Re: Q: Ant colonies and capitalism?

Date: Mon Jan 08 2001 - 00:35:06 MST

Eliezer writes:
> Eugene, do you know if anyone's ever found capitalistic algorithms
> operating inside the apparent communism of an ant colony? I wanted to
> make some point about "If selfishness is so efficient, why hasn't it
> evolved in ant colonies", and then I realized that for all I knew, it
> had. Then I became genuinely interested in how, if a "hedonistic ant"
> algorithm had evolved in ant colonies, the pseudo-selfishness would differ
> from real selfishness. You seem like the person most likely to know about
> it...

I don't know the answer, but what I do know is that ants within a colony
are all very closely related, all children of the same Queen. They may
even be clones. From this perspective the ants are in some ways more
like the cells in your body than like individual organisms.

You might ask whether selfishness and competition plays a role in
our bodies. Of course we are familiar with the ultimate selfishness
that occurs in a cancer when a cell reproduces excessively, but this
is a harmful state. Are there systems which rely on competition to
work properly?

One example I can think of is sperm cells, which compete to see which can
get into the egg first. There may also be some competitive structure
in the immune system, where cells which create antibodies which are
successful in identifying pathogens get rewarded. I don't know the
details though. There are also theories of "neural darwinism" where
brain cells compete in some sense during the early months and years of
brain formation.

Speaking of the sperm example, I've also read that bees use competition
to decide which get to reproduce, in much the same way. The queen bee
flies as high as possible and only the strongest males can fly up to it
and mate. I don't know whether ants use a similar selection mechanism,
but it would make sense if they do.


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