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Ants more noble than modern humans

Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 05:37:13 AM
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Heroic altruistic ants face death alone to save colony

Ants live altruistically, but some die altruistically too. When ants of the species Temnothorax unifasciatus get sick, they abandon their nest, walking far away from their relatives to die alone. They perform this act of heroism to prevent the illness that is killing them from spreading to the colony. The discovery, published in Current Biology, is the first time that such behaviour has been shown in ants or any other social insect. Professor Jurgen Heinze and PhD student Bartosz Walter decided to investigate the ants' behaviour after becoming interested in anecdotal reports of dying individuals deserting their families.

Such behaviour has been reported in dogs, cats, elephants and even people. But because it happens occasionally, it cannot be quantifiably studied.

So Prof Heinze decided to set up an experiment to study the phenomenon in ants, which he also noticed would occasionally leave the colony for no apparent reason. The researchers exposed a colony of Temnothorax unifasciatus ants reared in their laboratory to the spores of a lethal parasitic fungus called Metarhizium anisopliae. Most of the workers who died from the fungal infection permanently left the nest hours or days before death, and died in a foraging area far from their nest mates. "Our study suggests that infected ants at least in some species walk away from a colony and die alone, rather than risk infecting others," Prof Heinze told the BBC.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8516000/8516017.stm


Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 08:11:37 AM
Ants don't really have any idea of what they are doing.  They basically follow pheromones.  They "cooperate" by following pheromone trails to where the food is.  This is what those little trails of ants marching in a line are.  They will also just keep walking into an anteater's snout.  Despite this, it is still evolutionarily viable for them to operate this way.  For probably a similar reason, they will leave a colony when they are infected.  It's pretty ridiculous to assume that ants figured out a concept of infectious disease on their own, while it took human beings so long.

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 10:29:26 AM
The reason why they leave the colony is because they sense death is imminent. If you would have read the article you would have known this.

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But by exposing the ants to CO2, the researchers artificially reduced their lifespan. Uninfected ants who survived this treatment, but still knew they would die prematurely, also left the nest before death took hold...

Another interesting finding was that the workers left the nest voluntarily and were not carried away by other workers,"...


Humans also follow pheromones btw. And how is an ant going to follow a pheromone trail if he knows he's going to die? The trail obviously would have had to be laid out for him first and this is not the case; they go by themselves. Perhaps you are unwilling to accept this but it seems ants are simply better programmed than humans. Ants are noted for being highly successful evolutionary.

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Ants have colonised almost every landmass on Earth. The only places lacking indigenous ants are Antarctica  and certain remote or inhospitable islands. Ants thrive in most ecosystems, and may form 1525% of the terrestrial animal biomass.[8]  Their success has been attributed to their social organisation and their ability to modify habitats, tap resources, and defend themselves. Their long co-evolution with other species has led to mimetic, commensal, parasitic, and mutualistic relationships.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ants

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 10:53:53 AM
I was using the ants following pheromones to die as an example of behavior which is evolutionarily successful, but not necessarily in it's individual best interest, or a conscious decision, something which ants may not be able to do.  This new behavior is not caused by a pheromone trail, but is similarly autonomous.  It is true humans are influenced by pheromones too, but they are able to make conscious decisions too, conventionally speaking.  Whether or not this makes them better programmed or not is a value judgment.  As for me I bend my knee not but for my selfish desire.

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 11:12:11 AM
You're still wrong.

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Many animals can learn behaviours by imitation but ants may be the only group apart from mammals where interactive teaching has been observed. A knowledgeable forager of Temnothorax albipennis leads a naive nest-mate to newly discovered food by the process of tandem running. The follower obtains knowledge through its leading tutor. Both leader and follower are acutely sensitive to the progress of their partner with the leader slowing down when the follower lags, and speeding up when the follower gets too close.[81]

Controlled experiments with colonies of Cerapachys biroi suggest that individuals may choose nest roles based on their previous experience. An entire generation of identical workers was divided into two groups whose outcome in food foraging was controlled. One group was continually rewarded with prey, while it was made certain that the other failed. As a result, members of the successful group intensified their foraging attempts while the unsuccessful group ventured out less and less. A month later, the successful foragers continued in their role while the others moved to specialise in brood care.[82]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ants#Learning

If anybody is following his "pheromones" it's you. You also used a Morbid Angel quote completely out of context.

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 04:26:36 PM
OP, you ever see that video where some scientists pour cement down an ant burrow to gauge how big it is? Turns out they used about two tons of the stuff.

Here it is. http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2381967/worlds_biggest_ant_hill_amazing/

I've always found ants to be fascinating.

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 06:53:53 PM
OP, you ever see that video where some scientists pour cement down an ant burrow to gauge how big it is? Turns out they used about two tons of the stuff.

Here it is. http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2381967/worlds_biggest_ant_hill_amazing/

I've always found ants to be fascinating.

Absolutely deplorable. Years of work, millions of lives - and in name of what? What's wrong with ultrasound, x-ray or god-forbid simply letting us use our imagination? Not too TV friendly huh?

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 08:39:23 PM
OP, you ever see that video where some scientists pour cement down an ant burrow to gauge how big it is? Turns out they used about two tons of the stuff.

Here it is. http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2381967/worlds_biggest_ant_hill_amazing/

I've always found ants to be fascinating.

Absolutely deplorable. Years of work, millions of lives - and in name of what? What's wrong with ultrasound, x-ray or god-forbid simply letting us use our imagination? Not too TV friendly huh?
I'll remember that next time I step on an ant's nest and will be overcome by guilt.

NHA

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 18, 2010, 11:16:30 PM
Sounds like the news reporter is drawing his own conclusions based off the study. Most scientists are very careful with the words they use to describe things.

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The reason why they leave the colony is because they sense death is imminent.

This looks like the only thing that can really be taken home from the article.

Explaining the low level motivations for choosing to die outside of the hive is another matter entirely.

It seems like altruism results from and artificial increase of Utility stemming from irrational factors. Let see 2 examples:


Scenario 1:
1) A is obsessively in love with B
2) B's utility for A is 0.
3) A's utility for A is 10.
4) A's utility for B is 11 due to #1.
5) A would sacrifice A to save B because 11 > 10.

Is #5 altruistic? Its based on a very irrational premise, so probably.

Senario 2:
1.) A's utility for A is 10
2.) A's utility for social group H is 10
3.) A will explode in the near future no matter what happens
4.) A's utility for A is now 0 due to #3
5.) A will move away from H since 10 > 0

Altruistic? Not so much.

Is irrational behaviour actually rational behaviour masked by complicated social, environmental and temporal contexts? Are emotions the result of an individual's adaptations for operating in various intersecting social networks? Fear and Anger helps one operate within the network of predators and prey in ones surrounding environment, so its not surprising that most animals can display these emotions. The types of emotions an intelligent agent can display must be related to the complexity of its social networks.

In the end, the ant probably doesn't need any emotional or altruistic tendencies to make the rational decision to save the hive. Without the hive the ant is as good as dead, so at worst, it must have the same utility value as its own sense of self preservation. If the ant knows its going to die from something, its rational to die alone to prevent contamination of the hive.


Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 19, 2010, 01:13:15 AM
I don't think emotions stem from rationality. I view emotions as the language of the brain; that each word you bring to your mind is first an emotional idea or symbol then translated to English. It is why art is so precious, because it strikes our most fundamental thought processes. Have you ever noticed that you "say" words in your head even though you know what you are thinking before "saying" it?

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 19, 2010, 09:31:08 AM
I agree with druidakoda. As humans first we experience, then we try to rationalize that experience. It only works the other way around when you've been taught (conditioned) by your elders to respond a certain way.

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...the exact opposite has been found in the bumblebee, another social insect.

Bees infected by fly larvae move out of the hive into colder air.

But in doing so, the cold temperatures slow the lifecycle of the parasite.

So the infected bees are actually trying to extend their own lives, rather than save their nest mates.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8516000/8516017.stm

I believe humans are programmed to think of their own survival first too. We try to rationalize that through religion, culture or philosophy. The misstep that modern humans continue to make is thinking we are somehow individually special. The ant doesn't think he's special in that way. So even if the ant doesn't know he's being altruistic to us humans his behavior still is altruistic (to the point where some even consider it to be unnatural that the ant seems to value his community more than himself) As humans we speak the language of humans even when applied to animals. A dog that stays with its master is considered loyal, birds are considered free, etc. I don't see what's so wrong with calling an ant altruistic.

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 20, 2010, 01:03:22 PM
OP, you ever see that video where some scientists pour cement down an ant burrow to gauge how big it is? Turns out they used about two tons of the stuff.

Here it is. http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2381967/worlds_biggest_ant_hill_amazing/

I've always found ants to be fascinating.

Absolutely deplorable. Years of work, millions of lives - and in name of what? What's wrong with ultrasound, x-ray or god-forbid simply letting us use our imagination? Not too TV friendly huh?
I'll remember that next time I step on an ant's nest and will be overcome by guilt.

“If a man does not trample on a flower without reason, it is because the flower is something of God, a distant effect of the infinite Cause; whoever despises a flower indirectly despises God. If a good man had the power to destroy a stone, he would nevertheless not do so without a motive, for the existence of the stone—this quasi-absolute something that distinguishes it from nothingness—is a manifestation of the Principle; it is therefore sacred. In every neutral contact with matter—and this is all the more true of contact with one’s fellow men—a man should either not leave any trace or else leave a beneficent trace; he should either enrich or pass unperceived."

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 20, 2010, 01:17:48 PM
That's Frithjof Schuon, in Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts (if you didn't recognize him after the first sentence...)

I would add that man can be more noble than an ant if he decides by his free will not to harm God's creation, because the possibily to harm is there, and is a temptation.

That ant burrow to me is somewhat of a wonder; however, I would never dump two tons of cement in the earth in order to reaffirm the greatness of Nature.

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 20, 2010, 01:39:23 PM
Ants are always mesmerising in their organisation.

Re: Ants more noble than modern humans
February 20, 2010, 06:20:31 PM
Sounds like the news reporter is drawing his own conclusions based off the study. Most scientists are very careful with the words they use to describe things.

Is irrational behaviour actually rational behaviour masked by complicated social, environmental and temporal contexts? Are emotions the result of an individual's adaptations for operating in various intersecting social networks? Fear and Anger helps one operate within the network of predators and prey in ones surrounding environment, so its not surprising that most animals can display these emotions. The types of emotions an intelligent agent can display must be related to the complexity of its social networks.

In the end, the ant probably doesn't need any emotional or altruistic tendencies to make the rational decision to save the hive. Without the hive the ant is as good as dead, so at worst, it must have the same utility value as its own sense of self preservation. If the ant knows its going to die from something, its rational to die alone to prevent contamination of the hive.


Interesting.

I always found it fascinating that anything that motivates humans to explain rationally and logically the reality and the world they perceive and sense, is [perhaps] always, a sensation or a passion - motivated by the possible result. Ask a Scientist what's he's "legitimacy". If he doesn't say 'curiousity' or 'utility' he's a liar. Utility seems rational, but utility is not the effect or the ultimate end - it is the cause. Is it not? We want utility for something else, it is a link. Just like there's no 'Knowledge' per se.
 I doesn't mean that what motivates us to understand reality is indeed 'irrational', or does it? I suppose understanding reality is gaining the possibility of controlling it also, manipulating what we can, assuming power. Reason is an instrument?

Was Hume right in saying: "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them"?

It seems there's some truth to this.

The ants are marvelous creatures. There's an ancient Hebraic saying from Rabbi Jose ben Halafta: "Observe the ant and be enlightened / wise-up".