Philosophy Phriday: What Do (Ant) Emojis Mean?

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 fifty-third contribution in the series, submitted by Gretchen Ellefson.


What Do (Ant) Emojis Mean?

According to the reputable website emojis.wiki, the ant emoji, , is “a synonym for ‘hardworking.’” This came as a surprise to me; I, a proficient emoji user, have never used the ant emoji in that way (despite that I have used an ant emoji), nor have I ever interpreted an ant emoji sent to me in that way. More importantly, however, I’m not quite sure what it means for an emoji to be synonymous with an English word. Generally, we take two words to be synonymous when they have the same meaning. But what it takes for an emoji to mean something is rather different than what it takes for an ordinary word to mean something. Philosophers of language sometimes talk about sentences as having the same meaning when they have the same “truth conditions”—when the conditions under which they would count as true are the same—and bits of sentences as having the same meaning when they play the same role in contributing to the truth conditions of a sentence. So “My students are hardworking,” is true whenever my students have the property of being hardworking. What about, “My students are ”? Does this have the same truth conditions? Probably not. On the one hand, the association between ants and hardworkingness is sufficiently commonly accepted that I could certainly use “My students are ” to mean that they are hardworking. But it is just as likely that in saying, “My students are ,” I could communicate something else: that my students are very small, or that they can carry many times their body weight, etc. So what does “My students are meanPerson Shrugging on Apple iOS 10.2

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Philosophy Phriday: The Formicid Mystique

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 fifty-second contribution in the series, submitted by Madeline Eller.


The Formicid Mystique: Embodied Social Norms and Common Sense

One of the reasons that I am happy to be a philosopher rather than a scientist is that I have never had to glue tiny stilts onto an ant’s legs. Some poor grad student presumably had this task when collecting data for Wittlinger et. al.’s “The Ant Odometer: Stepping on Stilts and Stumps”. In the 2006 article, Wittlinger et. al. argue that they have solved the long-standing mystery of how ants navigate to and from their nest without retracing their steps. Indeed, the Saharan desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, can explore the surrounding landscape in a roundabout, Magellanic adventure, and then find their way back to the mound using a direct route rather than retracing their steps. How? They use what Wittlinger et. al. call “a path integrator”, which employs directional data from the ant’s “celestial compass” and travel distance as gauged by an idiothetic pedometer (ibid., p. 1965). The pedometer is crucial for the ants to know how far they are from the nest; when stilts were attached to their legs, making their legs longer, the ants overshot the location of the nest, and when the ant’s legs were shortened, they undershot the distance.

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Yes, an ant on stilts. Photo: Matthias Wittlinger

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Philosophy Phriday: The Ants Who Prefer Not To

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 fifty-first contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Helena de Bres, with illustrations by Dr. Julia de Bres.


The Ants Who Prefer Not To

If there’s one thing we think we know about ants, it’s that they work hard. Ants are always dashing around, engaged in some urgent task—and they’re very efficient about it, too. Ant colonies involve a complex division of labor, in which each ant is assigned a specific role. Some are foragers, some gardeners, some soldiers, some carpenters. Others are babysitters, teachers, flood management experts or undertakers. Then you have the ranchers, who herd aphids in the fields, and my personal favorites, the “caterpillar massagers.” (What?) One consequence of all of this impeccably organized industry is that ants have colonized almost every landmass on earth. (Antarctica is a hold out, but you can bet they’re working on it.) Another consequence is that ants can make us humans feel bad about ourselves. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard,” says Proverbs 6:6, “consider its ways, and be wise.”

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Philosophy Phriday: The Puzzle of Inter-Group Cooperation

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 fiftieth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Helen De Cruz.


The Puzzle of Inter-Group Cooperation:
What Ants Can Tell Us, and What it Means for Brexit and Trade Wars

Humans and ants share a peculiar characteristic that is rare in the animal world: both are prone to habitually cooperate not just within their groups, but also between groups.

Between-group cooperation raises evolutionary and philosophical puzzles: Under what circumstances can inter-group cooperation arise? Why don’t individuals from different groups just fuse into one bigger group, if cooperation is so useful to them? How can we make sure that such cooperative ventures continue? I’ll here look at what we can learn from polydomy—the phenomenon of different ant nests that cooperate while maintaining separate nest identity—parallels between this and human institutions such as NATO, NAFTA, and the EU, and I will draw some implications for trade wars and Brexit.

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Philosophy Phriday: Unity and Antnihilation

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-ninth contribution in the series, submitted by Jack Samuel.


Unity and Antnihilation 

Ants do things together. So do humans, though not quite in the same way. Ants do nearly everything together, but then, come to think of it, this is true of humans as well, though it’s easy to forget. (I’m working toward pointing out a difference.) The togetherness of ant activity is so thoroughgoing, in fact, that it has led many (including many past contributors to this blog) to wonder whether there mightn’t be some sense in which their togetherness constitutes a new entity: a colony, itself conceived of as an individual (perhaps, following Wilson and Hölldobler, a “superorganism”, which can be the subject of more perspicuous evolutionary explanations than a collection of individuals, just as organisms make better explanatory subjects than collections of atoms) of which we might predicate activities, aims, plans, and intentions, or whatever version of these we are prepared to predicate of non-human animals, if we harbor any rationalistic scruples against attributing genuine intentions to creatures lacking logos.

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Watch who you call “lacking logos”, dude. Photo: Alex Wild

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Philosophy Phriday: The Sociobiological Misadventures of Ants

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-eighth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Jay Odenbaugh.


The Sociobiological Misadventures of Ants

In the 1960s, Richard Levins, Richard Lewontin, Robert MacArthur, E. O.Wilson, and Leigh Van Valen occasionally met in Marlboro, Vermont to discuss how “simple theory” could integrate population genetics, ecology, biogeography, and ethology (Wilson, 2006; Singh, 2001). At this time, evolutionary biology and ecology were being attacked on two fronts. On the one, there was the rise of molecular biology which looked like it would replace organismal biology (however see Hubby and Lewontin (1966); Lewontin and Hubby (1966)). On the other, there was the rise of systems ecology with its FORTRAN computers and “big data.” Richard Levins argued that this sort of modeling confused “numbers with knowledge” (Levins, 1968, 504). In response, mathematical population biology took off (Levins, 1968; Lewontin, 1974; MacArthur and Wilson, 1967). However, there was one area which had not been added: ethology, the science of animal behavior. Wilson would controversially create sociobiology as the integration of ethology and population biology. Ants would be at the center of this story, and it begins in three strands (Wilson, 2006). Continue reading “Philosophy Phriday: The Sociobiological Misadventures of Ants”

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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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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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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