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Make the Anthill Great Again! The Ant Colony and the Human Ones

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Imagine yourself as an ant. What would be your perception of the world? Mainly, it is other ants from the same colony. As an ant, you are nearly blind but you have an excellent sense of smell and most of you sensorial inputs are the pheromones you receive from your sister ants that then you transmit to other ants. This kind of feedback-based pheromone exchange may lead to remarkably complex behaviors. Yet, the colony has no structure that we could see as a brain. If we define “self-consciousness” as the capability of a creature to model itself, the colony doesn’t have this capability. It can react to external stimuli, and it can do that fast. But it can’t plan for the future. It is the same for single ants: for them, the colony is a set of smells; they don’t really perceive it.

Now, zoom back to your condition of a human being reading a blog post. What’s your perception of the world? You are probably smarter than the average ant, but, like an ant, your perception of the world is mainly shaped by the pairwise contacts you have with other human beings, members of the same colony. These stimuli are verbal, not olfactory, but the mechanism of transmission and retransmission is the same. Like an ant, you are continuously exposed to stimuli from the media and from social networks that you then retransmit to other humans. This often generates transient bursts of reinforcing feedbacks that may generate rapid, even violent, collective reactions on the part of the whole colony. But the human colony doesn’t have a brain, it can react to external stimuli but it can’t plan ahead. Those large human colonies called “states” don’t show an intelligent behavior; not more than ant colonies do. States explore their environment, compete for resources, occasionally fight each other, at times very destructively. But these are behaviors that ant colonies engage in as well.

Of course, single human beings have abilities that ants lack: they are self-conscious in the sense that they can model their environment and themselves. They even have specific brain structures dedicated to this purpose, such as the “mirror neurons” used to model the behavior of other humans. But all this doesn’t seem to affect the behavior of the colony. The sophisticated modeling capabilities of human brains seem to be used mainly to gain an advantage in playing the sexual competition game between individuals. Outside of this realm, most humans probably see their “country” mostly as a semantic entity created by simple messages related to defense and attack. They have no perception of the immense complexity of a giant human colony of tens or hundreds of millions of individuals.

Theoretically, however, the power of the human brain could be applied to the management of the colony. In history, we see the widespread attempt to place a single human being – that is, a single brain – in charge of the activity of the state. That sometimes leads to attempts of planning for the future of the whole colony, but it often backfires creating disasters. A single human brain cannot manage the immense complexity of a human state. Dictators, kings, emperors, and the like are normally just as clueless about the system they are supposed to manage as their subject. Maybe as clueless as the ants of an anthill.

Yet, something changed in recent times. We may see the appearance of “world modeling” in the 1970s as the serendipitous awakening of consciousness in the human colony. Digital computers made it possible to perform studies such as the 1972 “The Limits to Growth” that modeled society on the basis of quantitative data and projected the results to the future. It was the first time in history that society could really plan for the future. In particular, the models identified a phenomenon scarcely known before: it was called “overshoot”, the tendency of society to overexploit its resources and then collapse. The models could be used to plan ahead and avoid collapse.

But, as well known, these studies had little or no impact and the world’s human colonies continued their blind path toward collapse. This is probably understandable. The emergence of complex structures such as brains is driven by evolutionary competition. Humans developed their large brains as tools for inter-group sexual competition. But states or industrial companies compete by exploiting the available resources as fast as possible. They have no advantage in the capability of planning for the long term, especially when the results of the planning is that they should slow down the exploitation rate. Doing that would only give more chances to their competitors who don’t. So, the behavior of human colonies remains dictated by one very simple rule: grow as much as possible and don’t care about anything else.

It is the same for ants: eusocial ant colonies have been around for more than 50 million years. If anthills had benefitted from being self-conscious, there was plenty of time for natural selection to create that characteristic. Instead, it seems that the intelligence of both individual ants and of ant colonies is optimized for the survival of the anthill. There is evidence that social insects are less intelligent than their wild counterparts as a result of the colony taking over in many tasks that were once for the individual to deal with. The same phenomenon may be taking place in human colonies: human brains have been shrinking during the past tens of thousands of years. The trend may have been greatly accelerated in recent times by the development of social networks on the Internet.

In the end, it may well be that the evolution of the human species is leading it to develop a eusocial behavior similar to that of social insects such as ants or bees. That would possibly entice an overall reduction of individual intelligence, not completely compensated by an increase in societal intelligence. Eusocial human colonies would keep competing against each other for the available resources as they ar doing now. As a eusocial species, humans might be very successful, just as eusocial ants have been very successful in the insect world. But, on the whole, these eusocial entities would not be self-conscious and wouldn’t engage in long term planning

Yet, the future remains impossible to predict: humans are clever monkeys and you never know what they may be able to invent. There may be ways to make the human colony conscious and that would lead to a whole new spectrum of behaviors that, at present, we can only vaguely imagine. For the time being, it seems that we can’t do much more than blindly keep at the impossible task of making the anthill great again.

Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi

17 Comments on "Make the Anthill Great Again! The Ant Colony and the Human Ones"

  1. Apneaman on Tue, 16th May 2017 9:43 am 

    Mmmmmm a big bowl of hopium with a side of bullshit for breakfast. I luvs me some eye-talian.

  2. Apneaman on Tue, 16th May 2017 9:48 am 

    The Great Barrier Reef Is Probably Doomed No Matter What

    A new study suggests that even slight amounts of global warming will devastate Australia and destroy its famous reef.

  3. Sissyfuss on Tue, 16th May 2017 9:57 am 

    No, humans aren’t clever monkeys. They’re cancer monkeys and the ant hill continues to fill up with plastic refuse and Trump’s exwives. Great as a word can mean excellent but can also mean large as in red ties or piles of dung.

  4. bobinget on Tue, 16th May 2017 11:16 am 

    Easy Sissy,
    Ex wives, even plastics are recyclable.

    When a person looks at the plight of women in all but the most enlightened, democratic nations, who can pity an American Billionaire’s ex? To his credit, Trump doesn’t kill used wives, just makes then sign non-disclosure agreements before they get a grand payoff.
    Look how far all sissies have come.

  5. Apneaman on Tue, 16th May 2017 12:17 pm 

    Premature Heat Grips Mediterranean; Deadly Forest Fire in Greece

    “Scorching temperatures affected much of the eastern Mediterranean on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Shown here in degrees C are readings analyzed for 1200Z Saturday (3 PM local time in Athens, Greece). Image credit:

    A burst of desert air swept from northern Africa into southeast Europe over the weekend, bringing temperatures more akin to August than May. Readings above 35°C (95°F) were widespread across Greece on Saturday. The city of Argos (one of the world’s oldest) reported a high of 40.6°C (105.1°F), which ties a 40.6°C reading set in nearby Astros in May 1988 for the warmest May temperature on record for Greece. The Athens airport notched its highest temperature ever recorded so early in the year: 33.4°C (92.1°F) on Saturday, beating 32.6°C from May 13, 2007.”

  6. Theedrich on Tue, 16th May 2017 4:43 pm 

    Hmmm: the Dems murdered Wikileaker Seth Rich? Now known is the fact that Wikileaks’ 44,053 Democrat emails exposing Clintonian anti-Bernie-Sanders machinations in the 2016 presidential campaign came from Rich, not from “the Russians,” a fact which might explain his “unexplainable” murder on July 10, 2016.

    According to ZeroHedge, Rich (the Voter Expansion Data Director at the DNC) communicated with Wikileaks

    “through Gavin MacFadyen, an American investigative reporter and director of WikiLeaks who was living in London at the time.” … “Then, on July 22, just 12 days after Rich was killed, WikiLeaks published internal DNC emails that appeared to show top party officials conspiring to stop Bernie Sanders from becoming the party’s presidential nominee.”

    But we are given this comforting afterthought:  according to, Rich’s “Beth El Synagogue in Omaha named an existing scholarship after Rich, one which helps Jewish children attend summer camps.”  Also, the murdered man’s garden-variety Jewish family is naturally trying to absolve the Demonic Party from any collusion in the murder, claiming it does not want the crime “politicized.”  On the other hand, sources inside the police department say that they were told (obviously by political authorities) to “stand down” on (i.e., forget) the investigation.  (Because, after all, these accidents just happen to those who are traitors to the Demonic cause.)

    Nothing to see here, folks.  Just keep moving along.

  7. DerHundistlos on Wed, 17th May 2017 1:25 am 

    Theedrich counsels, “Nothing to see here, folks. Just keep moving along.”

    Good advice. Another PizzaGate fantasy that exists only in your wet dreams.

  8. Theedrich on Wed, 17th May 2017 4:20 am 

    Well, Hound, give some source.  Your favorite vermin in the Demonic Party and the media suppress all facts regarding the Clintonites.  It is now clear that Seth Rich was the leaker of the 44,053 DNC e-mails the cleptomaniac wanted kept secret.  The MSM is nothing but a corrupt squid dependent on the low IQs of the American herd and slowly strangling it.  If you have any info which “explains” why not only Rich, but so many others connected with the Clitorians and their pay-for-play operations have died mysterious deaths over the years, let’s see it.

    Obviously you’re just another brainwashed dolt unable to think for yourself.

  9. Apneaman on Wed, 17th May 2017 8:45 pm 

    There’s a big fucking magnifying glass that’s frying the ants alive.

    April of 2017 was the Second Hottest in 137 Year Climate Record

    “According to measurements by NASA’s GISS global temperature monitoring service, April of 2017 was considerably warmer than all past Aprils in the climate record with the single exception of 2016.”

  10. Apneaman on Wed, 17th May 2017 8:55 pm 

    Record Breaking Heat Today, Even Hotter Thursday

    In a decade or less all these new high temperature records in the last few years will be seen as the good ole days.

  11. Apneaman on Wed, 17th May 2017 9:25 pm 

    Record-Setting Heat Continues
    Among the places that tied previous records for May 17th, Boston tied at 92° and Concord, NH tied at 93°

  12. Apneaman on Wed, 17th May 2017 9:28 pm 

    The extinction event we’re in the middle of

    “When was the Holocene extinction? We’re living it. Like the Quaternary extinction, humans and climate change are the cause.

    Some scientists estimate that the planet is currently losing about 140,000 species each year, which would make the Holocene extinction the highest rate of extinction since a 6-mile-wide asteroid or a comet wiped out the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.

    I have some doubts about the accuracy of the 140,000-species-per-year number — I suspect it’s almost impossible to estimate such a widespread and complex phenomenon as a global extinction event, especially while it’s happening.

    But it really doesn’t matter. We do know for certain that the human footprint on Earth is expanding. The current human population is 7.5 billion people. That’s up from an estimated 1 million to 15 million people at the time of the Quaternary extinction event about 10,000 years ago.”

  13. Apneaman on Wed, 17th May 2017 9:33 pm 

    Christie Lake sees flooding beyond living memory

    “For Paul Jordan, co-owner of Jordan’s Cottages, the flooding has affected his business, with 10 cottages surrounded by water, and six that have water inside them. Further to this, his nearby campground is under two-and-a-half feet of water.

    “Time is as much an enemy as water,” said Jordan during a telephone interview Monday, May 15. The flooding is already having an impact on his business as his cottages were supposed to open this Victoria Day weekend. “I’ve already had to call people to tell them that they can’t come this long weekend.” ”

    AGW breaking the bank.

  14. DerHundistlos on Wed, 17th May 2017 11:21 pm 


    The burden of proof is on your side to prove that the New York restaurant known as PizzaGate was a child molestation den. You have no legitimate evidence. Sure, every now and then some boob on your side shows-up at the family restaurant expecting to break a child sex ring, but instead discovers a multi-generational family owned and operated neighborhood restaurant. Fortunately, the owners are tough New Yorkers who know by now how to handle the nutters until the police respond.

  15. makati1 on Wed, 17th May 2017 11:49 pm 

    Temps here in Manila have been 4F to 6F above normal off and on for the last 6 weeks. It has now dropped back to the upper 80s and low 90s which is “normal”.

    Temps in South Central Pennsylvania have danced all over the map this year and it is hitting the 80s now, in the middle of May. Not a good sign for the summer.

    The extinction level event is growing ever closer. Can you grow crops in chaotic weather? Answer: Only if you like to play at the weather casino with your money. Rain at the wrong time, or lack of, can devastate harvests. Is food security guaranteed? Nope. Are you prepared for a year without a crop? Two? Think about it.

  16. Theedrich on Thu, 18th May 2017 3:35 am 

    HoundDog: SETH RICH is the topic here, not pizza. The Clitorian party is suspected of murdering him.

    I realize that someone of your subnormal IQ cannot understand that.  Go back to your coloring books.

  17. DerHundistlos on Fri, 19th May 2017 1:27 pm 

    “suspected of murder” By whom? More pathetic drivel with no bases in reality just as with the fake PizzaGate child molestation story.

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