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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 fourthvideointerview, we’re still learning the ropes of this (surprisingly) difficult format. But we hope you find the discussion interesting nonetheless!
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.
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-second contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. David Faraci. We apologize for yet another Monday posting.
If There’s a Number of Real Ants, is There a Real Number of Ants?
Many people believe in ants. Most of those people believe, more specifically, that ants exist independently of what goes on in our heads. Philosophers who believe this more specific thing might say that ants are mind-independent, and they might call themselves anty realists.
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-first contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Sukaina Hirji. We apologize for the Monday posting – a mistake on our end, not Dr. Hirji’s!
Aristotle famously asserts that ants are, by nature, political animals. Anthusiasts of this blog might find it surprising, however, that ants are not the only animals that Aristotle countenances as naturally political. In the History of Animals, Aristotle explains that political animals are “those that have as their function (ergon) some single thing that they all do together”; amongst the animals he thinks engage together in some common work or function are ants, but also bees, wasps, cranes and human beings (HA 1.1 487b33-488a14). Indeed, Aristotle insists that human beings are more (mallon) political, or political animals to a higher degree, than any of these other animals including the noble ant (Pol 1.2 1252a7-18). Does Aristotle have good reasons for relegating ants to this secondary status, as lesser political animals? Or is his privileging of human beings here just another familiar manifestation of the anti-invertebrate biases that run through the history of political thought?
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 fortieth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Amber L. Griffioen.
Asshoppers and Grants: Playing at Being Human?
‘Parables, my dear Skepticus,’ replied the Grasshopper, ‘ought to come at the end, not at the beginning, of serious inquiry; that is, only at the point where arguments fail. But speaking of parables, you may be sure that the ants will fashion one out of my career. They will very likely represent my life as a moral tale, the point of which is the superiority of a prudent to an idle way of life. But it should really be the Grasshopper who is the hero of the tale; it is he, not the ant, who should have the hearer’s sympathy. The point of the parable should be not the ant’s triumph, but the Grasshopper’s tragedy. For one cannot help reflecting that if there were no winters to guard against, then the Grasshopper would not get his come-uppance nor the ant his shabby victory. The life of the Grasshopper would be vindicated and that of the ant absurd.’
In this passage from Bernard Suit’s immensely entertaining (and woefully under-read) philosophical dialogue, The Grasshopper1, the eponymous Grasshopper (true to the Aesopian fable from which he hails and which has already been discussed at least once on this blog) is dying from hunger. Unlike the industrious ants (who scoff at the grasshopper’s imprudence), he has failed to store up food for the winter, having instead played the summer away without a concern for his future wellbeing. Yet Suits’ Grasshopper is no whiner. In true Socratic form, he courageously accepts his fate and goes out philosophizing. In regard to his (theo)logical predicament, he claims resignedly: “I was put on earth just to play out my life and die, and it would be impious of me to go against my destiny. […] If I am improvident in summer, then I will die in winter. And if I am provident in summer, then I will cease to be the Grasshopper by definition. […] But since I am just the Grasshopper, no more and no less, dying and ceasing to be the Grasshopper are one and the same thing for me” (GH 9). Yet with his dying breath, the Grasshopper tells of his recurring dream that “everyone alive is really a Grasshopper […], engaged in playing elaborate games, while at the same time believing themselves to be going about their ordinary affairs”. Whatever occupation or activity one might consider, he fancies aloud, “it is in reality a game” (GH 9-10).