“We will see that the 3 pounds of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 3 pounds of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective.”

Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy

Every mind is a composite of disparate elements working cooperatively. Every mind has a “flavor” arising from that diverse cooperation. That flavor is personality and even if we have a thousand things in common with someone else, our personality is absolutely distinct. When you’ve lost somebody and are grieving, you can’t make it better by finding someone like them, no matter how close the likeness. That one of a kind self has vanished, leaving a unique void behind them.

The third mind idea is that 1 unique self plus 1 unique self equals 3 unique selves. There is you and them and us, the “flavor” of that combination.

The third mind exists between any two people for the duration of their time together. Most live a moment and “die” without drama. Those are never experienced as a third self because they are too fleeting to take shape. But if at the moment when the ticket window guy hands you your ticket, the two of you were teleported to a desert island to live together for ten years, that third self , good or bad, would be an indelible part of your life ever after.

All selves are evanescent, just on different time scales. The bump and friendly apology on the street lives 5 seconds. A woman might live 75 years, a man 71 and their marriage 40 years.

The third mind scales up with the number of selves participating. The 1+1=3 mind is the most distinct of all combinations, it FEELS as unique as a single self and this is the making of every love story ever. When 1 finds another 1 and the resulting 3 feels absolutely amazing, it catches their eye and great friendships and love affairs are born.

It’s more complicated as the numbers rise. Groups of 3 can be delightful, powerful and nearly as distinct as couples but while 1+1 can blend utterly together, 1+1+1 is a triangulating unstable number that tips toward the stronger bond of 2 among the 3. Some of these combos have long happy lives but almost all end in 3-1.

Also as illustrated here, the mind of three has so many “moving parts” that it must be more diffuse and unpredictable than the couple third mind.

As we move up in numbers we pass through family selves, which can have very strong personalities, to club selves, college year selves, and so on. Notice as we go, the self becomes less complex and “personal”. There comes a point where any individual’s unique profile is lost to generality…while still playing a part in the huge meta self. This is where we stop seeing ourselves as having agency and we literally don’t know exactly what part we are playing. This is easily imagined by noticing what size of organization or bureaucracy makes you feel like you can’t make a difference.

It’s critical to note is that group “IQ” for lack of a better word, drops as the group size rises. This does not refer to what the group is capable of through training. It’s more like when the group is not unified in a task, how smart is the group, how much initiative does it show?

The answers are:

  1. Not very
  2. Not much.

But it’s good that large groups seem inert and lazy. Rioters, a concert audience in a panic, even “celebrating” fans after the Superbowl are unstable large groups prone to dispelling their group energy by thrashing around like a crazed octopus, or worse, through an attack on something the mob has managed to fix their teeny tiny brain on.

To ourselves we seem above all to be individuals. Individuals with families and friends and coworkers. That’s about how far an individual’s eyes can focus and know what they are looking at. That is necessary and fine but it’s the ultra macro-lens view of the human race. Our species is equally involved in large self organizing social groups. The individual knows a few things the group can’t know but mysteriously, the reverse is true too.