Ant Encounters

Deborah Gordon, a professor at Stanford, shed new light on ants and the popular notion that they function as one organism. Although the queen is vital to sustaining a colony’s population, she does not possess the “hive mind” and micro manage the colony. In other words, there is no central intelligence that can control the colony. Instead, the colony is regulated by algorithms similar to how the internet manages data. A particular note to remember is that she covered ants that do not use pheromone trails to travel. Ants would wait at the entrance of the colony and based on the rate others return, the smells on them, and whether or not they carry food, they can regulate traffic and the need of harvesters.

This lecture was fascinating and more engaging than Tracing Our Ancestors. I felt very uneducated for not realizing that the concept of a “hive mind,” a central intelligence that controls a colony, does not make sense. There is no form of direct neural communication in nature that I can recall with the exception of certain parasites. Logically, it doesn’t make sense that individual organisms can compile their brainpower into one mind. But it is interesting how widespread this false notion is found in popular culture. I recently saw the movie “Ender’s Game,” in which an alien species was controlled by a queen using the “hive mind” that we thought ants possessed. One of the characters explicitly referenced its likeness to ants when commenting on their “hive mentality.” Even in a multimillion industry, they based their “facts” about ants on common assumptions that we take as “knowledge.” It was frankly mind-blowing to realize that ants have been using the same algorithm used for internet regulation for millions of years. We believe ourselves to be the most intelligent of all organisms on Earth, yet were are only rediscovering what other species have developed millions of years ago. So the thought occurred to me: what other technological marvels are other species using that can solve human problems? I have always been interested in biology and am currently considering a major in engineering. This question can merge my interests and create something innovative that can usher in a new age of discovery.

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