Monday, October 29, 2007


Emergence: the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. Very interesting RadioLab episode on this subject.

When considering the 'organism' should one look at the individual ant or the entire ant hill? Ants themselves are pretty simple- but ant colonies domesticated livestock (aphids- they milk them!) millions of years before we did. Also, they can solve geometric problems- routinely finding the maximum distance from all colony entrances to dispose of dead bodies. (wow).

There are obviously no genes in the ant genome that code for "An Anthill" - and yet somehow anthills are generated by millions of genetically programmed ants. Like neurons, they've got no idea they belong to something greater than themselves.

Reminds me of a fantastic essay i read years ago by Douglas Hofstaedter in Godel Escher & Bach- republished in "The Mind's I" entitled "Ant Fugue".. the pdf of the entire book is here.. start reading from p151 of the pdf... although the whole book is amazing.

Should we think of each of our neurons as analagous to an ant? Or should we think of each individual human as an ant- with the 'colony' being our civilization/culture? Probably both- and there are probably many more levels of "nested emergence" in both directions.

quantum physics -> classical physics -> chemistry -> organic chemistry ->biochemical cycles-> symbiotic organelles -> individual cells -> origins of multicellularity->tissues -> brains -> minds -> culture -> planetisms???

Imagine a human baby, abducted at birth by Aliens and stuck in isolation in a zoo. How much useful information would an isolated mute specimen be able to provide them with? We are nothing much without each other.

Interesting that a neuron is less complicated than an ant, but an ant colony is less intelligent than a human. The largest ant colonies (argentine ants) can have up to 300-1000 million ants. The human brain has over 100-1000 times as many neurons- each of which is connected to roughly 10,000 others. But EACH ant has between 10-100,000 neurons! Thus by my calculations- there are more neurons in an ant hill than a human.

In addition, the individual ant is more than just a lump of neurons- and it's interactions with other ants and it's environment must be orders of magnitude greater that what a neuron can 'experience'.

pbs/nova videos on emergence here.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:07 PM

    Not many people can see this, but there is only one thing,
    It is that which 'is.'

    The Universe 'is.'

    I 'am.'

    Like you, I am not a part of it.

    I am not outside it.

    I am not even in it.

    I am it.

    You are.

    We all are.


Whaddaya think?