Understanding the Anternet

Our Stanford University team’s World Economic Forum panel on the Neural Basis of Decision-Making is now up on Youtube. My favorite of our little 5 minute talks is that of my colleague Deborah Gordon, who explained how groups (in this case ants) can make informed decisions that no individual could make or coordinate alone.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

7 thoughts on “Understanding the Anternet”

  1. I notice that the expected attention span of self-appointed World Leaders is five minutes. IIRC priests and pastors in training are now told to keep sermons to ten, but that's with a captive audience. It was different with Amos Starkadder.

  2. There seems to be a confirmation bias, or bias of opportunity, in her logic. For example, the old statistics we heard as kids, "most shark attacks occur in four feet of water or less", and "wear a hat, you lose most of your body heat through your head" are both rather inane. People typically don't jump into 400 feet of water from a helicopter, they walk out from the beach. The vast majority of bathers will be somewhere between the sand and their chin. Similarly, very few people waltz around town naked in winter. If they did, the vast majority of their body heat would be lost via their groin, chest, and armpits. It's just that their head is the only thing exposed.

    So same thing here. Naturally ants who are not having as many interactions don't have as many interaction patterns to sift through. They have chosen not to expend energy when it's hot and dry, so fewer go out and come in, and hence there are fewer total individual and total group bits of info to interpret. The causality implied by her breezy conclusions is no more real than saying your head puts out more heat than your groin or that sharks wouldn't attack more often if we all fell into the bay from helicopters.

  3. Also, there's an implicit assumption that we should want to live and behave as ants. I find that rather thin gruel. I think not, this incarnation 'round.

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