Thursday, January 17, 2008
I usually try to avoid the comparison between humans and ants because it sounds like something a crazed, cartoon villain might utter, but after watching a TED talk on the insects, it occurred to me that there are useful analogies worth considering.
Invariably, in any debate about science, you are likely to meet the old argument that "we can't know anything with certainty" and, frankly, this argument is solid and true. When scientists admit this truth, those who raise the argument often act smug and secure in the belief that science is therefore wrong about a great many things. Well, this is a terrible and unreasonable attitude.
The finite, limitedness of an individual does not equate directly to the system. It is REMARKABLE the way a colony of ants can survive, grow, and behave in complex behavior patterns while individual, finite ants follow comparatively simpler patterns. These ants are able to overcome their individual meagerness by working in conjunction.
Well, Humanity does the same thing. We have been able to overcome our time and memory limitations through community and inventions like the written word. Science benefits especially from, and is in fact a form of, the hive mind. Isn't that a neat way of thinking about things? Yes, we cannot know things with certainty, and yes, individuals are deeply limited, but when working in conjunction, we can discover unknown worlds and forces --atoms and interstellar systems-- we can work simply, discover complexity, and defeat limitations.
I don't know, there's just something neat about looking at human achievement as a kind of hive mind that is greater and more complex than the motors that power it.