Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Social Insects Created The Amazing Tropical Forests Of This Earth, How Can We Match Their Feat?

Some sunday morning musings on cooperation vs competition in evolution and human history:

The popular idea has always been that it's a jungle out there, red in tooth and claw, survival of the fittest and all that. And of course Humans have always heaped glory upon their warriors for entering that fray!

But the fact of the matter is that the more time you spend cometing with your neighbors the LESS time you are spending RAISING KIDS. RAISING KIDS is what evolution is about, not competing. So there are two strategies that life has come up with for spending less time competing so it can raise kids:

1) divide up the environment by exploring niche space and diversifying. if i stick to hunting rabbits and you stick to collecting nuts, we don't have to compete!

2) cooperating! I'm very fond of the social insects, and the reason why the ants rule the tropics is because they cooperate! I know that Honeybees for instance have AMAZINGLY low infant mortality in their hives, compare that to the mass of insects that lay 100s of eggs to have maybe 1 survive to adulthood! Ants take care of the place, they recycle all the materials, they spread out the trees and keep species diversity high, in fact there are over 8,000 different species of ants, they keep their OWN diversity high! And with the trees spread out so far, it takes the social stingless bees to pollinate them, making trips miles long just to pollinate a single species of tree when it blooms.

then i got to wondering about the chemical origins of life, and our next 4billion years of history ahead of us co-creating the universe. I thought up a scenario where we could possibly find ancient chemical fossils of the origins of life and learn how it happens, maybe learn to do it ourselves. But it would take a LOT of work. Do we have the TIME to accomplish the task? Can we avoid a really DIRTY world war III? How can we slowly mature and explore the potentials of Homo sapiens?

How does cooperation or niche exploration vs competition relate to our current dilema? Well, Homo sapiens IS the cooperating critter PAR EXCELENCE! that's why we are coming to rule the whole planet just as the ants rule the tropics! unfortunately whereas the ants probably took 10s of millions of years to learn the art of ecosystem governance, We tried to accomplish the feat a TAD too quickly: 100,000 years maybe? 10,000 years? We are not doing so well at it! While the ants and bees have built up amzingly diverse tropical forest over the past 10s of millions of years, we are taking them down in a mere coupla thousand!

Some ants even form supercolonies! (But so far I know of NO examples of TWO DIFFERENT species of ants COOPERATING! That's odd. There certainly are plenty of symbioses out there between other species. I even recall that there are two different species of Rock Hyraxes that nest together and raise each other's kids! (odd story, needs to be looked into!) )

Though we liberals are resisting this Global economy kicking and screaming, perhaps ultimately (after ironing things out and surely along the way MANY disenfrachised will suffer) it will provide a mechanism for cooperation between major ideological groups of us now currently fighting?

I don't know.

The other option is niche diversifcation. The Earth is pretty full, we are all crammed up against each other, there is no room to experiment with new languages, new cultures, new forms of government...No room to start out from scratch! The last such experiments where in australia and north america, and those have pretty much played out! We NEED MORE ROOM! Think of what a VAST PLAYGROUND this earth was for those tiny simple ants to explore! But we humans are VAST creatures. First of all we are BIG. Second of all we tend to coagulate into colonies of 100s of millions, covering an ENTIRE CONTINENT, that's INSANELY BIG, few species of ants come close to matching that! But mostly OUR MINDS are vast. An individual can imagine whole ecosystems in there! We can imagine mastering the cosmos itself. We need a larger arena to grow up in!

Well, there is a lot of real estate out there in the cosmos! Science is nice, technology is nice, but what we need is some WISDOM in how to be human beings! We need more TIME AND ROOM to do experiments in human civilization!

In high school i imagined the following scenario: If we were to send a ship of colonists out to colonize another planet, think of what they are starting from: scratch! Perhaps like ants sending their mated queens into the wind hither and thither, 100s of colonist ships spreading randomly out there exploring. maybe a few find some habitable planets in a coupla hundred years, and when they land? i tried to imagine what it would take to reproduce our massive network of industrial/technological abilities that we take for granted!

forgedaboutit! they are gonna be struggling to grow crops, build shelter, have kids and survive! What i hope is that we can set up a new cycle: reset our technological level to almost zero every coupla hundred years as we hop to the next planet, but retain the knowlege, the history of our sociology, psychology, educational and governing methods. By resetting the technology each time we will allow the experimenting in social interactions to go on slowly. And continuing to spread out the human experiment, will give us some space from each other, a chance to get our bearings and then have new rounds of economic and cultural interactions on vaster scales!

I think we can slowly explore the human potential! And that potential is VAST. Just as some some tiny colonies of simple bacteria, each a ten thousandth of an inch wide, 4billion years ago have come to spread across the 16million square miles of Earth and RESHAPE it, I can fully imagine us becoming gods, learning to master the foundations of the cosmos and reacreating new universes!

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