The Crow's Dream

Philosophy, geekery, and the meaning if life, and what I read this week…

Thoughts on ants and people

with 7 comments

Today, I listened to a lecture about Superorganisms. It all came about because I found a very interesting video in another blog. I’m not going to repost it here, but if you want to see it go to youtube

Basically, a superorganism is an organism composed of many individuals. Ants are a great example of such a thing. The main characteristic of superorganisms is division of labor. There is usually a queen in charge of reproduction, and a few males whose sperm can be stored in pouches within the queen for years. There are workers and there are warriors. Complex organizations such as these emerge in nature though evolution, and are only possible because of communication between the different aspects of the hive or ant hill. Every member communicates though gestures and though pheromones, much in the way our brains communicate through neurotransmitters, and you and I though this blog. 

Did you know that  the total weight of all the dry ants on Earth equals the total weight of humans? They are very successful beings!

Although unscientific, it is almost impossible not to draw parallels between humans and ants. It seems like whenever we find an emergent system, there are a few things these systems have in common. For example,according to László Barabási, they all contain hubs of information, an these hubs connect and pass along self replicating structures. It is amazing how simple the complexity of existence can be once you look at it as the interaction and the communication of particles. 

It seems to me that humans are a successful species because we have learned to divide labor. It would be impossible for anyone to learn everything there is to learn about everything. The endeavor of science and discovery is centered around sharing the results of our discoveries, of course, it would e foolish to say that we are just like ants, because we are also individuals, but we know that nature loves to reuse successful adaptations, like the wings of bats and birds, or the fins in fish and dolphins. 

I think one of the good things about not being an ant, and I’m sure there are many, is our ability to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I’ve been trying to find the right approach to my new life as a married man. It is clear that my wife and I need to divide what we do, so I volunteered to make lunch and dinner, I guess that if I was an any I’d just predigest leaves and vomit them on plates, but as a human, I can actually imbue the process of cooking with art and with mastery. I can do better than consuming processed and junky food, and I can use food preparation as a way to expand the boundaries of my brain. Is culture a visual pheromone? 

As humans we use music, food, and clothing to communicate, we even use postures and smells. I think art is pretty cool. We enjoy and appreciate what we do, and we can create amazing complexity out of our surroundings. Our brains create convincing simulations of the world around us… Still, ants are pretty impressive.


Written by Hector

November 21, 2008 at 7:25 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Did you know that the total weight of all the dry ants on Earth equals the total weight of humans?

    More proof there is a God! How else could a mathematical equivalence like that exist? 😉

    Daniel Florien

    November 21, 2008 at 7:35 pm

  2. Well hold on a sec…

    I think humans and ants are a great parallel. We live in hubs (about half of us live in large cities), divide our labor and work for the good of our hub.

    Where we differ is that because we have complex brains we have many more levels of management and organization and we can be individuals who are aware that no matter how high up we go, we’re still just another cog in our society and our importance merely depends on our placement in the mechanism.

    Just read a few business magazines (or some stuff I write for them) to get a look at how much like an anthill the average human company or organization is…


    November 21, 2008 at 8:43 pm

  3. Oops! I meant to say that “it is almost impossible NOT to draw parallels between humans and ants” sorry everyone.


    November 21, 2008 at 9:14 pm

  4. Daniel, not sure if you were being sarcastic or not, but the rough equivalence of total ant and human weight are about as far from a proof of divinity as I can imagine. That’s kinda like the whole Lincoln/Kennedy thing. Odd coincidences do not equal proof.
    Sorry, I’m feeling a bit prickly today.


    November 25, 2008 at 6:01 pm

  5. Drew– check out Daniel’s blog 😉


    November 26, 2008 at 12:36 am

  6. Somewhere there are two ants deep in conversation saying the same thing about us.


    November 26, 2008 at 2:34 am

  7. Oh dammit. I can never tell if someone is being sarcastic about religion or not. My apologies Daniel.


    November 27, 2008 at 8:33 pm

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