Video: How do ants know what to do?

Armed with a few students, a backhoe and a handful of markers, Deborah Gordon digs up ant colonies in the Arizona desert. She asks: How do these chitinous creatures get down to business and even multitask when they need to with no language, memory or visible leadership?


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How do ants know what to do?

About Deborah Gordon
Ant biologist Deborah M. Gordon has spent decades digging in the Arizona desert to decipher the chemical, genetic and behavioral codes of ant colonies. Contrary to the popular notion that colonies have evolved into efficient, organized systems, she has instead discovered that the long evolution of the ant colony has resulted in a system driven by accident, adaptation and the chaos and "noise" of unconscious communication. Her studies of the harvester ant have shed light on the evolution of aggregate systems, whether biological or virtual, and may someday yield clues tracing the evolution of the brain from neuron to cortex. Gordon, a Stanford professor, wrote the acclaimed book Ants at Work, outlining her discoveries in generous, nontechnical detail.

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I love that ant behaviour is driven statistically.

Some bacteria form plaques/films/colonies based on chemical concentrations.

I also love that there is inefficiency in the process, slop, slack, etc.
(DeMarco's book Slack and the Japanese manufacturing Kaizen both embody this as well). The idea that organizational efficiency can be driven by individual efficiency (working more hours, for example) is just so wrong. Given how "nature" is so brutal at pruning things that aren't needed or don't work, the fact that there is slack in ant colonies is very interesting. Clearly there is a benefit that justifies the increased metabolic load.


Thanks for finding the Deborah Gordon video in the first place!

Your comments remind me of the book "The perfect mess" by David Freedman about "why being messy and disordered isn't necessarily as bad a thing as everyone makes it out to be. It explores, for example, why messy desks are highly efficient, how overly ordered managers hold businesses back, the psychology of disorder, the role of disorder in art and urban planning, and why moderately messy homes save time, are more inviting, and are even more healthful for children."



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