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superorganismsuperorganisme (fr.); Superorganismus (ger.)

  • 1) A human society which behaves in some respect like a single organism.
    organism super-organic

    Superorganisms have their perils not less than the organisms of which they are composed.

    Hearn, W.E. (1878).The Aryan Household, Its Structure and Its Development: 296.


    Comme les organismes vivants, le superorganisme n’échappe point aux influences du milieu. La vie de l’humanité n’est qu’une résultante de la vie de tous les hommes; elle doit subir par conséquence l’action des mêmes facteurs qui agissent sur chacun d’eux

    Roque da Costa, C. (1889). L’évolution du système représentatif: 36.


    Un organe social est une partie du superorganisme collectif formée par l’agencement de parties similaires provenant de systèmes ou appareils différents et constituant un tout unique de conformation spéciale; la Banque nationale, par exemple, est un organe faisant partie du système ou appareil du crédit et de la circulation, lesquels eux-mêmes sont des organes de l’appareil économique plus complexe. Ainsi, quand des organes d’espèces diverses, tels que la poste, les chemins de fer, la monnaie, le crédit se réunissent et concourent à une même fonction, comme la circulation, ils forment un appareil. Le superorganisme est un ensemble d’organes ou d’appareils, manifestant d’une façon concurrente et plus ou moins complète la série des phénomènes sociaux; ce sont les sociétés, nationales ou autres, ou l’ensemble de ces sociétés.

    de Greef, G. (1889). Introduction à la sociologie, vol. 2: 33; cf. 8.


    At the very threshold, Evolution asks: What is Society? And answers, that it is a living organism, or super-organism, and not a mere mechanical aggregation

    Brooklyn Ethical Association (1889). Evolution of society. In: Evolution. Popular Lectures and Discussions, 203-230: 217.


    das Schema sieht gar so gut aus: Anorganische Welt: Physik. Organische Welt: Biologie. Superorganische Welt: Sociologie. leider aber ist „Superorganismus“ nur ein Wort, für welches weder Spencers noch Greefs Autorität, weder die Gelehrsamkeit noch der Geist Schäffles und Lilienfelds den mangelnden Begriff schaffen können! Sie mögen noch so geistreiche und gelehrte Bücher schreiben: für ein normales menschliches Gehirn ist der Begriff „Superorganismus“ undenkbar!

    Gumplowicz, L. (1892). Sociologie und Politik: 146.


    Als Theile des Superorganismus werden Apparate und Organe vorgestellt, und diese sind ökonomische, familienhafte, artistische, scientifische, moralische, juristische und politische Einrichtungen!

    Tönnies, F. (1892). Werke zur Philosophie und zur Geschichte des socialen Lebens [Rev. de Greef, G. (1886-89). Introduction à la sociologie, 2 vols.]. Philosophische Monatshefte 28, 444-461: 452.


    The biologic sociologists have accepted this utilitarian concept of psychology as being the true psychology of individuals and try to create a super-psychology out of the social elements neglected by the utilitarian philosophers. They confuse the concrete individual of society with notions which these philosophers had of this individual and therefore assume that all psychical elements not recognized by these philosophers belong to a super-organism back of the individual to which all social forces are due.

    Patten, S.N. (1894). The organic concept of society. Ann. Amer. Acad. Pol. Soc. Sci. 5, 88-93: 93.


    L’organismo sociale é un superorganismo?

    Lilienfeld, P. de (1896). L’organismo sociale é un superorganismo?. Estratta dalla Riforma Sociale Fasc. 3, anno III, vol. VI.


    [Lilienfeld] denies that society can be properly called a super-organism, as Mr. Spencer proposes, and insists that it is in very truth an organism

    Ward, L.F. (1897). [Rev. Worms, R. (1896). Organisme et societé; Lilienfeld, P. de (1896). La pathologie sociale]. American Journal of Sociology 3, 258-265: 261.


    As much may be said of the term ‘super-organism,’ proposed by Mr. Herbert Spencer, though that writer defines it in such a manner as to divest it of most of its erroneous suggestiveness. Professor Giddings adopts ‘physio-psychic organism’ as the correct term for the social group; but this is just as applicable to the living individual, and, applied to a society, may be as misleading.

    Brinton, D.G. (1898). Current notes on anthropology. Science 7, 851-852: 852.


    Ein heftiger Streit ist in letzter Zeit unter den Sociologen über die Frage entbrannt, ob der gesellschaftliche Verband als ein Naturorganismus oder als ein Superorganismus aufgefasst werden müsse.

    Lilienfeld, P. von (1898). Zur Vertheidigung der organischen Methode in der Sociologie: 62.


    A favorite escape from some of these difficulties is to call society a “superorganism,” and Tarde, one of the severest critics of the organic theory, proposes the form “supra-organism” as more clearly expressing the distinction, a view that Novicow is disposed to accept. Lilienfeld declares that the social organism is the highest and furthest developed of all existing organisms; Fouillee calls it an organism of ideas; and Paulhan and Giddings see in it an organism or association of minds; all of which only shows in how many ways the subject may be viewed.

    Ward, L.F. (1902). Contemporary sociology. Amer. J. Sociol. 7, 475-500: 488.


    Pour ne pas se laisser entraîner trop loin dans la voie des comparaisons biologiques, les partisans de la première doctrine [les organicistes], au lieu de parler de l’organisme social disent plus volontiers aujoud’hui, en marquant par là tout ensemble l’élévation et la spécificité de cet être: «le super-organisme social».

    Worms, R. (1903). Philosophie des sciences socials, vol. 1: 46.


    it is possible to suppose hat individual minds are integrated in a greater mind which may feel or think or behave in a way of its own. In saying “it is possible to suppose,” I have perhaps put the matter too strongly. Not only is there no empirical evidence for such a mind; but it is doubtful if there is even a clear definition of what it would be if there were one. There is no such super-organism even among the most complete zoological collections. It would contradict all known anatomical and physiological laws.

    Perry, R.B. (1916). Economic value and moral value. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 30, 443-485: 469.

  • 2) An association of organisms of one species living together at one place and showing division of labour between different “castes”, especially an association of eusocial organisms such as honey bees in the bee-hive.

    [The ant-colony as an organism

    Wheeler, W.M. (1911). The ant-colony as an organism. J. Morphol. 22, 307-325.]


    Our ancient biological reformers started with the assumption that a termite society could not be a success unless it was constructed on the plan of a superorganism, and that such a superorganism must necessarily conform to the fundamental laws of the individual organism

    Wheeler, W.M. (1920). The termitodoxa, or biology and society. The Scientific Monthly 10, 113-124: 117.


    The following four traits are particularly often found in superorganisms: 1. Superorganisms are usually sessile […]. 2. Superorganisms maintain intraorganismic homeostasis. […] 3. Superorganisms are either well armed or highly cryptic. […] 4. Superorganisms have a large number of colony members that function as a cooperative unit, and there is no solitary existence except during mating or nest founding.

    Moritz, R.F.A. & Southwick, E.E. (1992). Bees as Superorganisms: 5-6.


    Momentous consequences necessarily follow from the lengthening of the adult life of the parent insect and the development of the family, for the relations between the parents and offspring tend to become so increasingly intimate and interdependent that we are confronted with a nes organic unit, or biological entity—a super-organism, in fact, in which through physiological division of labor the component individuals specialize in diverse ways and become necessary to one another’s welfare or very existence.

    Wheeler, W.M. (1922). Social life among the insects. Sci. Monthly 14, 497-524: 502; id. (1923). Social Life Among the Insects: 10-1.


    the next level, that of the very loosely organized social, or superorganisms

    Wheeler, W.M. (1927). Emergent evolution of the social. Proc. 6th Int. Congr. Philos., 33-46: 41.


    I find myself concluding (1) that the population or a community is such a social or supra-organism, and (2) that this interpretation adds something to an understanding of the population. To me the supra-organismic concept is more meaningful when applied, say, to social insect populations than to Tribolium or Drosophila. However, it does aid in focusing attention on the unity of the population by stressing the analogies or convergences between an individual organism and an organism group and by showing that this unity is in part a product of natural selection. Natural selection thus emerges as a common denominator regardless of the level of biological organization

    Park, T. (1941). The laboratory population as a test of a comprehensive ecological system (concluded). Quart. Rev. Biol. 16, 440-461: 457.


    superorganism Any colony possessing features of social organization analogous to the physiological properties of a single organism; any group of organisms acting as a single functional unit; supraorganism; epiorganism.

    Lincoln, R.J., Boxshall, G.A. & Clark, P.F. (1982). A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics: 239.


    We define a superorganism as a collection of single creatures that together possess the functional organization implicit in the formal definition of organism. Just as genes and organs do not qualify as organisms, the single creatures that make up a superorganism also may not qualify as organisms in the formal sense of the word.

    Wilson, D.S. & Sober, E. (1989). Reviving the superorganism. Journal of theoretical Biology 136, 337-356: 339.


    Superorganism A society, such as a eusocial insect colony, that possesses features of organization analogous to the physiological properties of single organisms

    Hölldobler, B. & Wilson, E.O. (2009). The Superorganism. The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies: 513.


    a superorganism is nothing more than an organism in the full sense of the word, but one whose parts are themselves multicellular organisms

    Martens, J. (2010). Organisms in evolution. Hist Philos. Life Sci. 32, 373-400: 389.

  • 3) An association of organisms of different species living together at one place, especially a community of plants.

    [Vegetation an organism. The plant formation is an organic unit. It exhibits activities or changes which result in development, structure, and reproduction. These changes are progressive, or periodic, and, in some degree, rhythmic, and there can be no objection to regarding them as functions of vegetation. According to this point of view, the formation is a complex organism, which possesses functions and structure, and passes through a cycle of development similar to that of the plant.

    Clements, F.E. (1905). Research Methods in Ecology: 199.]


    [The formation an organism.—The developmental study of vegetation necessary rests upon the assumption that the unit or climax formation is an organic entity […] As an organism the formation arises, grows, matures, and dies. Its response to the habitat is shown is shown in processes or functions and in structures which are the record as well as the result of these functions. Furthermore, each climax formation is able to reproduce itself, repeating with essential fidelity the stages of its development. The life-history of a formation is a complex but definite process, comparable in its chief features with the life-history of an individual plant.

    Clements, F.E. (1916). Plant Succession. An Analysis of the Development of Vegetation: 185.]


    the community […] undergoes its own peculiar adaptation as a complex or super organism.

    Clements, F.E., Martin, E.V. & Long, F.L. (1950). Adaptation and Origin in the Plant World: 1.

  • 4) A system of organisms of different species and components of their abiotic environment in which there is a division of labour and a control of essential variables, especially the association of plants, animals and microorganisms in an ecosystem or on earth as one entire ecological system (“gaia”).

    [is this world to be considered thus merely as a machine, to last no longer than its parts retain their present position, their proper forms and qualities ? Or may it not be also considered as an organized body? Such as has a constitution in which the necessary decay of the machine is naturally repaired, in the exertion of those productive powers by which it had been formed. This is the view in which we are now to examine the globe; to see if there be, in the constitution of this world, a reproductive operation, by which a ruined constitution may be again epaired, and a duration or stability thus procured to the machine, considered as a world sustaining plants and animals.

    Hutton, J. (1788). Theory of the earth; or an investigation of the laws observable in the composition, dissolution, and restoration of land upon the globe. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1, 209-304: 216.]


    [[Es gilt,] eine allgemeine Continuität aller Naturursachen, und ein gemeinschaftliches Medium anzunehmen, durch welches allein alle Kräfte der Natur auf das sensible Wesen wirken. Da nun dieses Princip die Continuität der anorganischen und der organischen Welt unterhält, und die ganze Natur zu einem allgemeinen Organismus verknüpft, so erkennen wir aufs Neue in ihm jenes Wesen, das die älteste Philosophie als die gemeinschaftliche Seele der Natur ahnend begrüßte

    Schelling, F.W.J. (1798). Von der Weltseele (AA, vol. I, 6): 257.]


    [Während der geologische Organismus der Erde erst Produkt war, im Bildungsprozeß ihrer Gestalt, so hebt sie jetzt, als produzierend zugrunde liegende Indiviualität, ihre Starrheit auf und schließt sich zu subjektiver Lebendigkeit auf, die sie aber von sich ausschließt und an andere Individuen übergibt.

    Hegel, G.W.F. (1817/30). Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (Werke, vol. 8-10, Frankfurt/M. 1986): II, 361.]


    [Sagt man, der Pflanzen-Organismus sei nur als ein, im Ganzen aufgehendes, Glied des Gesammtorganismus zu betrachten, vergleichbar einer Drüse, welche die Stoffe des größern Organismus, in den sie eintritt, in sich verarbeitet und wiedergiebt, so sieht man nicht ab, was in dieser Hinsicht von der Pflanze ausgesagt werden könnte, das nicht dem Thiere ebenso zukäme.

    Fechner, G.T. (1848). Nanna oder über das Seelenleben der Pflanzen: 308.]


    [So war also der Boden nicht das starre, unveränderliche, tote Postament, auf dem sich der Wald als etwas von ihm zu Trennendes erhob, beide waren miteinander verbunden und beeinflußten sich in lebendiger, dauernder Wirkung gegenseitig, wie die Organe eines Organismus

    Möller, A. (1922). Der Dauerwaldgedanke. Sein Sinn und seine Bedeutung (Oberteuringen 1992): 30-1.]


    The non-living environment which affects and is affected by this plant-animal community is sometimes considered as part of this super-organism.

    Moment, G.B. (1942). General Biology for Colleges: 174.


    James Hutton, often known as the father of geology, said in a letter before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in the 1790s that he considered the Earth to be a superorganism and that its proper study would be by physiology.

    Lovelock, J.E. (1986). Gaia: the world as living organism. New Scientist 18 Dec. 1986, 25-28: 25.


    The biosphere […] is found to be a mammoth self-organizing system, a superorganism comprising all lesser systems of organisms.

    Perry, J.W. (1987). The Heart of History. Individuality in Evolution: 184.


    Gaia is best thought of as a superorganism. These are bounded systems made up partly from living organisms and partly from nonliving structural material. A bee's nest is a superorganism and like the superorganism, Gaia, it has the capacity to regulate its temperature.

    Lovelock, J.E. (1988). The Ages of Gaia: 15.


    the earth is a superecosystem (but not a superorganism, since its development is not genetically controlled) with numerous interacting functions

    Odum, E.P. (1989). Ecology and Our Endangered Life-Support Systems: 59.