“Ants that Count” or Not

Ants, they’re amazing. I read recently about how ants that don’t lay chemical trails get back to their nest by “counting” their steps. Though they don’t really count, they do know the relative size of their bodies and can determine how far they have gone and can return on a straight course. Then I read a Blog about how they don’t count, and how we are applying a non-human trait to them when they have the very human, or rather “higher”, animal trait of being aware of their size. This Blog post (which you can read on WordPress: it was freshly-pressed a while ago) said that by saying they “counted” we were making ourselves seem higher than the ants and that we should just recognize that ants have surprisingly higher abilities than we think they do.

However I would say the opposite is true. To me it seems like a fairly logical thing to assume that all animals are aware of their body size to some degree, otherwise they would do all sorts of stupid things, like run into walls. I believe that the majority of humans are afraid of ants. They organize, they specialize, they have a hierarchical system, and operate much like a single organism. I also believe that the average person is afraid of math. I personally like it and many of my friends are good or competent at it. But I know many more people who are bad at it and/or hate it. Many people are just mediocre at math, and that makes them not like it or be afraid of its existence.

Can you see where this is going yet? I think that the people who said that the ants were “counting” their steps were actually making them better than humans. A human couldn’t multi-task well enough to keep the number of steps they’d taken in their mind while doing other tasks. Thus the very notion that such a small creature as an ant can do it is terrifying, especially since ants act colonially as one big mass. If one ant can count better than a human, imagine what a whole colony could do! “Gasp!”

Anyway, I personally believe that them saying that ants count is a way to make people read their articles because it is a trait that humans seem to lack. Humans could never count that well without training and that fact that ants could do it from birth would be one other thing to add to the pile of why to fear our eventual ant overlords. The many things that ants do are alien and scary to us, which is why ant-like systems are employed by so many science fiction bad guys, the arachnids from the Starship Troopers novel, or the Buggers from Ender’s Game. Ants are scary, and awesome, and cool, but creepy, and the list could go on. In my humble opinion the truth is much more tame and obvious than the fiction in this case.


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