The Hardworking Ant?

Last week we talked about ants as an example of hard work, so I thought we might look at this article in the Boston Review on ants again.

Network interactions, and the uses of downtime
Among harvester ants—the ants I know best—the important interactions are brief antennal contacts. An ant uses the rate at which it meets other ants to decide what to do. If you have ever watched ants closely, you have seen them touch antennae. When a harvester ant moves from tasks inside the nest to tasks outside, its odor changes, so an ant’s hydrocarbons identify its current task as well as its colony. To test how brief antennal contact influences ant behavior, my colleague Michael Greene and I presented ants with little glass beads coated with the odor of ants who are performing a particular task. Some of the beads smelled like patrollers, the first ants to go out of the nest each morning and travel around the colony’s foraging area. The safe return of the patrollers, at a rate of about ten ants per second, stimulates the first foragers to go out to search for food. When foragers meet beads bearing the hydrocarbons of patrollers, at the correct rate, they leave the nest. This experiment shows that an ant’s rate of brief antennal contact influences what the ant does next.

And what an ant does next may not be much at all. Contrary to another of our beloved myths about ants, told by Aesop, Homer, and the writer of Proverbs 6:6, many ants don’t work very hard. In a large harvester-ant colony, about a third of the ants at any time are hanging around doing nothing. As Mark Twain put it, this “will be a disappointment for the Sunday schools.” Because colony behavior is regulated by a network of interactions, inactivity might have its uses. Idle ants may act as a buffer to dampen the interaction rate when it gets too high. My colleagues and I have found that ants will move around to adjust their interaction rate—either they seek each other out when there are few ants, or they avoid each other when crowded. Sometimes interactions create positive feedback, as when ants go out to forage in response to interactions with foragers bringing food back to the nest. But eventually this could lead ants to search for food when there is none left. The colony may need some inert ants, unlikely to be stimulated by interactions, to buffer the network.

Playing 討論逐字稿

We discussed the article Playing.

Closing statements
—So I was thinking about an argument I had with a friend recently, he was saying our whole economic system should be based on measuring whether people are productive. That’s a system that values work only. And like the system we’re in now is all about valuing work. So I was thinking, why is play devalued? Why is it seen to be less important? Then I was looking at the part in the article where it says that play is integral to egalitarian societies. Is it that because they’re basically equal, they play? or is it because they play, so equality results? So does that mean play as a concept is inimical to authority? Because people who are socially different cannot play together, like, you can’t play with your boss, or teachers are told not to get too close to kids, because that’ll erase the authority. So our system, which is all about dominance and people being different levels of human, and authority, it can’t tolerate play. It has to be about work to maintain the system. So basically, if we want to break capitalism, we have to play more!

—I would like to answer her question from the perspective of economics…from our discussion play still has rules, still has some kind of elements like work, but the difference...and you still can gain/create something new from playing, but for work you can expect a certain kind of gain or return. But for playing, the rule is set by you or your own team, there's no limitation, you are free. You can do what you want to do, and in the way you want to do it. From the perspective of our economy, the authority of society wants to create a kind of certain return. So it was good for society for everyone to work and not to play. Like everyone, when in an agricultural society, if you are playing to--you still can play with cultivating vegetables and rice, but if you are playing, you won't make a schedule, or set a goal of how much you want to cultivate. So if everyone is playing, then society won't have certain kind of food or clothes, so these are my thoughts on why people appreciate working or not playing. It's about the certainty. And authority can control people if they are working and not playing.


First, two short articles to consider:
Playing Isn’t Just For Young Folks (sorry, I lost the link to this article)
One day I decided to take a break from routine and try a new recipe. The next day at work, when asked what I did on my day off, I responded, “I played”, because that’s what it felt like – having some fun trying something different. To my surprise, that co-worker commented that she felt like she had forgotten how to play. And so began a several-minute discussion between all of us on what “play” means.
One woman described being intrigued by watching her grandson, age three, pour water back and forth from several containers and be absorbed in this play for close to thirty minutes. He was enjoying the wetness, watching what a stream of water looks like, seeing one cup fill up and another empty, learning that smaller cups run over when filled from larger cups. (Of course he also was acquiring skills in co-ordination and spacial processing, but he didn’t know that. He was just enjoying himself.)