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Tuckahoe Joe’s Blog of the Week: Logarithmic History — The Rise of Social Insects.

May 22, 2020

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Today, I decided to drop into one of my favorite blog sites Logarithmic History (https://logarithmichistory.wordpress.com/). The blog traces the history of the universe throughout the year beginning on January 1 with the Big Bang and ending on December 31 with today. The years progress, however, day by day on a logarithmic scale. The author explains:

“If you’re a bit hazy about logarithms, all you have to know is that each day of the year covers a shorter period in the history of the universe than the preceding day (5.46% shorter). January 1 begins with the Big Bang and covers a full 754 million years. January 2 covers the next 712 million years, and so on. Succeeding days cover shorter and shorter succeeding intervals in the history of the universe. At this rate, a given calendar date covers only a tenth as much time as a date 41 days earlier.”

“On this logarithmic scale, Earth is formed on January 20, trilobites arise toward the end of February, and dinosaurs meet their doom on April 6. The middle of the year finds Homo erectus giving way to early versions of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. October begins with King David and ends with Columbus. By December 7, we reach the year of the Beatles’ first LP (1963). December 31 covers just one year, 2017; calendar time and history-of-the-universe time finally coincide at midnight.”

Here is his entry for today March 28th, wherein he discusses the rise of social insects.

“Certainly the statistics on social insects today are impressive.”

‘The twenty-thousand known species of eusocial insects, mostly ants, bees, wasps and termites, account for only 2 percent of the approximately one million known species of insects. Yet this tiny minority of species dominate the rest of the insects in their numbers, their weight, and their impact on the environment. As humans are to vertebrate animals, the eusocial insects are to the far vaster world of invertebrate animals. … In one Amazon site, two German researchers … found that ants and termites together compose almost two-thirds of the weight of all the insects. Eusocial bees and wasps added another tenth. Ants alone weighed four times more than all the terrestrial vertebrates — that is, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined.” E. O. Wilson pp 110-113”

“E. O. Wilson, world’s foremost authority on ants, and one of the founders of sociobiology, thinks that the origin of insect eusociality might have lessons for another major evolutionary transition, the origin of humans (and of human language, technology, culture, and complex social organization). In his book The Social Conquest of Earth he argues that a key step in both sets of transitions was the development of a valuable and defensible home — in the case of humans, a hearth site. Wilson returns to this argument in his book Genesis: The Deep Origin of Human Societies, just published, which I’ll get around to saying more about here eventually. On the same topic, Mark Moffett’s book The Human Swarm: How Human Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall, asks how it is that we somehow rival the social insects in our scale of organization.”

“One trait found in both ants and humans is large-scale warfare. Wilson gives an idea of the nature of ant warfare in fictional form in his novel Anthill. It’s an interesting experiment, but also disorienting. Because individual recognition is not important for ants, his story of the destruction of an ant colony reads like the Iliad with all the personal names taken out. But Homer’s heroes fought for “aphthiton kleos,” undying fame (and got some measure of it in Homer’s poem). The moral economy of reputation puts human cooperation in war and peace on a very different footing from insect eusociality. (Here’s my take on “ethnic group selection,” which depends on social enforcement, perhaps via reputation.)”

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