Contributing Monkie G Monkie
Published on June 22, 2009
As kids most of us are amazed by the tiny bugs roaming around in our front yards, in their micro jungles made of grass. I personally loved to watch the ants for hours. They seem to be amazingly organized and devoted to each other. Professor E.O. Wilson understands my feelings about the ants, in fact he spent a lifetime devoted to knowing everything about them. In this Nova show, The Lord of the Ants, he takes us deep into the world of ants.
At age 78, E.O. Wilson is still going through his “little savage” phase of boyhood exploration of the natural world. NOVA profiles this soft-spoken Southerner and Professor Emeritus at Harvard.
Ants and social insects
Wilson, along with Bert Hölldobler, has done a systematic study of ants and ant behavior, culminating in their encyclopedic work, The Ants (1990). Because much self-sacrificing behavior on the part of individual ants can be explained on the basis of their genetic interests in the survival of the sisters, with whom (it was thought at the time) they share 75% of their genes, Wilson was led to argue for a sociobiological explanation for all social behavior on the model of the behavior of the social insects. (It turns out that because queens mate more than once, the 75% number is too high, though suggestive for selfish-gene explanations.) In his more recent work, he has sought to defend his views against the criticism of younger scientists such as Deborah Gordon, whose results challenge the idea that ant behavior is as rigidly-predictable as Wilson’s explanations make it.
Edward O. Wilson, referring to ants, once said that “Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species”, meaning that while ants and other eusocial species appear to live in communist-like societies, they only do so because they are forced to do so from their basic biology, as they lack reproductive independence: worker ants, being sterile, need their ant-queen to survive as a colony and a species and individual ants cannot reproduce without a queen, thus being forced to live in centralised societies. Humans, however, as a more advanced biological being, do possess reproductive independence so they can give birth to offspring without the need of a “queen”, and in fact humans enjoy their maximum level of Darwinian fitness only when they look after themselves and their families, while finding innovative ways to use the societies they live in for their own benefit.
Find out more about Professor Wilson on Wikipedia.org