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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Formicid Form: The Ants

The Daily Ant maintains “Formicid Form”, a Sunday ant poetry series. When possible, our Verse Correspondant, Natalia Piland, provides a short commentary at the end of each poem. Enjoy!


The Ants

By John Clare

What wonder strikes the curious, while he views
The black ant’s city, by a rotten tree,
Or woodland bank! In ignorance we muse:
Pausing, annoyed, –we know not what we see,
Such government and thought there seem to be;
Some looking on, and urging some to toil,
Dragging their loads of bent-stalks slavishly:
And what’s more wonderful, when big loads foil
One ant or two to carry, quickly then
A swarm flock round to help their fellow-men*.
Surely they speak a language whisperingly,
Too fine for us to hear; and sure their ways
Prove they have kings and laws, and that they be
Deformed remnants of the Fairy-days.

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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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