A COOPERATIVE FORAGING EXPERIMENT: LESSONS FROM ANTS

Seirian Sumner [10.14.07]
Topic:

You are a leaf-cutting ant from South America. You will compete against the humans across the aisle in a foraging activity. You're task is to collect as much forage as possible. There's a reason ants are so successful. They're disciplined. They follow a series of rules. The first rule is no talking. Ants can't talk so you can't talk. The second rule is no gestures, facial or otherwise. And to make sure you can't use facial expressions we're going to put a paper bag on your head. The third rule is 'Ant walking'. ...

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In this Edge Video, Serian Sumner teaches us a lesson about the social nature of ants. She selects fifteen people in the audience at the Serpentine Gallery in London and tells them to imagine they're ants.

SEIRIAN SUMNER is a research fellow in evolutionary biology at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London. Her research focuses on the evolution of sociality—how eusociality evolves and how social behavior is maintained. She has worked with a variety of bees, wasps, and ants from around the world, studying their behavior through observation, experimental manipulation, and molecular analyses, including gene expression. She is especially interested in the origins of sociality and the role of the genome in this major evolutionary transition.


This is the second in a series of Edge Videos of "table-top experiments" presented as part of the 2007 Edge/Serpentine collaboration during Serpentine Gallery Experiment Marathon in London, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist under the leadership of Director Julia Peyton-Jones. Edge presenters were zoologist Seirian Sumner, archeologist Timothy Taylor, evolutionary biologist Armand Leroi, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, geneticist Steve Jones, physicist Neil Turok, embryologist Lewis Wolpert, and psycholgist Steven Pinker and playwright Marcy Kahan. The live event was featured at the Serpentine as part of the Edge/Serpentine collaboration: "What Is Your Formula? Your Equation? Your Algorithm? Formulae For the 21st Century."

Writing in Sueddeutsche Zeitung ("Short Answers To Big Questions"), Feuilleton editor Andrian Kreye noted that:

The experiment is not only represents a collaboration by Brockman and Obrist's of their own work; it is also a continuation of a movement that began in the '60s on America's East Coast. John Cage brought together young artists and scientists for symposia and seminars to see what what would happen in the interaction of big thinkers from different fields. The resulting dialogue, which at the time seemed abstract and esoteric, can today be regarded as the forerunner to interdisciplinary science and the digital culture.