social structure of the bee colony. Ants do not live in a ‘hive’, per se, but they also construct a home for the colony and maintain a complex social structure like bees. The hive is therefore both a noun, a place of dwelling, and a verb, to dwell. With hive species, to dwell and dwelling are required. There must be a dwelling to house the queen(s) and to raise hive young. Migratory herd mammals, for example, do not have permanent dwellings and therefore cannot be classified as hive species.
The dwelling for hive species is a place out of the elements, a place to leave to find food, and a place to return to bring food to the hive, and a place to raise young. What about reef fish who have favorite hiding places, are these not dwelling? Yes, but the reef fish, even though some school, generally do not exist in a caste community tasked with sharing food and raising young.
The hive dwelling is a place to be defended and repaired or replaced if the dwelling is irretrievably damaged. These activities are all part of the concept to dwell. The complex social structure (to dwell) has various modes of operation, ranging from normal everydayness, threat, replacement of the queen, and the repair or replacement of the dwelling. Therefore, to dwell includes activities associated with the dwelling which are part of the complex social interaction of the individuals and castes within the hive.
On earth, hive individuals are born into specific castes: queen, drone, workers, soldiers, and other variants. Each caste contributes to the hive and to the complex social structure in specific ways. Hive caste individuals are born (or nourished) into their jobs; they cannot change what they do. However, as we will discover, some hive individuals have distinct personalities and some hives, taken together, act differently from other hives which researchers have called hive personality.
What constitutes a hive species for purposes of this study requires these specific attributes. First, hive species must have a hive, a dwelling and must dwell in accordance with the requirements of the dwelling and of the collective nature of the species. All individuals within the colony dwell in and from the hive. Individuals in hive species are born into or nurtured into castes. The individuals within a caste have similar physical, attitudinal, behavioral, and task capabilities. Warrior ants may, for example, be larger and have bigger mandibles than foraging ants. However, this does not mean that individuals within castes are replicants, exact clones. Research that will be cited below says that honey bees can develop their own individual personalities. Finally, the hive comes first over the individual. Warrior ants, for example, are tasked with defending the hive at the cost of their life, which they appear willing to do. Therefore, while hive members are individuals, and there can be individual differences in personality in some species, the hive comes before the individual in all matters.
Can we say that humans are a hive species? We have dwellings and a complex social structure. However even in caste-based hierarchical societies, there is the opportunity to move from one caste to another even if it involves moving away. Ants and bees have fixed castes and generally fixed behaviors, and even separate physical constructs between castes.
Another difference is that although we live in rather-permanent dwellings we do not always dwell with a family or others. No ant would survive long, alone, outside of the hive. Humans, therefore, technically are not hive creatures. However, as will be explained, we do exhibit behaviors that we can relate to those who live collectively in hives.
Why is the Borg cube a hive dwelling and not the Federation Starship Enterprise? The cube and its inhabitant bodies are one. ‘They’ have no other place they can go to and from. Individuals on the enterprise live and work together for a time, but when their tour is over they go to different places. Hive species only go collectively to a new home or back to the old one.
In earthly hives there is no central mind or controller of the dwelling, nor does any one individual or caste control how the hive-mates dwell. We can call this type of hive self-directed.
The Borg as a Hive Species
Science fiction has long been fascinated with hive structure, personality, ‘hive mind’ and the complexities associated with hive society. These include H.G. Wells’ The Empire of the Ants (1905), Bob Olson’s The Ant With a Human Soul (1932), The film Them (1954), and more recently, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (1985), and the Borg. As with other hives, the Borg is both a dwelling and to dwell. The dwelling is a technological cube that, unlike earthly hives, moves freely through space.
Like earthly hives, with the Borg there is the continuity of place (the cube) and a caste hierarchy, though this is less complex than bees or ants. There is only a non-reproductive queen and her drones. Unlike Earthly hives, the Drone queen is the hive and controls what the hive does because she is the hive. The queen, like the drones, is not an individual, but a form the outward appearance of the collective that takes on a queen-like shape and function. Therefore, the Borg hive is a self-directed singularity, not a group of individuals that work together.
However, to dwell has a singular meaning within the Borg ‘community’ as the Star Trek website explains, “The Borg have a singular goal, namely the consumption of technology, rather than wealth or political expansion as most species seek” (Studios). In other words, they have equated raw technology as a fungible commodity of value.
The Borg construct means technology with loss of individuality. As the Star Trek website maintains:
This collective consciousness is experienced by the Borg as ‘thousands’ of voices — they are collectively aware, but not aware of themselves as separate individuals. Consequently, they never speak in singular pronouns, referring to themselves when required as merely ‘Third of Five,’ for instance…The hive-mind drones do not register as individual life-signs when scanned, only as a mass reading and then at a bare minimum. The sick and injured are not healed but ‘reabsorbed’ by the removal of the receiver piece, which leads to self-destructive dissolve” (Studios).
In other words, the personality of the hive has replaced individual personality. They are no longer conscious beings, they have become a singular ‘consciousness’. While bodies remain, they are without any form of personality, personal meaning, or awareness.
Earth hives fascinate us because we wonder why and how hive individuals go about their business, and how the hive directs itself. If there is no controlling queen or other entity, how does the hive function all on its own? Star Trek provides a dark explanation for how the Borg functions. The Borgian ‘to dwell’ is both utopian and acquisitive. It raids other nests, hives, and places where sentient beings live and commits each to slavery in service to the hive. The Borg captures the mind power of individuals which it incorporates not only into the society but also into the structure of the hive itself—the dwelling. As a biomechanical construct, the Borg is both dwelling and to dwell in a much more connected way than earthly hive species.
Rather than use bee dances or ant pheromones to guide others to food sources, the Borg uses technology to find energy sources and to maintain its social order. What is frightening to those who believe humans have both ego and free will, is that the Borg produces a construct where both are replaced by personality of the technology-hungry construct itself. In other words, our worst fears are realized that something other than ourselves can control our minds and eliminate our individuality and our distinct personality. What the Borg does is effectively turn the individual into a zombie.
How Do Borg and Earthly Hive Species Differ?
Ants and bees, however are not zombies. Recent researchers into hive species that will be cited have discovered that individual honey bees are not behaviorally cloned into performing exactly like other bees. They have individual personalities. Both ant and bee species have been found to have differences in aggregate hive behavior which leads researchers to suggest that hives themselves can have personality.
Humans have individual personalities, but is there a group personality? The so-called ‘hive hypothesis’ that will be reviewed in this study considers why and how people require participation in complex social structures to thrive. Human society is also a complex social structure with significant order and well-documented societal (not physical) caste structures. Human individuals are said to have individual personalities, but we must wonder whether this personality, like the Borg, is more influenced by the group than we realize. The Borg presents the nightmare scenario for humanity to consider what influence society has on both creating and suppressing the individual personality. The question of technology also arises in this context as we become more interconnected with societal constructs such as social media and the internet. The Borg takes technology to the extreme and uses it to both manipulate and transform the human into a cyborg that is under complete control by the hive.
While the Borg is the subject of science fiction, the idea that it is both a dwelling and to dwell is consistent with other hive species. The fact that hives can have distinct personalities also is consistent with Borg logic. Where the Borg differs is that it uses technology to repress individual personality in favor of the Borg group personality. The Borg pierces the sanctity of the skin-bound individual. The former individual, through technological brainwashing and repression, is plugged into a collective dwelling to dwell with a single-minded purpose and that is to assimilate all other sentient beings along with their technology.
The Borg is an alternative to the nuanced message of the earthly hive as a complex social structure. In both there is a high sense of order and caste, but the earthly hive is a construct where individuals can both thrive and exist as individuals with distinct personalities as we will see with bees. The Borg is a singularity and a singular personality.
Hive is both dwelling and to dwell, but so is the Borg. However, it is the question of personality with which we must contend. What is personality and how can the Borg repress individual personality? What can we learn from individual and group personality that will help us recognize Borgian aspects of control in our own societal constructs, influences, and social structure? Then, what can we learn from earthly hive species in how they construct both individual and hive personalities?
This paper considers recent research in the origin of personality through sociogenomic biology theory, hive personality through ants and bees, the human hive hypothesis, and the Borg to provide some answers into how we can begin to recognize Borgian aspects of control over the individual and group personality.
Even though a definition of personality will not be offered by this study, the diverse discourses on personality will first need some explication.
There is no one definition of personality. Philip Corr and Gerald Matthews point out that researchers have approached personality from different perspectives, including: biological, cognitive, humanistic, learning, psychodynamic, and traits (Corr & Matthews, p. 4). Each of these perspectives deals with different aspects being. Corr and Matthews explore diverse definitions of personality through the common terminology they use:
If commonality is to be found among these diverse definitions, it may be a frequently shared assumption that an individual’s personality begins with biologically innate components, both those shared with others and those that are distinct because of heredity or other influences; that over the life course, these innate tendencies are channelled by the influence of many factors, including family experience, culture and other experience; and that the resulting pattern of habitual behaviours, cognitions, emotional patterns, and so on constitutes personality. (Corr & Matthews, p. 5).
Gerard Saucier says about personality:
Personality can be defined in either of two strongly contrasting ways, either as (a) a set of attributes that characterize an individual, or as (b) the underlying system that generates such attributes. Funder (1997, pp. 1–2) provided a definition that takes in both (a) and (b): personality is ‘an individual’s characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behaviour, together with the psychological mechanisms—hidden or not—behind those patterns’” (Corr & Matthews, pp. 379, in Semantic and linguistic Aspects of Personality).
Saucier then asks and answers in the affirmative, that there is not only continuity to personality but what he calls attributes that are more or less, time stable, “Can we then say that personality is all of the relatively time-stable attributes of persons?” (Corr & Matthews, pp. 381, in Semantic and linguistic Aspects of Personality).
Michael Hogan and Michael Harris-Bond say:
In everyday language the word personality has two meanings. These meanings serve very different purposes and it is important to keep them distinct. On the one hand, there is ‘the actor’s view’ of personality and it concerns ‘the you that you know’: your hopes, beliefs, values, fears and theories about how to get along, get ahead and find meaning. On the other hand, there is ‘the observer’s view’ of personality and it concerns ‘the you that others know’: the person others think you are, based on their judgements of your overt behaviours. (Corr & Matthews, pp. 579-580, In Culture and Personality)
The actor’s view Hogan and Harris-Bond call identity, and the observer’s view they call reputation.
Finally, Jurus D. Draguns says about research on personality:
Suffice it to say that research on personality is focused upon two major topics: individual differences in the distribution of various traits and dispositions across persons and the organization of these characteristics within the person (Draguns 1979). According to Kluckhohn and Murray (1950, p. 190), ‘every man is in certain respects: (a) like all other men, (b) like some other men, and (c) like no other man’ (Corr & Matthews, pp. 556, in Personality in Cross-Cultural Perspective)
The themes that run through these definitions suggest that personality formation is both nature and nurture. There are internal (psychological processes) at work to create personality as well as external and experiential processes that influence personality. Personality is also a bicameral concept because it involves how you see yourself and how others see you. In addition, there are likely to be time-stable attributes of personality that do not change much over time. We can say also that personality constructs include attributes, traits, thoughts, emotions, and, dispositions, whether applied to individuals or across discrete societies.
We have yet to find a ‘personality lobe’ in the brain. All we can say for certain is that each of us individually has what we can call a personality, and others can see that each of us has a personality. Personality is something that humans have, and this having is time-stable but never completely static.
What unnerves us about the Borg is that they have found a way through technology of replacing individual personality with a hive personality that has become a continuity, but resists change in its mission. Rather, it maintains that its happiness quotient is only preserved and enhanced by the accumulation of technology. While ants and bees do not acquire technology to maintain and ‘improve’ their society’s well-being like the Borg, they all seem to go about their business with an intensity of purpose that we find both fascinating and unnerving.
The nightmare that is the Borg exemplifies the idea that personality is both nature and nurture. Before being assimilated by the Borg, the individual assimilates likely had personalities. After being rescued from the Borg, both characters Seven Of Nine and Jean-Luc Picard rediscover their prior personalities. If we can assume that both developed their original personalities through nature and nurture, then what is it about the Borg that can alter an individual’s personality? Before we can begin to answer this question, we must first consider the nature versus nurture debate through sociogenomic biology theory.
Part II: Hive Personality Constructs
Sociogenomic Biology Theory
The origin of personality continues to vex biologists, psychologists, and philosophers. Is the origin of personality the result of genes (nature) or the environment in which the person grows up (nurture)? Why not both, ask Brent W. Roberts and Joshua J. Jackson (Roberts & Jackson)? Their sociogenomic biology theory challenges the assumption that, “[t]hat something that is biological, heritable, or temperamental, is unchangeable” (Roberts & Jackson, p. 1523). They agree that biology has something to do with how personality is formed. However, they note that conditions in the environment influence how genes behave. Genes are not hard-wired. They can and do help the organism adapt when there are environmental changes and/or challenges. Roberts and Jackson note that that that the environment also has a lot to do with how personality becomes shaped and changes over time for that part of personality that is constructed, not from our biological proclivities, but our experiences in the world itself. They also see evidence that our personality does not stop changing at the end of childhood, but that things like stress or injuries can alter our personality even if momentary (Roberts & Jackson, p. 1532). We need only to consider personality changes of those afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to see how this could be the case.
What the Borg does is replace genetic code with technological purpose. The technology prevents the Borg from changing the mission. However, the Borg is constructed from assimilants from many species who presumably brought their own personalities into the construct when assimilated. There is some evidence of separate group personalities in different Borg hives because Borg queens exhibit different personalities. Borg queens are the hive and as such cannot also have individual personalities. I suggest that Borg queen differences come from the different personalities acquired from the different assimilants each hive assimilates, and from the experiences of the individual Borg as it travels through the universe. This is just an assumption, but Star Trek offers no alternative reason for why Borg queens differ when the Borg construct is so unidirectional and inflexible.
Sociogenomic biology theory is centered around social or group animal species. Roberts and Jackson explain, “Thus, sociogenomic biology focuses on the behavior of animals that live in groups in which members must cooperate and compete in order to survive and thrive. Clearly, humans fall into this category” (Roberts & Jackson, p. 1527).
The Borg is a hive construct, but it operates differently from hive societies on earth. We watch ants and bees work together seemingly as a unit. While ants and bees have different castes for different jobs, all seem to work as if they are under some unseen power or authority. On the surface, at least, all workers appear the same; all hive defenders seem the same. In fact, neither the queen, nor any other ant or bee directs the hive. Individual ants lay down pheromones to let others know where food is. Bees dance to do the same. They all work together apparently for a singular purpose and that is for the maintenance and support of the hive or colony.
Ants and bees are highly successful. Both survived the great extinction that killed the dinosaurs, and there are many species of each who have adapted to diverse ecological niches. They seem to work so smoothly together and willingly sacrifice themselves in service to the hive or nest.
In the next section the question of personality in earthly hive species will be explored.
Bees and Ants
Do individual ants and bees have personalities or is it the hive that has personality, or perhaps is it a bit of both? Alexander Walton and Amy Toth, in a recent study of bees, found that honey bee dances differ from individual to individual (Walton & Toth). Anyone who has attended a high school dance can attest that this is also the case with humans. Walton and Toth report, “our data suggest some individuals may be more likely to be highly interactive with other workers (e.g., engaging in food sharing), while other individuals are consistently less interactive” (Walton & Toth, p. 999). Bees, at least, can display individual personality traits, some which help the hive, others do not. We can say the same about individual humans and their groups. While this was not part of their study, I suggest that if we were to investigate different hives, we might see a hive that has more interactive workers develop a different group personality than a hive with fewer interactive workers. For example, such hives might weather droughts or cold winters better because they were more efficient collecting food during summer months. There is some evidence of the existence of group hive personality in the honey bee.
Margaret K. Wray and Thomas D. Seeley considered house-hunting behavior among different honey bee colonies of the same honey bee species. They did find evidence of group personality behavior, “We found that swarms displayed consistent personality differences in the number of waggle dances and shaking signals they performed and in how actively they scouted for new nest sites. However, swarms did not consistently differ in how long they took to choose a nest site” (Wray & Seeley, p. 2061). While group personality may not change speed to find new homes, has it any other benefit? Wary and Seely suggest that it does, “In general, increasing the costliness of errors increases the emphasis that decision-makers place on accuracy as opposed to speed, a relationship that has been demonstrated in individual honey bee and bumble bee foragers” (Wray & Seeley, p. 2068). The implications are that waggle dance accuracy, when it comes to nest-finding, improves the bee’s chances for survival.
Both Walton and Toth and Wray and Seely studied the same bee species, the honey bee or Apis Mellifera. While we cannot compare the two studies in terms of the efficacy of their specific dance steps because the dances studied involve different tasks, we can suggest there is evidence of both individual and group personality traits in the common honey bee. Bee queens mate multiple times during their maiden flight, but never again. Therefore, there is an opportunity to continue genetic diversity (nature). However, bee brains are small. What we do not know is how much of the bee dance differential in either an individual or group context is attributable to genetic diversity (nature) or to learning or environmental cues (nurture). Additional study is required. All we can say now is that bees exhibit both group and individual personality traits.
Can we say the same about ants?
Inon Scharf, Et. al., in a study of ants, found that different colonies have different levels of aggression against parasites and invaders. The more aggressive the colony, the less likely it will relocate the nest. They explain, “The most important result is the evidence for a collective personality: colonies that defend their nest, either by fighting against intruders more aggressively or by removing infected corpses more efficiently, are less likely to relocate after a disturbance” (Scharf, Modlmeier, Fries, Tirard, & Foitzik, p. 5). Nest relocation is an energy expensive proposition, but aggressiveness can also mean the death of individuals who are necessary for colony survival. Therefore, a pragmatic aggressiveness is appropriate for ant colonies. Unfortunately, we cannot make the same hypothesis for evidence of both individual and group personality in ants as we can with the honey bee, because studies of individual ant personality have not yet been conducted. However, we can say that at least one species of bee and one of ant exhibit group personality traits.
What we have discovered is that in the insect kingdom, there is evidence of both individual and group personality traits in honey bees. We move next into a discussion about humans to investigate evidence of individual and group personality.
What about humans today? Do we exhibit hive behavior or are we just rugged individualists through and through? Recall the high school dance. Some are dancing to their own rhythm, and others are dancing together using coordinated and synchronized dance steps they have learned and appear to enjoy doing together.
Walton and Toth concluded from their bee study, “We suggest that individual-level personality differences have the potential to contribute to colony division of labor by creating variation in individual tendencies to perform different tasks” (Walton & Toth, p. 999). We observe the same in human societies at the group and even family level. People use their individual talents to solve group problems or achieve group goals. People work together in groups; hive species work together collectively. In earthly hive species, collectivism is a more-or-less permanent construct (bee swarms split the construct in two, some follow old queen, some follow the new queen) while the group in human activities is not necessarily a permanent construct. A group can be like a temporarily constructed project team or a more permanent and formal society. In both, humans retain the innate capability to move from one group to the other, while honey bees, for example, cannot other than through the swarm, but even then, the group splits into two.
We certainly have evidence in our own lives of the differences in personality between members of our own immediate family who presumably have had similar parental and nurturing experiences. While there may be ‘family resemblance’ in sibling personalities, each will bring individual genetic differences that contribute to what we know as individual personality. Then again, what seems like identical parenting likely is not. Even ‘equally’ applied encouragement or discipline that might be beneficial to one sibling might not be beneficial for another. Therefore, we can be comfortable in saying individual humans have individual personalities that are influenced both, by nature and the environment, and the way that humans interact with each other. Evidence of group or hive personality in humans and the Borg is explored next.
The Human Hive Hypothesis
Honey bees have been shown to have individual personalities and hive personalities. In the spirit of comparing species, what about the Borg and humans?
We know from the Star Trek story line that the Borg drones exhibit collective personality traits of aggressiveness and purpose. They cannot have individual personality traits because they are no longer individuals. However, before they were assimilants, likely each drone once had individual personality traits as well. The queen is not an individual, she is the Borg. Therefore, because Borg queens display different personalities, there must be something different in each hive. I have said before that it is likely that the Borg benefits from the individual personalities that shaped the assimilant before assimilation. Nothing of the assimilant is lost in the assimilation. All that the assimilants bring with them is stored in Borg technology. Therefore, if a Borg colony happens to assimilate many aggressive species, it makes sense that that the Borg colony might become more aggressive.
Jonathan Haidt, J. Patrick Seder, and Selin Kesebir, studied three social construct hypotheses in human society. The first, is the dyad approach, where humans pair bond. Marriage is just one example of the dyadic relationship. The dyadic hypothesis Haidt, Et. al., states, “[t]hat people need relationships to flourish” (Haidt, Patrick Seder, & Kesebir, p. 5135). With the prevalence of marriage around the globe, this certainly has merit.
However, they see a second even stronger hypothesis originally espoused by Emile Durkheim, “A stronger and more controversial hypothesis is the moral community hypothesis, which states that people need to be bound into a community that shares norms and values in order to flourish” (Haidt et al., p. 5135). Bees, ants, and humans flourish in societies. Individual bees and ants would not survive without the community. Humans consider both the health of the community and individual health when developing societal norms and personality. Haidt, Et. al., explain that Durkheim maintained that, “Only by being a member of a group that imposes limits and sets standards for good behavior can people achieve their desires and find satisfaction” (Haidt et al., p. 5135). Durkheim’s moral community considers not only the satisfaction of the community, but also the satisfaction of the individual who lives by community rules.
Haidt, Et. al., think that neither the dyadic nor the ethical community hypothesis adequately explains the need for group activity for human flourishing. They suggest a third hypothesis they call the hive hypothesis, “An even stronger relatedness hypothesis is the hive hypothesis, which says that the self can be an obstacle to happiness, so people need to lose their selves occasionally by becoming part of an emergent social organism in order to reach the highest levels of human flourishing” (Haidt et al., p. 5136).
As societies become more interconnected through technology and social media the hive hypothesis deserves further study. Are people happier as part of these social organisms? Many of these social media platforms enable trolls, bullies, and anonymous users to ‘flame’ or otherwise denigrate others who post messages and other media to these platforms. Social media sites are just beginning to deal with hate messages and with intentionally planted fake and misleading news and information. What affect these social media devices have on personality development should be studied.
What do we take from the group? Simple observation of teens shows us that when they join cliques and gangs, they take on the clothing, behavior, and attitudes of that construct. Some may adapt so completely to the lifestyle that their own personality is changed in a big way. Others might only demonstrate the personality of the group while associated with the group, but in other settings return to more-or-less their original personality. Therefore, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that we can adapt to both the personality of the group, and maintain (and/or modify) our own individual personality while associated with specific groups. However, we likely influence the group personality by our being and acting in the group, and it is likely also that the group personality influences our individual personality by our association with it.
I return to Walton and Toth’s Bee study and will extrapolate that like bees, individual human personality differences, create variation that will affect the performance, attitude, and even the personality of the group itself (Walton & Toth, p. 999). Evidence of this can be found in studies of military service teams by Hafhill, Et. al., that found that those teams that are the most agreeable collectively perform better (Halfhill, Nielsen, Sundstrom, & Weilbaecher, p. 51). If one’s personality is generally disagreeable, one must agree to become agreeable to function well within this group, which may require taking on some group personality aspects that one did not bring to the group.
Because we exhibit both individual personality and exist within groups that develop group personality and we migrate between groups even daily, it must be the case there is a certain amount of fluidity in personality development for humans, and perhaps even for the ants and bees. Genetic influence of personality traits is not absolute, as Roberts and Jackson warn, “In fact, gene expression can be switched on and off and altered in response to both genetic and environmental factors” (Roberts & Jackson, p. 1528). Therefore, there is fluidity to be found even in our genetically constructed personality. Our experience of the world, whether it is to exercise our own personality to effect our personal human flourishing, or in a group to mitigate those aspects of our self that are holding us back, shows us that our personality benefits and evolves from many different environmental influences. Quoting Jensen-Campbell & Sullivan-Logan, Roberts and Jackson use this metaphor to explain the process, “[t]emperament has been equated to the hard ice ball around which the softer snow of personality accumulates developmentally” (Roberts & Jackson, p. 1526).
That same metaphor we can now apply to the Borg. The Borg hard ice ball is the cube structure that becomes the hive where all the assimilants exist. As new assimilants are added to the collective like the snow, they help the cube become bigger, and presumably stronger. I maintain that the addition of others also leads to personality development. As has been mentioned, each Borg hive has a different personality which likely comes from the prior individuals who are now assimilants (nature/nurture) and from the hive’s experience (nurture). The queen is the hive so her personality (the hive personality) is that of the hive.
The Borg takes a different approach to agreeability. It eliminates the possibility for the display of individual personality which serves to limit the possibilities that the collective will veer from message. Likely this is because the mechanical has taken over the control of the physical. The message of the mechanical does not vary ever—seek new technology, assimilate it, and the species who produced the technology. The collective learns from this new technology and presumably also learns from the former individuals it has assimilated. Therefore, Borg agreeableness is through enforced message and purpose. This agreeableness also produces a stronger Borg because it stays on mission.
As we move closer to creating biomechanical interfaces, how Borgian will we become is the next question I will consider.
Part III Questions Associated with Human Biomechanical Interface
Questions Associated with Collective Constructs
The Borg operates successfully without individuals and without individual personality. The Borg has a single-minded purpose to assimilate any species it encounters. If assimilants were permitted individual personality, would that not also introduce ego, personality, and instability into the collective. Would these capabilities make the Borg less efficient? Is that why they are so successful? Along with this question, it is important to ask, what could a group of humans armed with Borgian resolve and technology achieve? Could we solve some of the more vexing problems we face? Does individual personality need to be repressed like it is with the Borg for us to move to the next levels of achievement?
We cannot yet answer these questions. However, as we increasingly use technologically enabled ‘hive-like’ (to dwell) activities such as social media, we need to ask whether rigid processes help or hinder productivity, happiness, and individual development. We might ask, for example, whether the limit 140 characters in a tweet is a barrier or a human enabler…also, how does prolonged use of the tweet influence personality, if at all?
As we move towards more ‘collective’ constructs that may involve human-machine interfaces like the Borg, we will want to understand the issues of personality associated with ‘hyperconnected’ constructs. To begin this journey, we can turn to science.
Scientists have analyzed bee and ant behavior and have discovered individual and group personality traits in honey bees and group personality traits in ants. The Borg collective also provides us with some ideas about how human personality might be changed in a ‘hyperconnected’ construct we might eventually create to improve our own productivity. ‘Hyperconnected’ (and also hyperconstructed) means more than just people working together. It is minds connected in some way, presumably through technology. In such a construct we likely will become more hive-like because we are both in a connected technological dwelling and we dwell within that ‘hyperconnected’ dwelling.
Humans without biomechanical interfaces are not hive species because we do not all live in groups and we do not have rigid physical castes as do ants, bees, and the Borg. Even an untouchable in India could be someone other than an untouchable in another country. We do, however, live in societies like ants and bees, and like bees, at least, have individual personalities.
However, we do get together in groups to solve problems. We also see that groups take on aspects of the personality of their members and vice versa. Nature and nurture help produce personality, and personality is bicameral, we have individual personalities (our identity) and how others see our personality (our reputation).
Ants use pheromones to direct hive mates to food, bees do a waggle dance to do the same. The Borg uses its bio-mechanical intelligence to run down and capture new sources of technology, energy, and, new assimilants. Ants, Bees, the Borg and the human are all successful ‘species’, if the Borg is a species. All engage in group activities.
Hypothetically, then, if humans were to create a hive construct, a cybernetic dwelling in which we can dwell even if only for short periods of time, what might this enable us to do? Project teams gain from the diversity of members’ experience, knowledge, personality, intelligence, and ideas. Would a cybernetic hive where individual minds with all their egos, personality, and intelligence produce more than the non-connected project team? Or would individual egos and personalities interfere with productivity? Is the Borg, taking the individual out of the picture, the most productive use of the cybernetic construct because it replaces individual personality and ego with purposefulness that is linked to the combined brainpower of the hive? These are important questions we must explore as we begin to develop technological ways of connecting individual minds to each other.
The Borg is a highly successful hive species. Hive species require both a dwelling and to dwell, or activities that are associated with a single dwelling. Hive species also have rigid physical and task castes. While individual honey bees can have unique personalities through how they perform their waggle dance, those that gather nectar cannot also tend the newborn. Earth hive species have queens whose sole function is to reproduce. The Borg has a queen who is not a reproductive creature, but is the Borg itself and acts as a kind of ambassador or spokesperson for the hive. Borg drones investigate new possibilities for assimilation and technology acquisition and then use hive resources to bring both into the hive.
However, the Borg do not have individual personalities. They are a construct that absorbs all aspects of individuality: personality, intelligence, and even being itself into the hive. Therefore, there is but one personality for each Borg colony. The Borg has spent thousands of years assimilating beings and technology. It is more advanced than the human and each hive possesses a singular personality along with what is likely a pre-programmed and quite consistent drive to assimilate.
While the Borg has eliminated individuality, it has not eliminated personality. The battles between the Borg and the Federation in Star Trek are not just about assimilation but about whether individual/group personality or group personality alone is ultimately more powerful in producing happiness as both cultures define them. For the Borg, happiness is more technology, more assimilants. For the civilizations that belong to the Federation, each likely defines happiness in different ways, but they all agree to be agreeable to each other. The Federation is both a collective, meaning, a group of civilizations that work together, and a collection of individual civilizations with individuals. The Borg is a collective without individuals.
Bee individuals belong to a rigid work and physical caste. However, they can develop individual personalities in service to the hive itself. At the same time each hive (like the Borg hive) can have a different personality from other hives of the same species. Therefore, the bee exemplifies the sociogenomic biology theory that personality is both produced through the genes and through experience. The Borg uses technology to eliminate both genetic and experiential personality in the former individuals who are now cyborg and mobile operatives. Yet, each Borg hive has a personality that may be different from another Borg hive.
Towards an Uncertain Future
What does all of this say about personality and what humans might gain from more knowledge about how other species develop personality?
First, that individual personality is not by itself limiting. Humans and Bees are successful species. The Federation team (made from individuals with individual personalities) on the Starship Enterprise seems capable of avoiding assimilation by the Borg. The Borg insistence on maintaining group personality only does not yet seem to be superior to that of the Starship Enterprise where there are both individual personalities and the group personality of a Federation Starship. Finally, since we know that humans, the Borg, and at least some species of bees have personalities (whether individual, hive, or both) that personality is part of the construct of what being is in many higher-order species.
Gadagkar suggests that eusocial bees and ants exhibit altruistic behavior because they cooperate rather than compete in reproduction (Gadagkar, p. 485). Drones and other castes cannot reproduce, but enhance capabilities in other ways through physical changes that serve the hive. The Borg give up all rights to individual freedom. Borg altruism is the notion that their species is superior to all others and all others should desire to become Borg. Humans may exhibit altruistic behavior, but we remain distinctly individual and independent. If we create a hive construct that connects individual humans biomechanically, must the individual give up some freedoms like other hive species, and what might this mean to the notion of selfhood, freedom, individual personality, and autonomy that humans appear to cherish? Are we physiologically and psychologically equipped to become eusocial-like beings, even if only while biomechanically connected?
We need to take personality into account as we begin to look for ways of producing earthly biomechanical devices to help people work together in a hiveish way. While the fictional Borg have excised personality from the individual, could we, or would we want to do the same with a temporary or even permanent human hive constructed of brains connected to each other through a mechanical device? Certainly, the Borg have been wildly successful in repressing individual personality to pursue exacting goals, but what would that do to the human put into a personality-stripping construct for the purposes of being more productive technologically or to produce new science from the combination of many minds? We are built to retain our individual personalities even with the strong influence of culture and the group. If we take that away, or try to limit individual personality, will there be physical or psychological trauma?
These are just questions today, but important questions that we must ask as we move closer to cybernetic capability. While we advance biomechanical science, we must be cognizant of our species’ construct. Like bees, we are a product of both individual and group personality. Turning us into a hive species that dwells together in a dwelling of linked minds might produce something we are not yet prepared to understand. Will we, for example, be able to mitigate the problem of noise from many interconnected brains, or will connectivity require, like the Borg, a singularity, at least while connected in the hive construct? What about the trauma of entering a direct conversation with multiple minds? What about the problem of withdrawal when one exits a construct of great intelligence and capability to return to one’s all-too-humble self?
The Borg avoided these questions by absorbing the individual’s mind and ending the individual. Even though Seven of Nine and Captain Picard were rescued from the Borg, both exhibit flash-backs and other problems associated with the experience. While personality is created through both nature and nurture, we have learned from considering hive species, that different species develop personality in different ways. If we should try to become hiveish because we think it might improve our creativity, productivity, or scientific discovery, we must also be cognizant of how we come to be human. If we want to become more than the human we are now, and retain our individuality, we must be mindful of the lesson of the Borg. The Borg determined that it was better to erase the individual than try to work with it.
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