10 April 2009

Inevitable minds

Kevin Kelley writes:

The rock ant is tiny, even for an ant. Individually each ant is the size of comma on this page. Their colonies are small too. Numbering about 100 workers, plus one queen, they normally nest between slivers of crumbling rock, hence their common name. Their entire society can fit into the glass case of a watch, or between the one-inch covers of a microscope slide, which is where they are usually bred in laboratories. The brain of a rock ant contains less than 100,000 neurons and is so small as to be invisible. Yet an rock ant mind can perform an amazing feat of calculation. To assess the potential of a new nesting site, rock ants will measure the dimensions of the room in total darkness and then calculate – and that is the proper word – the volume and desirability of it. For many millions of years, rock ants have used a mathematical trick that was only discovered by humans in 1733. Rock ants can estimate the volume of a space, even an irregular shaped one, by randomly laying a scent trail across the floor of the space, "recording" the length of that line, and then counting the number of times it encounters that scented line during additional diagonal runs across the floor. The calculated area is inversely proportional to the frequency of intersections times length. In other words, the ants discovered an approximate value for Π derived by intersecting diagonals. Headroom is measured by the ants with their bodies and then "multiplied" with the area to give an approximate volume of their hole. But these incredible tiny ant minds do more. They measure the width and number of entrances, the amount of light, the proximity of neighbors, and the degree of hygiene for the room. Then they tally these variables and calculate a desirability score for the potential nest by a process that resembles a "weighted additive" fuzzy logic formula in computer science. All in 100,000 neurons.

The minds of animals are legion, and even fairly dumb ones can yield amazement.…

…read it all at http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2009/04/inevitable_mind.php

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