A Solitary Ant"A solitary ant, afield, cannot be considered to have much of anything on his mind; indeed with only a few neurons strung together by fibers, he can't be imagined to have a mind at all, much less a thought. He is more like a ganglion on legs. Four ants together, or ten, encircling a dead moth on a path, begin to look more like an idea. They fumble and shove, gradually moving the food toward the Hill, but as though by blind chance. It is only when you watch the dense mass of thousands of ants, crowded together around the Hill, blackening the ground, that you begin to see the whole beast, and now you observe it thinking, planning, calculating. It is an intelligence, a kind of live computer, with crawling bits for wits." -- Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell, pg 12 "Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves, engage in child labor, exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television." -- Ibid I find, on searching the internet for the quotes above, that the concept of super-organism has been considered at length by many. I want to sketch some ideas, depositing some chemicals by the trail side, to indicate directions that seem to be worth investigation/discussion. Thomas also reverses the comparison, humans are much like ants. It is no small jump to consider the possibility of a group of humans constituting a mind. Would such a mind be smarter than its constituent humans? Not necessarily, it would have fewer neurons (considering each human being to be a neuron), even if the information processing capacity of each "neuron" would be higher. Speed of communication would seem to be a factor. Until recently, geographical constraints meant that most humans communicated most often with their nearer neighbors. Might this be an explanation of the "character" of nations? That the French, British and Germans, each nation with a personality of its own, might be actual intelligent entities. Of course there would be blurring at the edges, and the modern network of communication paths have made it increasingly possible to consider a worldwide human super-organism. Looking at our appetite for and embrace of cell phones and the internet, you might even think that history had a direction. Or maybe we just like to gossip. I wonder what it might think of global warming, world peace or current American politics? Or would it even be aware of all of this, as aware as I of the micro functioning of my brain. Lewis Thomas is a fascinating writer, well worth the effort to hunt down a copy of his book. I had been gnawing away at the idea for decades when I came upon his work. He expressed the idea far better than anything I'd ever managed and gave it scientific respectability to boot.
10 Jul 2012
Copyright © 2012 Truck Smith