Philosophy Phriday: Antílcar Cabral: National Liberation and Soil Culture

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the forty-seventh contribution in the series, submitted by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò.


Antílcar Cabral: National Liberation and Soil Culture

A single mega-colony of ants has colonised much of the world.

Linepithema humile (LH) started on a single continent, but have now conquered vast stretches of land across the entire globe.  A 560 square kilometer settlement on the coast of California.  3700 miles of the Mediterranean coast.  A Catalonian supercolony.  Two more in Kobe, and parts of western Japan.  They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere.

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Here, there, everywhere. Photo: Alex Wild

Their sycophants call them “tolerant” and “non-aggressive.”  Which they are – to each other.  Researchers in Japan and Spain have found that they share chemical similarities in their cuticles, part of their outer covering.  This helps them identify ants from the LH megacolony, even when those ants are from different sides of the world entirely.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some internal squabbles and rivalries between sections of this global megacolony.  The Kobe ants and the ants on Japan’s west side  have longstanding beef, and mainland European ants will scrap with their cousins in the Iberian supercolony.  But generally, they’re on the same team: the researchers found that colonizer ants from completely different continents – Europe, North America, and Asia – acted as if they were in the same colony when introduced to each other, rubbing shoulder-antennae like old pals.

The native species of their territorial conquests know the truth about that “tolerance” and “non-aggression”: when these LH ants leave their megacolonies, they’re not sending their best.  They’re sending ants that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them.  There’s pestilence, attacks on native non-ant species, seizures of land that squeeze out native ants from their territory. (And some, I assume, are good insects.)

The megacolony is taking more and more territory on the globe, and an unaffiliated ant can’t so much as crash a good California picnic or dig in some western Japanese trash without risking their thorax.   What’s a good ant to do in this world?

A faint light of hope shines on the African continent.  A group of revolutionary ants, where the worker ants share the traditional responsibilities of the queen.  A standout worker ant among these: Antílcar Cabral.

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Not pictured: Cabral’s thorax.  But trust me.

Antílcar Cabral does most of his work in the struggle, helping organize his comrades against invasive forces from the Iberian supercolony.  But he gave many speeches and talks outlining aspects of his theoretical perspective, including some thoughts about liberation and freedom, informed by his serious schedule of study and his long history of political and agricultural work with fellow ants.

Cabral says that the “principle characteristic of imperialism” is the negation of the “historical process” of dominated ants, and that they do that by usurping the “free operation of the development of the productive forces”.

So we can probably get behind the idea that it would suck to have your colony’s productive forces dominated by some other group.  Food and shelter are important, and we don’t want them controlled by some other, potentially hostile insects.  But why would that define imperialism?   With a bit of work, we can see why Cabral thinks this is true.

In the background of Cabral’s thought is a philosophical perspective called materialism.  Materialists think that what is primarily important about ants is that they are material creatures with material needs.  A materialist’s default strategy for explaining about why ants think and behave in the ways they do will involve their relationship to these needs.  Since the world doesn’t just shape itself in a way that meets an ant’s needs (wouldn’t that be nice!), ants have to do things to make the world habitable and hospitable to their wants and needs: call that labor.

Think about it this way.  The megacolony doesn’t control everything a native ant colony does – for one, it can’t (that’s just too much to police), and secondly, it really doesn’t care how ants comb their antennae or whether their self care is on point.  But it does to some extent control the specific aspects of colony life that Cabral labels “productive forces”.  That is, the megacolony’s moves dictate whether the ant colony can expand their series of tunnels here or there – the megacolony probably snatches up the prime real estate underneath the Popeye’s franchises, for example – and what natural resources it has access to.  

If things are going well, an ant society organizes itself around its own collective survival and thriving.  The way that an ant society does this is through what Cabral calls “culture”.  Culture involves, among other things, giving roles to individual ants.  An ant in a native society plays its role as part of that ant society  – maybe a tunneling drone, maybe a Queen, maybe an all-purpose worker, maybe a stand up ant comedian.  Maybe they want to reject that role, try to form a new one, challenge the available roles in their colony: any and all of those options could count as their own living of their ant life, since they are a true part of the social world they are trying to adapt to, survive, reform, or revolutionize.  In a way, an ant is reforming themselves in a collective way when they try to live individual lives that succeed or fail to fit the whole group’s blueprint – that is, when they are a part of that group.  But that’s to say that two things matter to the ant: their own goals and their relationship to the structure of the colony life that forms the context for pursuing those goals.

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An ant pursuing its goal in its society. Photo: Alex Wild

But if an ant in a native society wants to become anything, form any kind of life – develop a killer abdomen; make a name for herself as the quickest picnic stick-up kid in the west – she’ll have to depend on staying alive, which means meeting her basic material needs.  She only can meet her basic material needs if the colony can make the moves that secure its survival and welfare.  But if those moves are dictated by the wants, needs, and decisions of an interloping megacolony, then the ant can’t make her own life.  The native ant might have her own goals, but what explains the context of the life in which she pursues those goals are, at the end of the day, the needs and goals of a megacolony she’s not a part of.  This is why Cabral says that ant liberation takes place “when, and only when, national productive forces are completely free of all kinds of foreign domination.”  Only when all ants share in the free operation of “productive forces”, only when culture is shared and jointly cultivated rather than imposed, can anyone be free.

Maybe you’re thinking: wait, but don’t #allantsmatter?  Why is what we’re saying only true of ants under imperial domination? What about the poor, misunderstood ants from the megacolony?!  The ones who #resist their colony’s worst excesses (#notOURqueen)?

But Antílcar Cabral would simply tell you he’s been agreeing with that view the whole time (and also, probably, that you should chill out on the hashtags).  In the middle of armed conflict with the Iberian ants, he also gave a speech called “Message to the People of Portugal”.  Despite being in the midst of deadly conflict – a conflict that eventually claimed his life – he addresses the worker ants of Iberia as friends and comrades.  He explains that the colonial queens sending workers to die, setting megacolony apart from native ant populations, are the true obstacle between a goal that Iberian and African worker ants ought to share: an end to imperial relationships between ants in either direction, and the construction of a world where all ants can fuck up humans’ picnics together.


Femi bacon pictureOlúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò is a PhD candidate in philosophy at UCLA.  He’s interested in meta-ethics, social/political philosophy, the Black Radical Tradition, and sandwiches.

Ant Nest Attached to Fossil Mammal Butt

Dedicated readers of our myrmeco-media outlet will remember our first editorial (that went mildly viral) on efforts by the vertebrate media to bury the lede (ants) with a dinosaur tail. We happy to report, via Fossil Correspondant Dr. Regan Dunn, that ants are actively asserting their dominance over the paleo realm.

Correpondant Dunn, over email, explained what we’re seeing here:

I wondered what that hard thing was on this large chunk of fossil mammal bone, so I poked it with my pick, then all these guys came out, moving the queen and larvae. I felt bad, I had no idea this was an ant nest…

They made a nest shaped like a vase out of sediment and fastened it to a chunk of astrapothere butt.

The sediment is really ashy, it’s funny because the Eocene bugs did the same thing with all that ash when it was fresh out of the volcano; no ant nests have been described. Dung beetles and bees…

Even we must admit that astrapotheres looked cool:

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An extinct mammal. Photo: Dmitry Bogdanov

But in the end, ants get the last laugh – and it’s very clear which clade is the butt of the joke.

Philosophy Phriday: Propositional Anttitudes and Social Coordination

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the forty-sixth contribution in the series, submitted by Carolina Flores.


Propositional Anttitudes and Social Coordination

We are inveterate mentalizers: we primarily think of one another, and often of other animals, as minded. More specifically, we ascribe beliefs, desires, and a whole range of attitudes to one another, and offer these ascriptions as the privileged causal explanations of our own and others’ behavior.

This is a hugely impressive cognitive skill. In fact, one might see it as the kind of skill that sets humans apart from other animals. Start by considering cognitively simple animals like ants. Though ant societies are complex and include impressive displays of cooperative behavior (more on this below), ants don’t think. The organization of ant colonies is the result of a brute causal process. In contrast, this picture holds that humans are different in kind: complex human societies are the result of individuals thinking and inquiring, and in particular coordinating by reading others’ minds.

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An ant minding its own business. Photo: Alex Wild

According to this view, humans have a special place in nature as rational and linguistic animals. As part of this deluxe package deal, we have a tendency to think about the world in ways which reach their apex in scientific theorizing: we observe regularities in the world, see them as indicating hidden causes, and catalogue these causes in theories which explain why things happen and allow us to predict what will happen next. Attitude ascriptions are just one instance of this kind of thinking. We observe each other’s behavior and ascribe beliefs and desires as hidden causes of that behavior. The result: folk psychology, a proto-scientific theory that allows us to explain and predict others’ behavior. We then apply this pervasively in our interactions.

Whether or not you share with me the sense that this view is objectionably self-congratulatory, something should make you a little antsy. We don’t in fact relate to each other as passive objects in the world. My interest in your behavior is very different from my interest in the trajectory of billiard balls. And this manifests in differences between our attitude-ascribing practices and our postulation of hidden causes for physical events.

Here are some ways in which our interaction with other humans differs from our interaction with the majority of medium-sized physical objects in our environment: We ask questions, demand explanations and apologies, care about each other, trust one another, rely on others to help us, make promises, feel disappointed in one another, offer criticism, and so on. These kinds of interactions involve seeing others as responsible agents who respond to shared norms. And the ascription of beliefs, desires, and other attitudes is not just a matter of offering factual claims about causes of events: it involves adopting this sort of stance – a normative stance – towards others.

For example, if I have reason to believe that you have certain attitudes and then find these to be inconsistent with your behavior, my typical reaction is not to think ‘oh well, I must have been wrong’ and revise my ascriptions. Instead, I will ask you to explain yourself, and you will typically take this demand on board, either by ascribing different attitudes to yourself, or by distancing yourself from your behavior by saying things like ‘I don’t know what I was thinking’ and apologizing. This suggests that attitude ascriptions have normative force: they set norms for behavior that we take ourselves to be accountable to. This is very puzzling if folk psychology is just a predictive-explanatory theory: such theories don’t make demands on their targets!

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And ant apologizing. Photo: Alex Wild

Further, the picture of attitude ascription we are considering has an odd starting point. It fails to ask ‘What is attitude ascription for, given the kinds of animals we are, and the needs we have?’ Instead, it assumes that humans are fundamentally inquirers, and sees attitude ascription as just the result of inquiring on a particular kind of object: other minds.

That doesn’t seem right. Like ants, we are social animals: we need to coordinate with one another to survive and thrive. We relate to each other as members of a community, not as individuals striving to understand and control passive resources. Our survival depends on our performance in social situations in which we need to implement or maintain particular relations between our actions (e.g. synchronizing our actions, or performing complementary actions in distributed roles).

Despite their lack of cognitively sophisticated abilities, ants are very good at doing this. For example, they move as a group by aligning movement speed and direction with those of surrounding others. They take up fixed roles to achieve tasks (for example, to build nests, weaver ants split the job, with some individuals holding the leaves, others producing glue, and yet others gluing the leaves together). And they use signaling to coordinate foraging: they release slow-evaporating pheromones to mark shorter paths to food and short-lived chemicals to enhance the saliency of particular sites (see Böckler et al. 2016).

Humans use similar strategies for social coordination – simple motor coordination with others nearby, fixed or temporarily fixed roles, and signaling mechanisms. These don’t require theorizing about others’ minds. But we are much more cognitively sophisticated and aim at harder tasks. We should thus expect that social coordination places more demands on us, and also that we have more elaborate tools that allow us to achieve it.

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Ants engaging in social coordination. Photo: Alex Wild

This provides a new angle from which to approach folk psychology and attitude ascription: attitude ascription is at the service of social coordination, not of theoretical inquiry into the world surrounding us. Such a starting point appropriately places human beings in the natural world: we are not primarily rational inquirers trying to explain and control nature, but social animals who need to coordinate with one another, and who evolved a set of practices that help us do that (Andrews 2015). In this picture, humans are not fundamentally different from ants in this regard, though we do have extra tools.

Further, if the primary function of folk psychology is facilitating social coordination, we can begin to explain its normative dimension. To recap: folk psychology tells us not only how people typically act given certain mental states, but also how they should act. This is displayed in the fact that failures to fit expectations demand reparations from the target of the ascription. If I fail to behave in accordance with others’ expectations, I owe them something: a justification or explanation of my behavior. In contrast, a mere summary of causal regularities places no demands on the objects described. This makes folk psychology unlike a proto-scientific theory. But it makes a lot of sense if its main purpose is social coordination, given that social coordination is facilitated by the existence of norms which participants respond to (see McGeer 2007 for more on this).

We can see attitude ascriptions as a corrective device employed when our behavioral expectations are not met, frustrating our cooperative ventures. In such cases, we are led to wonder why the other acted as they did. Finding a folk-psychological explanation is important because it ensures the other remains comprehensible according to our shared norms, and thus can be relied on in the future. This fits with the extent and kinds of cases in which we appeal to attitude ascription – namely, not that often, and primarily in cases in which we are puzzled by others’ behavior (see Bermudez 2003). Most of the time, we can go on pretty much like ants do, simply relying on others behaving in accordance with social norms and their social role. But sometimes we are surprised. It is then useful to have a special corrective tool: explanations in terms of attitudes.

Counter-intuitively, then, ants are our friends when it comes to thinking about the distinctively human practice of attitude ascription, by encouraging us to take as our starting point the fact that we too are social animals. If we do so, we can come to a view of folk psychology as one of many tools in social coordination, a view that appropriately places human mind-reading in the natural world and does not exaggerate or distort the role of this practice in our lives.

 

References

Andrews, K. 2015. ‘The Folk-Psychological Spiral: Explanation, Regulation, and Language’ The Southern Journal of Philosophy 53. 50-67.

Bermúdez, J. L. 2003. ‘The Domain of Folk Psychology’ Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 53. 25-48.

Böckler, A., Wilkinson, A., Huber, L. & Sebanz, N. (2016). ‘Social Coordination: From Ants to Apes’. The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Evolutionary Neuroscience. 478-494.

McGeer, V. 2007. ‘The Regulative Dimension of Folk Psychology’ Folk Psychology Re-Assessed. 137-156.


Carolina_floresCarolina Flores is a philosophy graduate student at Rutgers University. Her interests include philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, feminist philosophy, and sending cute animal pictures. She gets antsy pretty often, but is neither antagonistic nor antiquated.

 

Philosophy Phriday: How Ants Can Help Solve the Mystery of Intentionality

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the forty-fifth contribution in the series, submitted by Kelle Dhein.


How Ants Can Help Solve the Mystery of Intentionality 

Biologists ascribe meaning to living systems all the time. Geneticists are happy to say that DNA carries information about how to build an organism. Bee researchers claim the waggle dance communicates information about the location food to nest mates. And as two Philosophy Phriday contributors have already noted (Lorraine Keller and Kevin Lande), the impressive navigational abilities of the desert ant Cataglyphis have caused researchers to claim that the ant must utilize cognitive representations in some way.

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An ant’s cognitive map. [Source]

What all those claims have in common is that they posit an intentional relationship between a living system and some other thing. “Intentionality” is a philosopher’s term for meaning, reference, representation, and general about-ness. Although the English word “intention” seems to form the root of “intentionality”, philosophers use intentionality as a technical term with no necessary connection to willful intentions. For example, a map of the Grand Canyon seems to exhibit intentionality in relation to the actual Grand Canyon in Arizona, not because the map somehow intends to represent the Grand Canyon but because the lines on the map are structured in such a way that they correspond to real features of the Grand Canyon.

Philosophers have yet to produce a consensus account of how intentionality works, so when philosophers see biologists positing intentional relationships in the living world, they generally ask two questions: (1) How are biologists using intentional concepts? (2) How does that usage square with existing philosophical work? In the case of desert ants integrating information about distance traveled, the answers are far from clear.

One possible answer comes from the work of philosopher Ruth Millikan, whose teleosemantic theory of intentionality holds that intentional relationships supervene on evolutionary history.1 The idea is that things in the biological world enter into intentional relationships with each other by virtue of the biological functions they have mediated in the past. For example, an ant’s alarm pheromone communicates something like “Danger!” to nest mates because in the deep evolutionary history of ant behavior, past ants who perceived that alarm pheromone acted as if there were something dangerous in the environment. In other words, the historical coupling between an ant’s perception of the alarm pheromone and an ant’s engaging in some defensive behavioral routine worked to increase the fitness of ants such that natural selection preserved the relationship between the pheromone and the defensive behavior. According to a teleosemantic understanding of intentionality, natural selection crafts living systems to perform fitness-optimizing functions, and it is that historical process of function formation that underlies intentionality in biology.

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Danger! Photo: Alex Wild

When applied to the intentional-talk of ant researchers, however, Millikan’s teleosemantic account of intentionality doesn’t quite fit. Consider the lineage of experimental work on insect navigation that eventually led myrmecologists Matthias Wittlinger, Rüdiger Wehner, and Harald Wolf to demonstrate that the desert ant Cataglyphis measures distance travelled via some kind of odometer or step counter.2 In reviewing that lineage of experimental work, myrmecologist Bernhard Ronacher frames the basic problem of desert ant navigation in the following way: “Obviously, the ants need two kinds of information to determine the home vector. They must combine information about the actual direction of the path – relative to a reference system – with information about the distance travelled in a certain direction.” The first thing to notice here is that Ronacher is employing intentional concepts to frame the problem. Somehow, ants are gathering information about distance and direction of travel. Under a teleosemantic reading, Ronacher’s framing of the problem translates to “some aspect of the desert ant has a special relationship to the properties of direction and distance travelled because natural selection acted on the ant’s ancestors to make it so.”

My contention is not that the teleosemantic translation is unreasonable. Surely, ant researchers would agree that natural selection is the ultimate cause of the desert ant’s ability to successfully navigate its environment. Rather, my contention is that intentional concepts are doing more work for ant researchers than a teleosemantic reading suggests. Consider the hypotheses about insect navigation that were in circulation before Wittlinger et al.’s 2006 experiment.3 Researchers had hypothesized that insects measure distance travelled by keeping track of how much energy they have expended;4 they hypothesized that insects measure distance traveled by monitoring how fast objects flowed through their field of vision,5 as we now know bees do,6 and they hypothesized, as Wittlinger et al. later demonstrated, that insects measure distance travelled via some kind of proprioceptor or “muscle memory” associated with walking movement.7 Under a teleosemantic reading, Ronacher’s framing of the problem doesn’t put many constraints on potential hypotheses. It only requires that the process of ant navigation be grounded in natural selection. The hypotheses that have historically been at play, however, show evidence of further constraints.

For example, the energy hypothesis, the optical flow hypothesis, and the proprioceptor hypothesis all seem designed to meet a robusticity constraint. Whatever the details of an insect’s special relationship to distance and direction of travel are, that relationship needs to be robust in the sense that the relationship will hold in a large variety of environments. The energy hypothesis conforms to the robusticity constraint because insects will have to expend energy to move, no matter the environment; the optical flow hypothesis conforms to the robusticity constraint because most environments will have stationary landmarks that insects can see; and the proprioceptor hypothesis conforms to the robusticity constraint because insects need to move to navigate, no matter the environment. In ant behavior research—and perhaps animal behavior research in general—intentional concepts may imply features about the living system under examination, features like robusticity, that can be cashed out in natural, non-intentional language. By analyzing the knowledge-gathering practices of scientists in addition to the concepts those scientists use to describe their work, philosophers can take an empirically grounded approach to the puzzle of intentionality.

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An ant attempts to grasp the concept of intentionality. Photo: Alex Wild

Indeed, ants are an ideal species for such a project. First, unlike molecules of DNA, ants exist at the scale of human experience. That’s important because traditionally, philosophers have been concerned with understanding intentionality in the context of human behavior. Insights about intentionality gleaned through the intentional-talk surrounding DNA is less likely to translate to the realm of human activity than insights gleaned through the intentional-talk surrounding a fellow social organism, the ant. Second, although contemporary eusocial insect researchers sometimes posit the existence of mental representations in eusocial insects, like cognitive maps,8 the field is generally skeptical of such abstract mental phenomena and moves to operationalize such claims at the neuronal level.9 The field’s preference for and ability to produce fine grained physiological descriptions over abstract cognitive descriptions is enormously useful because it provides philosophers with language that is fully naturalized. Contrast that with behavioral research on higher mammals, like dolphins or elephants, that has a harder time producing mechanistic cause-and-effect explanations for reasons involving the complexity of higher mammals and their amenability to laboratory conditions. Ants exist in a sweet spot on the continuum of biological entities. They are human-like enough for us to believe we can learn something about ourselves from them, but they are simple enough to be a tractable system for detailed experimentation.

Some might argue that the empirically-grounded approach to understanding intentionality I have advocated here is bound to return an overly broad account of intentionality. That’s because in the past, when philosophers have attempted to ground intentionality in the cause-and-effect language of systems thinking as opposed to the deep history of natural selection, they often face reductio ad absurdum rejoinders from other philosophers arguing that their cause-and-effect systems account of intentionality grants intentionality to absurdly simple systems, such as the fuel governor on a steam engine.10 In the face of such worries, it is important to remember that there is as yet no satisfactory account of intentionality for any aspect of the world, human affairs included. When philosophers argue that an account of intentionality is too broadly inclusive, they are arguing from their intuitions about how intentional relationships must be. But historically, philosophers have had trouble getting those intuitions to hang together in a way that makes sense of the world. To move forward, philosophers should give more weight to the way scientists use intentional concepts to gather knowledge about purportedly intentional systems, systems like the ant.

 

1Millikan (1984).

2Wittlinger et al. (2006, 2007).

3Wittlinger et al. (2006).

4Heran and Wanke (1952), Heran (1956), von Frisch (1965)

5Ronacher and Wehner (1995)

6Srinivasan (1996, 1997).

7Pieron (1904), Turner (1907)

8Gould (1986), Cheeseman et al. (2014), Morrison (2014)

9Wehner & Menzel (1990), Dyer (1991), Cruse & Wehner (2011), Cheung et al. (2014)

10See Bechtel (1998) for an account of intentionality that grants intentionality to mechanisms like the fuel governor. See Ramsey (2007) and van Gelder (1995) for arguments that the fuel governor does not exhibit intentionality.

Works Cited

Bechtel, W. (1998). Representations and cognitive explanations: Assessing the dynamicist’s challenge in cognitive science. Cognitive Science22 (3), 295-318.

Cheeseman, J. F., Millar, C. D., Greggers, U., Lehmann, K., Pawley, M. D., Gallistel, C. R., … & Menzel, R. (2014). Way-finding in displaced clock-shifted bees proves bees use a cognitive map. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (24), 8949-8954.

Cheung, A., Collett, M., Collett, T. S., Dewar, A., Dyer, F., Graham, P., … & Webb, B. (2014). Still no convincing evidence for cognitive map use by honeybees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (42), E4396-E4397.

Cruse, H., & Wehner, R. (2011). No need for a cognitive map: decentralized memory for insect navigation. PLoS computational biology, 7 (3), e1002009.

Dyer, F. C. (1991). Bees acquire route-based memories but not cognitive maps in a familiar landscape. Animal Behaviour, 41 (2), 239-246.

Gould, J. L. (1986). The locale map of honey bees: do insects have cognitive maps? Science, 232, 861-864.

Heran, H. (1956). Ein Beitrag zur Frage nach der Wahrnehmungsgrundlage der Entfernungsweisung der Bienen. Z. Vergl. Physiol. 38, 168-218.

Heran, H. and Wanke, L. (1952). Beobachtungen über die Entfernungsweisung der Bienen. Z. Vergl. Physiol. 34, 383-393.

Millikan, R. G. (1984). Language, thought, and other biological categories: New foundations for realism. MIT press.

Morrison, Jessica. (2014). Bees build mental maps to get home. Nature News & Comment. https://www.nature.com/news/bees-build-mental-maps-to-get-home-1.15333

Pieron, H. (1904). Du role du sens musculaire dans l’orientation de quelques espèces de fourmis. Bull. Inst. gén. psychol4, 168-186.

Ramsey, W. M. (2007). Representation reconsidered. Cambridge University Press.

Ronacher, B., Wehner, R. (1995) Desert ants Cataglyphisfortis use self-induced optic flow to measure distances traveled. J Comp Physiol A, 177:21–27.

Srinivasan, M., Zhang, S., Lehrer, M., & Collett, T. (1996). Honeybee navigation en route to the goal: visual flight control and odometry. Journal of experimental Biology, 199: 237–244.

Srinivasan, M., Zhang, S., Bidwell N.J. (1997). Visually mediated odometry in honeybees. Journal of experimental Biology, 200: 2513–2522.

Turner, C. H. (1907). Du rôle du sens musculaire dans l’orientation de quelques especes de fourmis. Psychological Bulletin, 4 (9), 296-297.

Wehner, R., & Menzel, R. (1990). Do insects have cognitive maps? Annual review of neuroscience, 13 (1), 403-414.

Wittlinger, M., Wehner, R., & Wolf, H. (2006). The ant odometer: stepping on stilts and stumps. science312 (5782), 1965-1967.

Wittlinger, M., Wehner, R., & Wolf, H. (2007). The desert ant odometer: a stride integrator that accounts for stride length and walking speed. Journal of experimental Biology210 (2), 198-207.

van Gelder, T. (1995). What might cognition be, if not computation? The Journal of

Philosophy92 (7), 345-381.

von Frisch, K. (1965). Tanzsprache und Orientierung der Bienen. Berlin: Springer.


DSC_0146Kelle Dhein is a PhD candidate in the Biology & Society program at Arizona State University. He is currently looking at how animal behavior researchers use intentional concepts to understand living systems. His interests lie at the intersection of philosophy, biology, cognitive science, and anything involving the word “information”. Kelle has been fond of ants since childhood.

Philosophy Phriday: Ruining Picnics with Epistemology

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the forty-fourth contribution in the series, submitted by Will Fleisher.


Ruining Picnics with Epistemology

Suppose you know that there is a picnic going on somewhere in a nearby park, but you aren’t sure where. You want nothing more than to ruin this picnic, and you have a bunch of friends with you who share your desire. You know that the most efficient way to find the picnic is to spread out and search through the park. So, while you head toward the lake, Anton searches in the woods, Antonia looks by the hill, and Brant heads to the disc golf course. If one of you finds signs of a picnic, you will signal to the others, and some of them will come join the one who found the signs. Once the picnic is discovered, you will all rush in to steal the food.

I will be informing no one reading this blog by telling you that ants are famous for their division of labor. The kind of division of labor I’m interested in here isn’t the kind facilitated by the different castes of ant (queen, worker, soldier, etc). Instead, I’m interested in the kind with the goal of picnic ruining. That is, the kind where ants divide up their exploratory labor when seeking out food, shelter, building materials, and opportunities for picnic sadism.

Continue reading “Philosophy Phriday: Ruining Picnics with Epistemology”

Ant Babies and Their Superpowers

Dedicated readers of The Daily Ant may remember that earlier this year, we featured myrmecologist Dr. Adrian Smith and his work on ant babies. Such readers may also remember our coverage of the Field Museum AntLab’s Dr. Shauna Price in a Theatre Thursdays installment. Well, recently, the same Dr. Price shared with us a marvelous BBC feature on ant babies from last spring. Although we do not endorse some of the vertebrate framing (“No one would call a baby ant cute.” Srsly?), we definitely recommend that everyone read the article and come to appreciate just how cool ant babies really are!

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Cute ant babies. Photo: Alex Wild

Philosophy Phriday [On a Tuesday]: Video Interview With Branden Fitelson

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the forty-third contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Branden Fitelson, and our first-ever Tuesday Philosophy Phriday posting!

NOTE: An upcoming contributor, Carolina Flores, shared with us a fundraising drive by Philosophers Against Factory Farming in support of the Humane League. While ants are not (yet) farmed by humans for food, The Daily Ant stands in solidarity with factory farm animals. Contribute today – the deadline is tomorrow!


Just before Thantsgiving, Dr. Branden Fitelson sat down with The Daily Ant to discuss probability, coher-ants, E.O. Wilson, and more! Although this is our fourth video interview, we’re still learning the ropes of this (surprisingly) difficult format. But we hope you find the discussion interesting nonetheless!


personal-bigDr. Branden Fitelson is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Northeastern University. With an extensive publication record, Dr. Fitelson’s interests include epistemology, probability, coherence, and, occasionally, ants.

The Daily Ant One-Year Antiversary: In Review

It’s hard to believe it, but it’s true. What started out one year ago from yesterday as a podunk formicid-friendly online media project with an inaugural post on loving your house ants has grown into a podunk formicid-friendly online media project with 196 published articles. Whether you’re joining us now for the first time, or have traversed the long foraging trail of myrmecological justice since the very beginning, it’s time to consider what we’ve accomplished together.

Continue reading “The Daily Ant One-Year Antiversary: In Review”

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