Herbert Spencer, the nineteenth century evolutionist, coined the term "super-organic." to focus on social organization In the first chapter of his Principles of Sociology , entitled "Super-organic Evolution", he argues for a distinction between the organic and the social domains. He does this by exploring the holistic nature of society as a social organism. He distinguishes how society do not behave like a biological organism. For Spencer, the super-organic was an emergent property of interacting organisms, such as human beings, as distinguished from being a transcend property of the individual.
The American anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber (1876-1960) defined "super-organic" as certain cultural aspects that do not directly originate from individuals within the society.
The question is: What is the relationship between the organic and super-organic, as they relate to the concept of life? Is the super-organic alive? Is it an emergent phenomenon at the organic level which provides the foundation for the emergent super-organic life forms?
The requirements for life are, according to Paul Davis (1998, The Fifth Mircle) and Peter Ward (2005, Life as we don’t know it)
Life has complexity and organization
Life is autonomous
By these criteria culture, as a super-organic form, is an emergent life form. Existing in a non-physical form but impacting the physical world, cultures have a display all of the requirements.
Super-organic entities, or cultures, or socio-cultural systems (however one calls them)
metabolize — economic and technological systems
complexity and organization — individual roles and status bound in institutional structures
Reproduce — recruit children born to members or acculturate individuals brought into the group via biological or social means
Develop — enculturating new born or acculturating new recruits to prevailing rules and behavioral through an educational process
Evolve — societies and cultures have demonstrate their ability and inability to adapt to their changing environment(s) [Ecological and archaeological studies prove this]
Autonomy — super-organic institutions claim and defend their sovereign right to exist and do so by requiring its human members, and social members to subordinate themselves to the institution by separating themselves from other competing institutions. Super-organic institutions demand loyalty.
Rather than a transcendental or metaphysical phenomena, culture defined in a super-organic sense is a legitimate subject for scientific investigation. This is especially true with modern computer modeling and practical experiments such as in the social networking taking place on the Internet.