H Bloom on memes 2

Bill Benzon (bbenzon@mindspring.com)
Thu, 11 Dec 1997 07:03:27 -0400

Message-Id: <199712111152.GAA14759@camel8.mindspring.com>
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 07:03:27 -0400
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
From: bbenzon@mindspring.com (Bill Benzon)
Subject: H Bloom on memes 2

>From: Howl Bloom <HowlBloom@aol.com>
>Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 01:33:41 EST
>To: bbenzon@meta4inc.com
>Subject: re: testing memetics--personal
>Organization: AOL (http://www.aol.com)
>X-Mailer: Inet_Mail_Out (IMOv11)
>individualistic as they are generally portrayed. Their fossilized remains
>are often found in herd-like clumps. In Insect Societies and his much
>later book The Ants, Wilson groups together those contemporary insects
>which live on their own, those which have a rough-hewn sociality, and
>those which have taken their social structures to the nth degree
>("eusociality"), then assumes that the loners must have evolved first.
>Frankly, this is questionable. As we've seen, grouping has been inherent
>in evolution since the first quarks joined to form neutrons and protons.
>Similarly, replicators--RNA, DNA, and genes--have always worked in
>teams. Often teams so huge as to defy description. The bacteria of 3.5
>billion years ago were creatures of the crowd. So were the trilobites and
>probably the echinoderms (proto-starfish) of the Cambrian age. It is
>entirely possible, then, that the first insects may well have been social,
>and that their more solitary relatives could have been later offshoots
>who had mastered the difficult trick of survival in relative isolation.
>One indication comes from evidence that 300 million years ago, proto-
>cockroaches (Cryptocercidae-like insects) occupied tunnel-like group
>homes in dead tree ferns.
>The discovery of 100 fossilized nests in Arizona's Petrified Forest hints
>that one extremely social insect may have been building hives as early
>as 220 million b.c.--Apoidea: the bee. Thomas Seeley, perhaps the
>leading contemporary expert on bee behavior, has been awed for over
>a decade by the extent to which colonies of swarmers pool their meager
>intellects to create a vaster calculating mechanism. Seeley presented a
>sophisticated account of this observation in a 1987 article he called "A
>Colony of Mind: The Beehive As Thinking Machine," (co-written with
>Royce A. Levien, The Sciences, July/August). Seeley's 1995 The Wisdom
>of the Hive fleshes out the details of the theme.
>Like guppies, bees are slaves to meme contagion. In one experiment,
>researchers put two dishes of sugar water close to a pair of hives. Each
>solution was equally nutritious. Then the scientists trained a few bees
>from hive A to visit dish A. The bees of hive A obediently followed
>their pre-trained scouts. Despite the high caloric content of the second
>dish, all ignored it and drank only from the "pre-approved" container,
>carrying drops of its contents back to their home base. The bees in the
>second hive were tricked by the same technique into following the leader
>and visiting only dish B. There was no significant number of deviants
>in either hive. In a very real sense, the bees had been transformed from
>a chaos of individuals to a single mind. Their transmuter: imitative
>The result is capable of remarkable "mental" feats. I described in my
>book, The Lucifer Principle: a scientific expedition into the forces of
>an experiment in which apian flyers were given an inadvertent group IQ
>test. A dish of sweetened-water was placed outside the hive. The bees
>soon found it and, following the leader, concentrated their collective
>attention on mining every glucose molecule within it. The next day, the
>dish was moved to a location twice as far from the hive. The bees used
>two of those tricks which make a group brain function--hierarchy and
>task specialization--to pinpoint the new target area. While the mass of
>followers clung meekly to their honeycombs, a handful of "independent
>thinkers" flew about at will, testing one spot then another for food. The
>division of labor soon resulted in the discovery of the sugar dish's
>location. Now the herd instinct which results from imitative learning
>took over. The sheep-like multitude followed those who had made the
>find and combined their efforts to exploit the food source for all it was
>The following day, the experimenters once again set the dish twice as far
>from the hive as on the previous occasion. And once again the scouts
>fanned out, a myriad of eyes and antennae gathering input for a
>collective mind. Once again the dish was spotted and the herd of
>follower bees swarmed to maximize their prize.
>Then came the part that astonished the researchers. Each day they
>doubled the distance from dish to hive. The flight path's length
>followed a simple arithmetic progression. After several days the swarm
>no longer waited for its scouts to return with news of the latest
>coordinates. Instead, when experimenters arrived to set down the sugar
>water, they found the bees had preceded them. Like multiple transistors
>crowded on the chip of a pocket calculator, the massed bees had
>predicted the next step in a mathematical series. But unlike the
>electronic calculator, they had perceived the existence of that series
>without the aid of a human pushing buttons.
>There are more secrets to apian collective intelligence than division of
>labor, hierarchical organization, and the efficiency imparted by
>imitation. A fourth is quorum sensing. Each scout fans an eccentric
>path in search of food. If she spies a promising cache, she does not
>operate on impulse. She doubles and triple checks her conclusions,
>reflying the path several times to memorize its bearings. She returns to
>the hive interior and uses one of the first forms of symbolic
>representation known in evolution--the waggle dance. Cakewalking on
>an upright wall of the hive's lightless interior, she performs a figure
>eight. Its orientation indicates the direction of her find relative to the
>position of the sun. The speed of her movement, the number of times
>she repeats it, and the fervor of her noisy waggling indicate the richness
>of the food source and the difficulty in flying there (half a mile in a sti=
>wind consumes far more energy than the same distance cruised through
>placid air). Her audience follows her, sniffing the scent of food she
>carries, feeling her movements, alert not only to the instructions each
>motion imparts, but to the judgements implied in the performer's
>Despite the initial messenger's caution in verifying her conclusions, the
>masses are not easily swayed. Other scouts make the trip, reach their
>own judgements, then return to waggle-dance their verdicts. The more
>vigorous and numerous the corroborative performances, the more
>persuasive is the data. Several bees usually make separate discoveries.
>Some of the finds are richer and easier to reach than others. The
>greater the payoff, the more scouts are impelled to fly out and verify the
>reports for themselves. The more returning skeptics who stage
>confirmations, the more bees are allocated to working the patch. The
>number of converts is affected by the fact that a bee who has discovered
>a jackpot will jitterbug far longer than one who has encountered a
>mediocre flower zone. The longer the shimmy, the greater the number
>of indecisive foragers able to catch the show.
>This process consumes time, but its accuracy and its ability to retune as
>one patch of flowers is exhausted and another discovered is critical. A
>hive has just a few short months in which to store a supply of honey.
>If it fails to gather the necessary minimum, it is likely to run out of
>supplies before winter ends. This means certain death--not just for the
>frailer bees among the bunch, but for the entire community. It means
>the extinction of the superorganism's gene lines(3) and of its collective
>mind. Each incoming scout's dance has contained small errors. By
>pooling and averaging inputs, onlookers are able to home in on their
>destinations with impressive accuracy. The mass mind has once again
>made calculations beyond the capacity of any single bee.
>Division of labor has also played its role--non-conformists performed the
>risky task of exploration. And conformists ensured that a crush of
>crowd power would be unleashed on the most advantageous missions.
>Statistics may give a sense of how critical cooperation and hierarchy are
>to this collaborative task. It takes 50 bees and a queen before the
>workers feel impelled to build the combs of a new domicile. Without
>a queen, it takes 5,000. When a colony runs out of resources, it splits.
>A huge swarm chooses a queen of its own and leaves the old queen's
>hive in search of fresh quarters. Hanging in a balled clump from a
>branch, the homeless pioneers execute a technique like that which
>allowed them to zero in on food patches. Scouts comb the landscape for
>a location which will be safe from predators, will provide protection
>from blustery winds, and will be near fresh food. Then the surveyors
>deliver their conclusions. Crowds gather around the several spots in
>which the advocates of each location are dancing. Hyper-energized
>acrobats promoting the same destination gradually entice bees away from
>weaker groups of publicists. Finally, the swarm calculates which
>homestead is best, then heads out en masse to build a new hive.
>Numbers are critical to the execution of this process. Bees cannot hunt
>for new real-estate--much less carry out the ensuing comparisons--until
>they reach a minimum of 200.
>Ants, whose signs of sociality appear after 80 million b.c., use their
>networked mind for yet another purpose--warfare. So vital are the
>coordinating mechanisms which wire a crowd of Formicidae into a
>thinking machine that the most effective strategy is to attack a
>population without notice and cause a panic, breaking the bonds which
>connect the victims. But often, two ant armies meet unexpectedly. The
>shock scatters each phalanxed legion in a frenzied route. Victory
>belongs to the group which can reconstitute its links with the greatest
>While octopi and fish use collaborative information processing, their
>networks remain remarkably local. Insects, on the other hand, show
>signs of developing something old among bacteria but new among
>eukaryotes--a cosmopolitan web. The most important means of
>transmission among ants is chemical. A maverick ant, nosing about in
>unexplored territory, will stumble across food, eat her fill, then head
>slowly back toward the nest, hugging the ground and extruding her
>sting. This is not post-meal lethargy. The ant is laying a liquid
>attractant for her sisters, who cannot resist the compulsion to follow in
>its wake. If they, too, find that the pickings at trail's end are good, th=
>will return in the same manner, sprinkling the chemical traces of their
>jubilation behind them. Thus a widening or waning scent trail encodes
>data on the richness of a food source, its ease of exploitation, and its
>gradual depletion. A team of Belgian biologists has called this odor
>track, which summarizes the experience of hundreds or thousands, a
>form of collective memory.
>Equally important to the ant colony are its alarm sprays--pheromones
>which alert the legions to danger. Ants are able to read alarm signals
>sent by other species, thus picking up on the fact that there's trouble in
>the neighborhood, and turning nearby colonies into sensory extensions.
>In turn, they act as sensors for nearby populations of "foreigners." A
>patchwork of rival ant cities is thus able to form a primitive internet.
>We have now reached a point 1.9 billion years after the emergence of
>the first eukaryotic cells and 1.4 billion years after the first multicellu=
>film. Those bacteria which were able to absorb internal guest workers
>have churned out beasts with brains. And now, with learning and new
>forms of information exchange, multi-cellular animals have begun their
>advance toward the creation of a whole new kind of global intellect.
>1) It could be argued that spiny lobster conga lines are based on instinct
>rather than imitation. There are two counter-arguments; 1) All imitative
>learning is instinctively based. 2) A longstanding evolutionary principle
>called the Baldwin Effect says that an advantageous behavior, once it has
>appeared in a population, will gradually reshape the genes of the species
>which has adopted it, resulting in biological pre-programming. The
>mechanism for this transformation is simple. Those creatures which go
>along with the crowd and save themselves from a glacial freeze will
>survive to reproduce. Those which stay behind are frozen out of the
>mating game when they die in blocks of ice. The environment
>continues this sorting process until only those with a genetic
>predisposition to follow the crowd and vacation in a warmer place
>survive. The result: permanent fixation of migratory autumn cavalcades.
>2) Spiny lobsters are frequently called "crayfish" by both laymen and
>scientists. The two species are apparently separate, but the boundary
>between them is so muddled that we won't even dare go into it.
>3) Contrary to popular misconceptions within some segments of the
>evolutionary science community, research shows that there are usually
>several genetic strains in a bee colony. A single queen may carry the
>sperm of roughly seven males, and thus give birth to seven different lines
>of half-sisters. In other cases, the number of genetic strains is multipli=
>by the existence of simultaneous queens.
> =9CHoward Bloom, 1997
>(Special acknowledgment: Many of the questions raised in the
>construction of this article have seldom been tackled by paleontologists.
>I owe special thanks to Dr. K.B. Clark for combining his expertise in
>invertebrate biology with his second specialization, Cambrian
>reconstruction, to draw tentative conclusions about areas previously off
>the scientific map. I also owe a debt to the dozen additional researchers
>who stretched their brains on my behalf. It is my hope that together we
>may catalyze a new and necessary discipline--paleopsychology.)=1A
>Howard Bloom
>(founder: International Paleopsychology Project; member: New York Academy o=
>Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American
>Psychological Society, Academy of Political Science, Human Behavior and
>Evolution Society, European Sociobiological Society)
>705 President Street
>Brooklyn, NY 11215
>phone 718 622 2278
>fax 718 398 2551
>e-mail howlbloom@aol.com
>for two chapters from
>The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of
>see www.bookworld.com/lucifer
><A HREF=3D"http://www.bookworld.com/lucifer">The Lucifer Principle:a scient=
>expedition into the forces of history</A>

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A bbenzon@mindspring.com
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA http://www.newsavanna.com/wlb/

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