Ant Queens, Manchester, and Emergence – Guest Post by Quantum Heart Cafe

Apologies to Quantum Heart Cafe who shared this letter with me over a month ago, but then life happened. 


Guest Post by Quantum Heart Cafe: Click here and here for previous letters.

Dear Alison and Wrench In The Gears Readers,

Thank you for the wonderful discussion and comments we had with the last letter. I hope this one provides more helpful insights and information about the artificial emergence that the predatory system is attempting to manifest. This letter continues my examination of Steven Johnson’s book “Emergence,” in which he introduces the “Myth of the Ant Queen” and talks about Manchester England as an example of emergence in cities.

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Following his discussion on slime mold cells, Steven introduces ants as another popular social species for studying artificial emergence. One of the reasons ants are popular among researchers is because they seek to understand how local interactions among individual ants lead to the colony’s higher level intelligence. Researchers also think that ant colonies represent a decentralized system, without centralized control. Alison has introduced E.O. Wilson’s work on ants and the ant computer, and while he is mentioned in part one, Steven focuses on the work of Deborah Gordon. Deborah Gordon is a biologist and researcher working out of Stanford University. Her focus is studying the behavior of ant colonies over a long period of time.

Steven visited Deborah Gordon at her lab. She specifically works with red harvester ants and builds large terrariums in order to observe their behavior over a long period of time. These terrariums put me in mind of the large glass condo towers they’re building all over Vancouver, BC. I sometimes wonder if another intention behind housing everyone in these buildings is to study us in clusters. It isn’t the individual that artificial emergence wants, it’s the interactions between people that create desirable higher-level macro behaviors. People clustered closely together are more likely to generate that sort of data.

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Gordon hopes to unlock the mystery of how colonies develop and how individual ants dynamically change roles across their lifetimes. Ants can transition from foraging for food to caring for young and then to building nests. Their labor adapts based on signals that define the needs of the colony.

(Side comment from Alison: Try on the lens of social insect societies’ use of signaling to determine labor quotas / task allocation when considering pending global adoption of IoT-linked token engineering, blockchain identity / digital twinning, stackable credentials for “lifelong learners,” and “cradle to career” pathways. I see that a worker’s digital dust / experience profile has the potential to become the equivalent of chemosensory data shared in hive mind communication.)

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Gordan thinks it is the hive mind, guided by the thousands of interactions between individual ants following simple rules, that determines what is best for the colony. Through her research, Gordon discovered that harvester ant queens don’t tell workers in the colony what to do. The queen’s sole focus is reproducing the next generation. The worker ants protect her, because it’s in the best interests of the colony that they do so, not because she is the queen.

I found a clip of a presentation Gordon gave at the World Economic Forum IdeasLab 2014. She thinks that ants can provide a lot of information about decentralized systems without centralized control. Where decisions are made from the bottom-up.

In the clip, Deborah describes how individual ants can act as hubs, nodes that facilitate many interactions with many other ants. Her theory is that it isn’t the individual ant that determines whether or not they become a hub, rather it is the situation. This makes me think of influencers, institutions, and other agents in our sphere of influence who knowingly or not act on behalf of the system. They, too, function as hubs, and more often than not it’s the situation that determines who or what is tapped to become a major hub driving the system forward, not necessarily the individual.

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Steven uses the point to argue that as with slime mold cells, there are NO leaders or ‘pacemaker’ cells making top-down decisions in complex adaptive systems. Nevertheless, humans are still wired to look for leaders. I disagree with this, because the artificial emergence that the system wants to put in place will run on a form of central control. There will be planners, designers, and programmers to implement decisions made at the top of the social hierarchy. The rules, templates, and game mechanics structuring how people may interact with one another within the Web3 protocol layer will be set at that level. I imagine there must be a chosen group of administrators overseeing progress made by the networked state’s citizens on leaderboards of goal-oriented behaviors linked to human computation. Perhaps Steven continues to emphasize his point about decentralization, because doesn’t want people to become aware that the future of social engineering is not that clear cut.

Along with ant colonies, Steven describes the city of Manchester as another example of an emergent system. Manchester was built on an old Roman settlement, which makes me wonder if there may be a continuity between the Roman Empire and this current expression of the dominator mindset? The city at the center of the industrial revolution, which changed humanity’s relation with the planet. Thanks to the industrial revolution and the steam engine, Manchester’s population grew to about 250,000 people by the mid to late 1800s. 

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In 1838, Manchester incorporated as a city, receiving a city council and urban planning department. The author writes that Manchester naturally emerged into a city and organized itself out of the chaos. Steven uses Friedrich Engel’s work as evidence of Manchester’s self-organization because Engels visited Manchester and wrote his observations in the ‘The Condition’. Engels noted that the working class had been pushed out to the margins of the city, and the middle to upper class lived in the more desirable neighborhoods.

According to Steven, this is yet another example of how there are no leaders or ‘pacemaker’ cells in emergent systems. He argues that Manchester “naturally organized itself” in this manner. I disagree, because even if Manchester didn’t incorporate until 1838, there were townships that had their own organizations that planned their particular areas. History is full of conscious decisions to push Black and Indigenous, poor and working class people off to the margins of society. Gentrification, red lining, rezoning, and for Indigenous people the reservations, were methods of displacement and removal that swept desirable neighborhoods clear for the middle and upper class. Steven’s analysis leaves out this crucial historical reality.

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The book, “Emergence” is turning out to be an important reading, especially as I work to understand complex adaptive systems (interchangeable with artificial emergence) and my place in the labyrinth. For my next letter I will be sharing what I’ve learned about the work of John Henry Holland, Will Wright, connection machines, and virtual ants.


Quantum Heart Cafe



3 thoughts on “Ant Queens, Manchester, and Emergence – Guest Post by Quantum Heart Cafe

  1. Amy Harlib says:

    The technocrat controllers, programmers and designers are pure evil and intend to squash humanity like bugs to be replaced by robotic synthetic biology cyborg slaves.

    That is why these control freak psychopaths love the idea of insect-hive minds so much!

    Makes me want to violently vomit!

    I do so appreciate all your research to educate us about these creatures that want total enslavement.

  2. Betsy says:

    I think it is very telling that these scientists are studying slime mold and ants to find out how to design systems that control human behavior. It seems they think human intelligence is on the same level as that of these lifeforms, or of the same nature. I’d feel a little bit insulted as a human, if it weren’t so hilarious.

    Also, the picture of the glass high-rise plan for Vancouver is rather chilling. The horizontal projections look like giant cameras, and the whole thing seems like a Panopticon.

  3. washington sean says:

    Thank you for these insights Quantum Heart. I played the ant simulation game when i was a kid — interested to get your take on Will Wright and such — looking forward to your next letter.

    It should go without saying, but humans are not ants!

    And modeling human societies after ants in a push for artificial emergence is an overly simplistic attempt to keep this ‘thing’, this charade, moving as fast as possible in the hopes people don’t notice the rapid changes being implemented.

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