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“Like a brain, an ant colony operates without central control. Each is a set of interacting individuals, either neurons or ants, using simple chemical interactions that in the aggregate generate their behaviour. People use their brains to remember. Can ant colonies do that? This question leads to another question: what is memory? For people, memory is the capacity to recall something that happened in the past. We also ask computers to reproduce past actions – the blending of the idea of the computer as brain and brain as computer has led us to take ‘memory’ to mean something like the information stored on a hard drive. We know that our memory relies on changes in how much a set of linked neurons stimulate each other; that it is reinforced somehow during sleep; and that recent and long-term memory involve different circuits of connected neurons. But there is much we still don’t know about how those neural events come together, whether there are stored representations that we use to talk about something that happened in the past, or how we can keep performing a previously learned task such as reading or riding a bicycle.
Any living being can exhibit the simplest form of memory, a change due to past events. Look at a tree that has lost a branch. It remembers by how it grows around the wound, leaving traces in the pattern of the bark and the shape of the tree. You might be able to describe the last time you had the flu, or you might not. Either way, in some sense your body ‘remembers’, because some of your cells now have different antibodies, molecular receptors, which fit that particular virus.
Past events can alter the behaviour of both individual ants and ant colonies. Individual carpenter ants offered a sugar treat remembered its location for a few minutes; they were likely to return to where the food had been. Another species, the Sahara Desert ant, meanders around the barren desert, searching for food. It appears that an ant of this species can remember how far it walked, or how many steps it took, since the last time it was at the nest.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"The likely successor to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Boris Johnson, has plans to subsume the government department overseeing development aid into the foreign office, effectively eliminating it. That will destroy a post-Brexit United..."
"Gerard Baker, editor-at-large at the Wall Street Journal (no reflexively anti-Trump publication) recently wrote a piece decrying Donald Trump and his foreign policy as a fount of erratic unpredictability. This essay will give the counter view...."
"On Wednesday, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar announced that she will be visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming weeks. Omar will be accompanied by Rep. Rashida Tlaib. The two freshman congresswomen have become a focal point of..."
"Netflix may have lost US subscribers for the first time since it began making its own shows, but that didn't stop the streaming giant from dropping new figures about how many people are sucked into its Adam Sandler vortex. (Spoiler: More than..."
"A few years ago, Amy Balliett, CEO of a Seattle-based design and marketing firm, noticed that as the work week slogged on, her employees’ energy and productivity wilted. “That would slump to such an extent that the same task on Monday would..."
"Over the last few days the #faceappchallenge has taken over social media. This “challenge” involves downloading a selfie-editing tool called FaceApp and using one of its filters to digitally age your face. You then post the photo of your wizened..."
"Although there are plenty of irrational aspects to life in modern America, few rival the odd fixation on lawns. Fertilizing, mowing, watering — these are all-American activities that, on their face, seem reasonable enough. But to spend hundreds..."
"Can a book change the way we think? I don’t mean that in the sense of a reader’s opinion or ideology shifting—of course the right literary work can do that. But can a book rewire the brain itself, literally changing the way one particular mind..."
"It’s our job to let kids know we see and hear them, but we’re not necessarily going to solve siblings’ conflicts for them (or else they never get the practice). When squabbles start, imagine you’re a sportscaster and describe what you see in..."
"Magali Trejo-Martinez, a 22-year-old living in Salem, Oregon, recently went on a date that was rather uninspiring. “I had dinner, had a couple margaritas, and then went home,” is how she recapped the evening. This outcome wasn’t entirely..."
"The first lunar landing was many things — a D-Day-like feat of planning and logistics, a testament to the power of man's will, an ostensible propaganda coup for NATO. It was also, I think, one of the most misunderstood events in the history of..."
"THE FIRST TIME Bernie Sanders ran for president, he didn’t talk much about being Jewish. In fact, he didn’t talk much about himself at all. His 2016 primary campaign, like his whole political career, was relentlessly focused on one topic: income..."