Unreal Nature

March 16, 2010

An Oscillating Arrow; The Shuttle of a Loom

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:31 am

Though I believe he has been attending his Free Will Anonymous meetings assiduously, obediently chanting the FWA doxa of abstinence, Dr. C now seems to once again be imbibing in discussions of free will. We must encourage him. (No need to worry about determinism; Felix took care of that with his 7.138kg of bananas.)

To that end, I give you a mash-up of two texts and a picture. Not made for each other, but interesting if considered as if they were.

This first bit is from the beginning of Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell (2009):

Brazil: The Amazon rain forest. Half a million army ants are on the march. No one is in charge of this army; it has no commander. Each individual ant is nearly blind and minimally intelligent, but the marching ants together create a coherent fan-shaped mass of movement that swarms over, kills, and efficiently devours all prey in its path. What cannot be devoured right away is carried with the swarm. After a day of raiding and destroying the edible life over a dense forest the size of a football field, the ants build their nighttime shelter — a chain-mail ball a yard across made up of the workers’ linked bodies, sheltering the young larvae and mother queen at the center. When dawn arrives, the living ball melts away ant by ant as the colony members once again take their places for the day’s march.

Nigel Franks, a biologist specializing in ant behavior, has written, “The solitary army ant is behaviorally one of the least sophisticated animals imaginable,” and, “If 100 army ants are placed on a flat surface, they will walk around and around in never decreasing circles until they die of exhaustion.” Yet put half a million of them together, and the group as a whole becomes what some call a “superorganism” with “collective intelligence.”

Martin Munkacsi; Summer camp, near Bad-Kissingen, Germany, 1929

The next bit is from the story, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz:

… [My father] proved … that an electric bell, built on the principle of Neeff’s hammer, is an ordinary mystification. It was not man who had broken into the laboratory of nature, but nature that had drawn him into its machinations, achieving through his experiments its own obscure aims. My father would touch during dinner the nail of his thumb with the handle of a spoon dipped in soup, and suddenly Neeff’s bell would begin to rattle inside the lamp. The whole apparatus was quite superfluous, quite unnecessary: Neeff’s bell was the point of convergence of certain impulses of matter, which used man’s ingenuity for its own purposes. It was Nature that willed and worked, man was nothing more than an oscillating arrow, the shuttle of a loom, darting here or there according to Nature’s will. He was himself only a component, a part of Neeff’s hammer.




  1. If 100 army ants are placed on a flat surface, they will walk around and around in never decreasing circles until they die of exhaustion. Yet put half a million of them together …

    … and there’s still the risk they’ll do the same. See Ant death spiral, which reports accounts by Beebe and Schneirla of it happening in the wild. “Beebe (1921) described a circular mill he witnessed in Guyana. It measured 1200 feet in circumference and had a 2.5 hour circuit time per ant”.

    Comment by Ray Girvan — March 18, 2010 @ 2:09 am

  2. Then, also, there is World War II … and the current behavior of the US Congress …

    Comment by unrealnature — March 18, 2010 @ 6:27 am

  3. “Ants are important for more than their ubiquity and environmental impact. They also exhibit social behavior as exotic as any we may ever hope to find on another planet. For most of each year colonies consist only of females: queens that reproduce for the colony and infertile workers that conduct all the labor. Males are bred and kept for short periods, exclusively for the insemination of virgin queens.”

    This is known as “division of labor.” It also sounds a little like a seraglio.

    G: You see, Ginger, what did I tell you. They’d come around to our way of thinking eventually.
    G. Oh, George. You are so smart. You just know everything./

    Comment by Dr. C. — March 18, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  4. They also exhibit social behavior as exotic as any we may ever hope to find on another planet

    Mind you, those naked mole-rats give ants a run for their money on the weirdness scale.

    Comment by Ray Girvan — March 18, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: