group thinking

Group Thinking Makes Complex Lifeforms Possible

“Each atom is to the yogi a living thing, leading its own independent life. These atoms combine into groups for some end and the group manifests a group intelligence, as long as it remains a group; these groups again combining in turn, and forming bodies of a more complex nature, which serves as a vehicle for for higher forms of consciousness. When death comes to the physical body the cells separate and scatter and that which we call decay sets in. The force which has held the cells together is withdrawn, and it becomes free to go its own way and form new combinations. Some go into the body of the plants in the vivinity, and eventually find themselves again in the body of an animal; others remain in the organism of the plant; others remain in the ground for a time, but the life of the atom means incessant and constsnt change. As a leading writer has said: ‘Deat is but an aspect of life, and the destruction of one material form is but a prelude to the building up of another.’” ~William Walker Atkinson

Living Thing

I’ve discussed this before, but it’s worth repeating for this post. When we say that a life form is living, we know what we mean, yet we cannot locate the life in that being. Life exists in it at the cellular level for sure and probably at the atomic level. I’ve also discussed that we are a hierarchy of life, at least on the physical level. We are not a single living entity but a conglomeration of billions of living beings. And that is true of all complex beings.

Start of Life

On the physical level, we know that single-celled lifeforms came first. At least that is the prevailing theory of science. That theory doesn’t explain how and why non-living atoms came together to form those living beings, but we will accept the theory at this point.

The next level of complexity in life came when some of these single cells began to cling together and form a multi-celled being. That most primitive form of multi-celled life

Sponge near diver

is the sponge still found today in the oceans (and bearing little resemblance to Spongebob Squarepants). In a sponge, there are no specialized cells of any kind. Each cell is the same, like bricks in a brick wall. And yet the spange is able to function as a true multi-celled animal in many ways. It serves as a good example, though, for the point that even in the most complex of beings, each cell is an independent lifeform.

Group Thinking

Each of those cells thinks independently, yet they are also engaging in group thinking an multiple levels, as Atkinson notes in the quote. Group thinking has been given a negative connotation today. That is because many see it as the same thing as herd mentality and crowd mentality, but each of those things is slightly different and the first two have more positive aspects than negative ones.

One of the best examples to illustrate positive group thinking is to watch a large flock of birds in flight. The leader of the flock can make a turn and all the others follow with collisions being very rare. In essence, their tiny bird minds are linked together while in flight so the thoughts of one are the thoughts of all. You might call it flock consciousness.


While crowd mentality can certainly be a negative thing, the type of group thinking, or group consciousness, Atkinson is talking about is a positive thing. But whether positive or negative, it is a reality. Individual cells of living beings are conscious on the most basic level. When they group together for a specific purpose, they have a group mentality that is generally useful. We would not live long, for example, if each of our blood cells decided on its own what it was going to do. The fact that all red blood cells carry food and oxygen to all cells in the body makes living possible. The fact that all white cells fight disease, among other things, helps us stay alive and healthy. So even though the cells remain separate, they still engage in a primitive group thinking that allows them to function as if they made up an organ of the body.

Group Thinking in Man

In other cases, different cells form organs like the heart, liver, and longs in more complex beings. Each organ has a group mentality that allows it to perform its function. And all the organs and other parts of a complex lifeform like a human engage in group thinking as a total being so when we want to walk forward, we don’t have one leg trying to go forward and the other going in reverse. While it might be argued that the brain is controlling all of this, there is growing evidence that the mind, especially the subconscious mind that handles such thing as walking and breathing, is not completely in the brain but is spread out and may function separate from the body entirely. In other words, the complete consciousness of a person is not just the brain-mind, but also the group thinking of every cell in the body.

Group Thinking of Spirit and Soul

Is group thinking limited to the physical world? Probably not. In fact, most spiritual and mystery schools have taught for ages that a form of group thinking does function in the spiritual realms. The primary goal of spiritual development is to unite the soul with God or the Universal Consciousness. Forst, of course, we have to awaken the soul. Then we can start developing group thinking on the spiritual level as well as the physical. Then one day we may again be a single Consciousness of All mad up of many individual bits of consciousness.


Concentration is Important in Mental and Spiritual Activities

“Every impatient act and thought, no matter how small, costs us an unprofitable outlay of force. If, sometime, when you are tired with walking—that is, walking with your legs, while your brain has been working, wool-gathering, or worrying, planning, and scheming—you will drive all such thought away and put all your mind, attention, and force in your limbs and feet, you may be surprised to find your strength return and your fatigue leave you. Because every physical act costs a thought, and every thought costs a certain outlay of force. Every step you take involves a plan to give that step direction. Plan involves outlay of thought. Thought means outlay of force. If you think of other things while walking, you are expending force in two directions at once.

“Do you think that an acrobat could so readily ascend a rope hand over hand, did he not put his whole mind as well as strength on the act? Or that an orator could thrill an audience were he obliged to turn a grindstone while speaking? Yet in so many of our acts do we not unconsciously burden ourselves by turning that grindstone in thinking and planning one thing while doing, or trying to do, another.” ~Prentice Mulford


I’m not sure how the business world looks at it now, but I remember in the 1980s how multi-tasking became the in thing and the buzz word that everyone was using and practicing. The idea was that on many jobs, there are times when, for one reason or another, you can’t do much of anything on the task assigned to you. Perhaps you are waiting for another person to do their part. Or you are waiting to get an answer to some questions. Whatever the reason, you can’t work constantly on one task. So the solution was to give everyone four or five tasks to work on. The company I worked for became a big proponent of this multi-tasking. But it didn’t take very long for this idea to fade to some degree. It didn’t work for two primary reasons. The first, and most important, is that you don’t do your best work when you can’t concentrate on a single task. The second is that those breaks that occur when you have just one task to work on are needed to give the mind a rest. Your mind needs an occasional rest just as the body does.

Walking and Talking

While Mulford makes a good point of the idea that we need to do one thing at a time, and pay attention mentally to what we are doing, his example of the person walking while thinking of something else is, in my opinion, not a good one. It is certainly true for someone just learning to walk, but not for someone who has been walking for ten years or more.

There are many things that our body can do without concentration. Things like breathing, and heartbeat. These are controlled by the autonomic nervous system which functions well with little or no conscious thought. There are others that do require our attention to do them properly. In between those two are some things that need only limited involvement of the conscious mind. Walking, for most of us, falls into that in between group. You can walk and think at the same time. It is even possible to walk and chew gum at the same time! What most of us really can’t do is work on two mental problems at the same time. Nor can we do something that is physically difficult or challenging and do serious mental tasks simultaneously.

Spiritual Concentration

For those of us who are developing our spiritual side, the need for concentration is even more important. While some benefit is gained from sun-gazing, or other spiritual techniques, while the mind wanders and thinks of many other things, the best results are obtained when we concentrate on thinking about what we are doing. When we are looking toward the sun, we need to concentrate on connecting with the spiritual sun. If we don’t, our sun gazing will probably be limited to connecting with the physical sun. While that isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t what the spiritual aspirant is after.

In Zen schools, they tell you to empty your mind to allow spirit in. This is just another way of saying concentrate on what you are doing. Try to prevent your mind from wandering all over the place. It is especially important to not worry about difficulties in the physical world while engaging in spiritual practices. If you do, then you are feeding energy to the things you are worried about and making them more likely to happen, or get worse. It may even be better to skip your spiritual practices for a day rather than do them when you can’t stop worrying about something. This is why developing mental discipline is an important part of and legitimate spiritual school’s teachings. Concentration rules the nation!