Watching this video on ants (google [CBS News Small wonders: What ants can teach us]) left me feeling that we’re simply ants with big brains and hands with opposable thumbs. This definitely agrees with chapter 56’s This is known as mysterious sameness! Just imagine what ants could do if they had hands and big brains. I suppose they could trash the earth even faster than we are doing.
As civilization and technology advance, we become more specialized in the roles we play in society. This progressive specialization is transforming modern society to become more ant-like in various ways. Given that we’re not ants, this should create some unique social problems for our species. Of course, we’ll eventually adapt. Besides, what’s life without problems? Here are some excerpts that highlight the similarities between ants and humans…
Mark Moffett – biologist, author, photographer and ant-enthusiast almost from birth say, “I learned early, like when I was in diapers, that ants are controlling the world under our feet,” he said. “Down there as an infant I would watch them doing all of these things that were very human-like: building roads, working together to collect food, all kinds of things. Ants do all kinds of things that even primates, like a chimpanzee, don’t have to deal with.”
There are farmers, soldiers, nurses, sanitation specialists, highway construction workers. “You get a variety of different sizes of workers with different shapes. And they’re all built specifically to do certain tasks or jobs. So they are born with this identity,” said Moffett.”
There are actually “suicide bomber” ants. “The ant simply walks up to the enemy and explodes – spraying this toxic yellow glue over itself and everything around it,” Moffett said
With behavior this “human-like,” they must be pretty smart, right?
No, according to Deborah Gordon, professor of biology at Stanford: “Ants are not smart. In fact, if you watch an ant for any length of time, you’re gonna end up wanting to help it, because ants are really very inept.
“But colonies are smart. So what’s amazing about ants is that in the aggregate, all of these inept creatures accomplish amazing feats as colonies,” she said.
And according to Gordon, they do it all without a boss.
“In an ant colony, there’s nobody in charge. There are no bureaucrats. There are no foremen. There are no managers. There is nobody telling anybody what to do,” she said.
So all these survive and thrive together, all without a leader – which can be hard for us humans to understand.
“We put a lot of effort into thinking through how to organize some of the things that we try to do as groups,” said Gordon. “Ants don’t put in any effort at all. They’re pretty messy about it, and it works really well.”
So, if no one is in charge, how DO ants make decisions?
Most ants, it turns out, simply “follow the crowd”; the more ants follow a trail, the stronger the trail’s scent is – and the stronger the trail’s scent is, the more likely ant will follow it.
“Basically if you have enough employees or machines – or ants in a colony – they can all have very specific tasks,” said Lawson. “And that’s how ant society is. And that’s how they evolved jobs over millions of years. It’s come to be that we need a nursing ant; we need a soldier ant.”
“Arguably, humans are too smart for the functioning of the whole society – it pays to be individually stupid,” Moffett laughed. “This is the wisdom of the crowds idea brought to ants. Basically, all those little ants with their mostly ignorant choices, out of all that emerges a smart society.”
It is uncanny how similar we are to ants. Of course, we don’t see ourselves that way. Our species-centric ego impels us to paint a self-portrait commensurate with our highest ideals rather than sober self-understanding. Take, for example, the comment, “So, if no one is in charge, how DO ants make decisions?”
Our belief in free will (p.587, p.591) convinces us to feel we have more control over life than we actually do. What’s more, if we don’t, at least someone does… for better or worse. History and science hints at just the opposite. Our biological instincts are the ones really in charge, just like in ants and every other living thing. Indeed, the ant’s instincts of attraction and aversion (a.k.a., ant need and fear) keep its attention focused on those urges. How are we any different? Our desires and worries (a.k.a., human need and fear) consume most of our days, albeit often subconsciously. For a deeper look, see How the Hoodwink Hooks, p.100 and Reward, Fear and Need, p.181.
Finally, note how succinctly chapter 71 sums up humanity’s core problem: Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. While we’re never going to reach the simple naturalness known to other animals and plants, we can at least take heed, as the first line of chapter 71 advises, To know yet to think that one does not know is best.
I just can’t remind myself of all this too often. The yearning to see Superman in the mind’s mirror is that compelling. This yearning must be the inevitable result of the survival instinct’s effect on a large thinking brain. The need to be in control is a primal sense we share with all life, or at least, all life with a developed nervous system. In humans, emotions drive cognition to think up appealing scenarios that agree with that innate emotion, and… Voilà! … We have cultural narratives that offer us the evidence of our special place in creation. In short, we judge ourselves and predictably come out on top.
Good point Carl about the NOW and us being Animals. Maybe if we are really lucky we can be a Human before we die in this life. lol
Perhaps we are referring to different NOWs. In my ‘now’, I find it impossible to stipulate the state of other people’s NOW. It is only outside my ‘now’ that I’m able to speculate on other people’s NOW. Then, unless my view is impartial in ever respect, all I really see is a projection of my own desires and worries.
Take the idea if duality for example. The animal sense of ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ is an emotional duality, as is hunger or satiated, aroused or sleepy, and so on. These emotions stir the brain’s grey matter, which we happen to experience as thought (along with and backed up by the originating emotion of course).
I am not convinced that there is much difference between us and other animals. If anything, I figure we do not fully know(1) the animal we are. Ah, but then what animal does? The sameness is truly mysterious.
(1) I use the word “know” hesitantly, along the lines of chapter 71: To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.
The image we have of ourselves is a projection of our desires and worries (needs and fears). It is a ideal based more about what we want to be than what we actually are… our original self so to speak. This disconnect may cause us to be a bit emotionally unstable.
When I visited Kenya and went on the animal safaris, biology/ nature where quite evident. When you watch a leopard, cheetah or lion hunt, it is quite obvious they are in the NOW, and the animal fighting for its life force is in the Now. It is sad that a lot of people do not experience the NOW, they are either in the Past or the Future.
What is really sad is when we separate ourselves from nature and spirituality. I look at spirituality as the aroma of nature they are one. There is no duality.
Related to free will or lack thereof, have you seen this article?
Read the article linked in there as well.
Will probiotics be banned as a mind altering substance 😉
I’d say we are, only if the NOW we are experiencing feels impartial. NOW has no favorite, be it food, activities, music, politics or people (etc). Therefore, it is valued by the empire. I guess that gives “enjoying” new meaning. 😉
I hope all of you that are in “TAO Land” are enjoying the NOW!