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Old 08-06-2010, 01:30 AM
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Default The ants...

Interesting little discussion came up in the IRC today... I think it started with insects, something like that, "beetles are stupid" anyways. I chose to defend insects in this, citing ants as an example. Now first of, I hold that ants are the second most advanced race on the planet earth. And here's my reasoning for it.

I define advancement by our standards, with humans being the "most advanced", now what are some qualities that we have as an "advanced" species that others do not?

We change our environment. We don't just live where we want, we make it habitable. We build shelters, organize with our neighbors, and cooperate with any others that live in proximity.

Sub-point of that would be agriculture, we don't rely simply on hunting and gathering for food. We grow our own plants for food, we domesticate animals, and can stay in one place for years without draining the area of gather able food sources.

War. We don't just have conflicts, we have wars over territory, supplies, just about anything really. Not just small groups conflicting then fleeing, we annihilate our "enemies" completely on a massive scale.



Now for ant facts. Ants live in massive underground complexes, they work together to build hives/nests underground. With tunnel systems that can stretch for miles, filled with billions upon billions of individual ants. You know, that sounds quite allot like the cities that we're so fond of building. Ants settle in one place, and convert the environment to suit them as best as they are able. In a forest, or beneath one of our own cities, they create a home.

Ants don't just use these underground hives for shelter, they grow their own food sources in the deep tunnels. By harvesting loose organic material above, ants cultivate different molds and such that they use as a steady supply of food. They are capable of having a permanent home.

Not only capable of growing food, some ant colonies even domesticate other insects to help provide food. A good example is the aphid. Some colonies will gather and domesticate these small leaf bugs. They nurture and protect the small creatures as they feed on leaves near the nest, then milk them for a sweet fluid. They protect them from predators, and keep them herded together.


Wars. Some people say, that humans are the only species that organizes the mass slaughter of itself. Well, ants do too. When nests collide over resources or space, they will fight to the death for their own people. Not just isolated conflicts, but colony invasions, armies in the billions colliding against each other on a scale that's quite difficult to imagine.



So, now common arguments.

"Ants have no brain"

Okay, now what does that have to do with achievements? Dolphins are smart, wonderful. Do dolphins build cities? Nope. They still hunt for food, they don't change their environment.

"Its all instinct"

Its gotta come from somewhere. Every creature relies on instincts for survival. We didn't get to where we are without them either.


The bottom line is, they don't think like us. They aren't built like us. But they do exist like us. They change their environment to suit them, use their environment, and fight amongst themselves for resources in the environment. They may not be as advanced as us, but they're definitely in second place.
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Old 08-06-2010, 03:34 AM
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I always loved to watch ants as a kid. They're very interesting. Sometimes I would leave bread crumbs on the ground by their little ant hill and watch them carry the crumbs back into their hole.
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Old 08-06-2010, 08:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andisavatar View Post
i love ants too bad they're too small to hug
Ants are definitely awesome, but hugging a life-size ant would be... unpleasant.
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Old 08-08-2010, 03:01 AM
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Okay, now I understand what you're saying a bit better.

Yeah, ants are the second most advanced in terms of this category of accomplishments. Monkeys actually do all of these things too, but they still lose to ants because they are still nomadic.

However, ants can't truly remember complex things. They also cannot communicate with other species. They can remember simple things, like "is this food?" and "is this a friendly ant?", but it is based more on basic chemical signals than actual thought (in other words, a simple reaction between nerves and neurotransmitters that results in agression/eating versus many nerves and the use of experience to determine your reaction depending on what kind of food it is or if this person is threatening you or not based on appearance, language, etc).

If someone that didn't know anything about how intelligent insects are decided to watch some ants for a while, they would probably think that though.

The main reason why ants appear to possess this intelligence is the process of natural selection. One queen just happened to have something about her genetic code that made her produce workers that allowed the colony to survive long enough so that exisiting queen produced many healthy new queens that left and mated with equally successful drones.

Evolution occurs faster for social insects because "good" genes get concetrated more quickly; if a queen has a disadvantageous gene that makes her nest easier to smell, for example, it is more likely to be attacked by a predator and therefore less likely to survive. So, the queens that have advantageous characteristics do very well and most of their children (the queens and drones) go out and mate with other queens and drones of the same species (not the same colony, with a few exceptions) and they share all of their great genes. Then you have queens that produce workers that are slightly improved over the workers of last generation, and may even have improved instincts over time.

Here is an example of this (starting at 3:00): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1trxPSSG5AU

This shows why ants are so much more specialized than other insects; their reproductive cycle actually improves their genetic stock faster. In the video, the supercolonies that re-accept the newly impregnated queens will now have a new "model" of worker that will likely have improvements over the older ones, since the queen that produces them was bred from the best genes that the supercolony had to offer from the previous generation.

All of the instincts and physiological improvements "stack", and the result is the entire nest acting in unison and displaying what appears to be a high degree of intelligence, but is actually many simple "programs" in the ant's genetics telling it what to do.

One of the main things that damns ants from having true intelligence is their inability to solve complex problems and make choices. For example, the smartest bird in the world, the African Grey Parrot, can understand colors, shapes, and words, and can have the brain power of a fifteen-year-old human. When you consider that humans reach their maximum neurological potential at about 21-22 years old, this is quite an accomplishment from that standpoint. These birds can answer questions about simple mathematics, the way objects look, and can even answer those questions with single word answers in english. Furthermore, they can do this without merely resorting to mimicry.

Here's an example: YouTube - ‪PARROT INTELLIGENCE: DR. PEPPERBERG with AFRICAN GREYS GRIFFIN, ALEX & EINSTEIN‬‎

While ants may be able to solve simple problems like moving soil and stones to make new passages or to unblock old ones, this isn't because they understand what is going on; it is merely another finely layered series of instincts and physiological processes working together (without the ant being aware of them or controlling them) to produce activities that mirror that of humans. They also cannot grasp abstract things (like the shape of a number written on paper equaling the number), because they do not have the ability to look at it, remember it, and then associate it with something different, and remember this as new information; also known as true learning.

So, I agree with you that strictly in terms of species-exclusive achievements, ants are second only to humans. However, you have to be careful how you define social intelligence in invertebrates, because not only is their nervous system physiologically different from ours in vast ways, but it is not capable of perfoming critical tasks to reaching true intelligence; such as learning and complex problem solving.
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Old 08-08-2010, 03:18 AM
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Good post... that's the difference, ants may perform complicated tasks but they don't consciously do it... They don't consider it in the same way as humans or other individually intelligent animals such as apes.
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Old 08-08-2010, 04:04 AM
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Perhaps not as an individual, but the collective...

Collective intelligence: Ants and brain's neurons

Ants and Neurons
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Old 08-08-2010, 04:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aihwa View Post
Perhaps not as an individual, but the collective...

Collective intelligence: Ants and brain's neurons

Ants and Neurons
Well, yeah, they operate differently as a collective, but as the second article says:

"The similarities between ants and neurons 'suggest there are general principles of organization for building groups far smarter than the smartest individuals in them'."

Scientists are only using them as living analogies to try to better understand neurons. Ants as a collective do not have true intelligence, because as the first article says, they communicate with chemicals, a system which is not streamlined enough to convey things like ideas, memories, or emotions, all of which are standards for whether or not an animal is sentient.
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Old 08-08-2010, 05:00 AM
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Another thing about ants... they are one of millions of insects that inhabit this planet. People are outnumbered when you do a head count of the different insects in the world.
Oh and just as a reminder for anyone that saw the Matrix movies... what did the machines model their forms on?
Insects and invertibrates. Spiders, squids, bugs, all manner of things of a hive type mind.
When they say that 'the meek shall inherit the Earth' they didn't realize that they were talking about bugs.
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Old 08-08-2010, 05:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zai-en-ken View Post
Well, yeah, they operate differently as a collective, but as the second article says:

"The similarities between ants and neurons 'suggest there are general principles of organization for building groups far smarter than the smartest individuals in them'."

Scientists are only using them as living analogies to try to better understand neurons. Ants as a collective do not have true intelligence, because as the first article says, they communicate with chemicals, a system which is not streamlined enough to convey things like ideas, memories, or emotions, all of which are standards for whether or not an animal is sentient.


Yet they out-build and out preform almost every species on earth.
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Old 08-08-2010, 08:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Aihwa View Post
Yet they out-build and out preform almost every species on earth.
Yeah, they're kind of wierd that way. If they knew what they were capable of, they could do some scary things.

In fact, the only thing keeping insects in general from getting bigger and more intelligent is a lack of lungs.

Since insects use spiracles (tiny holes in the sides of their body) and a tube system to bring air directly in contact with their tissues without using blood. This sounds great on paper, but it means that air gets bottlenecked in some spaces where the tubes need to be smaller so that they have room for their organs. If they had lungs and a vertebrate-like cardiovascular system, they would get big and intelligent very fast, since they have such short life cycles (causing natural selection to go into overdrive).
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Old 08-08-2010, 04:16 PM
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Intelligence means nothing. That means you can sit around and say "why are we here?" Ants have purpose.
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Old 03-13-2011, 01:35 PM
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Just... wow
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Old 03-13-2011, 02:49 PM
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I believe that the success of ants derives from all of them having this song hardcoded into them.
(There are lots of variations, this is an instrumental one)




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Old 03-14-2011, 12:49 PM
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Interesting idea, but I disagree in a number of points. First obviously the definition of being "advanced" is arbitrary. To see mass population, hive-structures, wars, city-building, hierarchy, specialization and agriculture as advanced is the way this civilization thinks of advancements, but other advancements would be compassion, being social and caring, being able to think and act freely and as individuals and make own decisions. Ants are in their way of life incapable of that (expect maybe when it suits the hive or hierarchy plays a role - like ants "caring" for their queen). In other aspects, primates (social cooperation but individual thinking), dolphins (same as monkeys), elephants (memory, mourning, compassion) or beavers (construction of own habitat) match parts of what humans do. In fact, some of the basic principles like building shelter or colonies are very widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Weaver birds build "cities" in trees, groundhogs and beavers also build colonies, corals are colonies of millions of individuals. Single celled foraminifera and corals do "agriculture" by letting bacteria grow in special parts of their calcareous homes.

Ants are interesting though as they show some properties that seem to correlate with each other, like sense population, agriculture, city building, hierarchy, specialization, wars, loss of individuality and most of all the absence of any intelligent and conscious action on behalf of the individuals. To me this brings up a very interesting question about how and why civilized humans do what they do. Is it really a conscious or intelligent process? I recently read a quote that described an intersting phenomenon - despite the capabilities of individuals to do conscious thinking, civilization as a whole acts more like bacteria on a petri dish. There is some dynamic in this way of life that really resembles that one of ants that seems to not depend on and is possibly even without influence from individual thought. So is this civilization really a product of conscious thinking and planning, of intelligence of individuals or is it something else? A form of organization and way of life that becomes neccesary if population increases for example?

One thing is very different in ants and humans though that actually makes ants "better" - all of their actions also benefit the world around them. They move soil, consume food and all that, but ecosystems with ants are healthy and ants contribute to that health by leaving fertilized soil behind. If that would not be so, all trees would be eaten away and the world would only be ants, so they clearly know more about sustainable city building than humans.

What is interesting though is, that much of the aspects of ant life are things, humans would not really like at heart. The strict hierarchy, class system, even sterilization of whole classes for example. Or the constant working and labouring. I think humans usually would - despite the cities and agriculture and all that - not want to be like an ant. Yet we actually are. Is this "our nature" and if so, why do we not really like many aspects of that? My take is, that humans have developed and evolved for a very different way of life, one that fosters individual thinking as well as sharing with the group, for a more egalitarian setting, for lower population densities (Dunbars number) and actually for a predominantly non-agricultural lifestyle. Aside from the point whether or not we want to become exactly like ants in our social structure or not, this kind of structure is relatively new and our minds and bodies are not well adapted to that model. This is why people become increasingly depressed, brutal and violent, this is possibly also why unlike ants, human civilization is not sustainable. I think either we strive to become like ants (giving up individual freedom and thought to collectiveness and the "hive mind", keep with hierarchy, classes, strict specialization, and all that) - that could in the future surely be done by deeper inculturation, medical advances, neurology and genetics - or we accept our humanness and what defines that and adapt the way of life we lead to what fits our psyche and bodies. This does not neccesarily mean to live like our pre-civilized ancestors, but it means to accept that we are not like ants but more like monkeys or dolphins or elephants. But in fact that we are unique. That individuals do not feel comfortable with hierarchy, warfare, groupthink, caste systems, that our bodies do not do so well with a diet of sugars & grains alone, that we simply do lack the knowledge and instinct to create a sustainable ant-hive. I think it is a very sane assumption to use the latter approach - find out WHO we as humans really are and create a way of living that suits all of these defining markers best - and I do not think that this is anything ant-like.

Greetings,
Aurora
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