Probably the most "And I Must Scream" moment in mother nature. Imagine a human gets infected by a parasite that controls their body but leaves their brain intact to observe what their body is doing (and probably drugged to hell as the article implies).
I don't think this is especially likely, the fungus requires use of the ant's nervous system and sensory processing to figure out where a high up place is, so it definitely needs to have some significant control over the ant's brain, so it could suppress motor neuron function in the central nervous system. But still a very terrifying idea, to have some control over your muscles but the fungus is just overpowering you!
The queen is dependent on the drones being as obedient as your fingers and tongue might be to your brain, with your brain being the queen organ, for your hundred(s of) pound(s of) tissue. We know that the surface ants support the colony, which supports the queen, and overall, the biomass of the ant colony is less than any single mammal, and we know that any signaling is provoked by scent, based on attack behaviors at a minimum.
Meaning that reaction to scent wafts through colonies quickly, engaging behavior as quickly as it is noticed. Ants seem to drop everything, and move, unanimously, when a signal is given. The signals must be pretty complex, with pointers hooked into fixed physical actions on some level. The ants probably don't think very much about what they should do next, as much as constantly listen or smell for a prevailing vote on what to do. Attack, forage, assemble into a formation, wait for further instructions, and so on.
In ant studies, an ant colony is segmented into chambers, each having odors, the most conspicuous being the colony's waste dump, so you have to figure that the colony survives, and expects the surface soldiers to go permanently missing once in a while, when scent signaling is disrupted.
These fungal organisms probably interact with a degree of equilibrium, when exposed to healthy ant colonies. Usually a parasitic relationship with a host is balanced to not completely destroy the host population, according to an almost intuitive self-preservation instinct among parasites. So the fungus probably only disrupts soldiers at the periphery of the colony, without destroying the core of the hill.
You can get a sense of this, based on the fact that the affected ants are driven away from the hill, toward environments more opportunistic to the fungus. If a version of the fungus were to grow opportunistically within the colony, it might invade and drive the ants to extinction, which might turn out to be, in effect, suicidal for the fungus too, and not just the ant.
The colony is really the organism, and the soldiers serve it, abiding by prevailing odors, likely without very much free will. Or at least as much free will as your arm has, to reflexively recoil from a burn, or lash out at some unassessed threat when reacting in fear.
This fungus probably is basically "numbing" the arm, but the wild part of seeing your arm suddenly behave with a mind of its own, would be an observation from the perspective of the queen, and is probably more or less like seeing a junkie or crackhead stumble around like a zombie, as far as the colony-as-organism is concerned.
So, if the ant is "fighting" the "will" of the fungus, it's probably more likely that the ant is receiving strong scent signals compelling it to act a certain way, and the sauce that the fungus is producing as an override to the biological signals in the ant's circulatory system (remembering that insect circulatory systems are primitive, and probably easily hackable fluid systems) might be weak, or the infectious load might be light, resulting in a noisy, conflicted signal at the neurological level. Maybe like a junkie, not completely ruined by dope.
tl;dr soldier ants follow their nose without a whole lot of agency, because they are born to serve the colony, selflessly. Thus they likely are unconcerned by a "loss of self," and perhaps might be more emotionally invested in failing the colony, if soldier ants have emotions.
The term "queen" is a misnomer. She is the ovulation organ of the hive, nothing more. Yes, she has many solicitous "attendants" but then again I too am more attentive to my own generative organs than I am to my other ones.
In fact she has less will than any of the mobile ants and bees. Like the Chinese emperor (until Pu Yi) she is completely manipulated by her attendants.
Ants surely seem sentient, even if still lower-order animals. Is it just an emergent detail of aggregate reflexive behavior across all members? How (and why) would soldiers know to build a bridge with their bodies, to cross a water barrier, seemingly from birth?
Maybe the level of recognition and internal modelling, on a per-organism basis is a clue to self awareness and emotional involvement in individual perception and experience. With all ants, maybe this quality is low, and mostly instinctual, embedded in gene expression.
As for sentience itself...it's pretty clear (even from timing data alone) that we end up confabulating most of what we consider perception of reality, so perhaps consciousness and sentience are just convenient mechanisms to characterize the order of events?
it seems a Victorian concept like "seat of
organizational sentience" is rather obsolete.
Last time I checked, here I am. One person, one voice, one field of vision. If I were to use my fingers to point to where I, myself, am, then it’d be somewhere between my ears and my eyes.
But I suppose that person is somehow... quaint?
You only point to your head due to modern science; Aristotle thought the brain was for cooling the blood as the ancient Greeks thought the soul was in the liver, hence Prometheus' punishment (although ψυχή was literally "breath" -- cf "atman"). Plenty of cultures thought it in the heart, as do we talk of the heart or gut or generative organs making decisions -- certainly we feel the tough decisions there.
Could it be those with extensive amputations of gut and an articial heart could be "less human" in a broader sense than just mass?
But you seem awfully sure there is consciousness. Perhaps there is no such thing and you only think there is? It seems like a handy mechanism for your genes to use to propagate themselves.
The homunculus model, while popular, isn't particularly insightful and is, recursively, useless.
> Could it be those with extensive amputations of gut and an articial heart could be "less human" in a broader sense than just mass?
If that's the case, it's pretty subtle. People with an artificial art don't act much differently than those with a normal heart; compare that with people who've had frontal lobotomies.
> But you seem awfully sure there is consciousness. Perhaps there is no such thing and you only think there is?
This line of argument generally rapidly devolves into semantics and quibbling over definitions. Giving a formal definition of consciousness is difficult. You either end up with a definition like "that phenomena where people think and consider themselves a single entity", in which case it's trivially true that human beings have consciousness; or you define it as something vague and metaphysical like "having a soul" in which case it's unprovable whether humans are conscious or not.
I like this passage from the Macmillan Dictionary of Psychology:
"Consciousness - The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means ... Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it has evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it."
It doesn’t mean a little person reclines in a hammock there, but I’d wager that there’s a resonant, sensation-event-sensitive waveform, that has a primary focal node looping through a region very close to the pituitary gland in normal, living human beings (with similar analogs in all other mammals, and also many other vertebrates), also hinted at by the pituitary’s role in endocrine governance.
But furthermore, you deny your own agency, if you refute me. I suppose maybe you are simply a bot on the internet, then. In which case, I'm deeply disturbed to find entities on the internet telling me I'm not sentient. Maybe having humans inform me of the same poorly rationalized fallacy is worse?
It tells you no such thing. In a distributed system if you take out the main ethernet switch (interconnect) you can bring the whole system to a halt, but that doesn't mean the computation happens there.
Now, no kidding: there's a massively parallel (80 G neurons x 10^ fanout) machine with a ~ 100 Hz clock inside your skull, but there's a lot of computation going on elsewhere. Look at what I said about all the neurotransmitters in your gut, not to mention the rest of your reticulated nervous system. And people do plenty of things all the time (e.g. hit a baseball) that require a response and feedback faster than the nervous system can transmit from the big bag o' neurons to the wrist.
I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm saying there's far, far from enough evidence in contemporary neuroscience to support the level of confidence you exhibit in your theory of mind.
The brain is extremely sensitive to status across the rest of the body, but based on amputations and circumstances involving life support, viral pathology and hypoxia, there’s strong evidence that time keeping and concept of self sit just above the floor of the brain pan, near the optic nerve’s main cross-over, between the ears. (give or take and inch or two)
No one who makes these types of arguments can justify why they continue to defend their side of the argument if nothing they do matters.
If you truly believe that you do not exist, explain it to me in a way that does not assume your existence. Most of these arguments start with the two words that the most famous argument for existence does, "I think therefore I am".
Not only does it not tell you any such thing but there is pretty good evidence that that is not what's happening. Look at the amount of data collected via the fovea during a single saccade and tell me one collects "frame" data in any way comparable to one's conception of what is happening in front of your body at that time.
In the sense that flicker is detectable, when we view a movie in a dark room, we know there are frames in a film reel, if the shutter speed of the projector mechanism operates below a certain frame rate, as an artifact of the media. I'm not claiming that any sort of digital recording occurs, only that the stream of sensory stimulation has a degree of fidelity.
That stream of stimulation affecting the chemical sensitivity of our eyes produces a continuous signal, and go ahead and try to tell anyone that a human brain cannot resolve the visual signal carried by the optic nerve. No one will argue with you but only because it's simply not a conversation worth having.
Returning to ants, the anthill as a whole could probably be aware of a coarse assessment of its own wellbeing without any details.
Yep. And now go up a level. What are _you_ in the organism that is humanity? That concept is worth a lifetime of thought as you go about your job, consuming resources and processing information that is given to you to process.
All class divisions and duties are contrived, and artificially forced by what amounts to oral tradition and other communicative habitual norms like handwriting, long after invention of the wheel and mastery of fire by prehistoric humans. It is artifice, that can be wiped away if we fail to learn the craft of language by adolescence.
Liken this to hunting patterns among cetaceans, which we’ve only recently noticed with intensive study. Few animals are capable of language, but that emergent detail alone, remains an extremely ephemeral quality of social organization, capable of being destroyed by large-scale disagreements resulting in what we call war. Refugees can be reduced to orphanage and stone age civilization in a conflict severe enough.
Ants and other eusocial insects are not quite so vulnerable to having their classified reproductive divisions destroyed in less than a generation, simply because a small number of them have rationalized and chosen to dispose of a way of life. Forces of nature and other outside actors would have to opportunistically disrupt their biological qualities which seem baked in once hatched.
Maybe the ant is simply reacting to sensations of cold temperature, and maybe it goes blind, setting off reactions to wander away from the ground, search for bright areas to warm up when in dark unfamiliar tunnels.
> "Crazy cat-lady syndrome" is a term coined by news organizations to describe scientific findings that link the parasite Toxoplasma gondii to several mental disorders and behavioral problems.
Man, after having gone back and re-read them as an adult, it's only barely a kids series. Animorphs went hard in the paint with the horrors of war angle.
Another good example is Terry Pratchett's kid-oriented books (e.g., the Tiffany Aching Discworld books, the Johnny books and the Bromeliad trilogy). He never wrote down to children. These books weren't really much different from his other books for an adult audience, although the plots were simpler, tended to focus more on children characters, and the morality was less ambiguous (as it can be in real life)). But as a big fan of Pratchett, I enjoyed these "children's" books no less than the others.
There is a scene in one of the books where the narrator finds a sliver of flesh still stuck in his teeth from when he was fighting in tiger form, and that isn't a particularly gruesome scene in comparison to the rest of the books, just to be clear. Harry Potter's later installments come close but Gravity Falls and Adventure Time aren't even in the same league. I do absolutely agree with your basic point though - I also greatly enjoy all of these series watching or reading them with younger family members.
Relevant SMBC comic: http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/fungus
Another contender for that crown is the tongue eating louse or Cymothoa exigua. It attaches itself to a fish's tongue. Then, the true horro begins. 'The parasite severs the blood vessels in the fish's tongue, causing the tongue to fall off. It then attaches itself to the stub of what was once its tongue and becomes the fish's new tongue'
I'd rather be a fungal thrall than have to a parasite take over as my tongue
Even simpler, put some chocolate biscuits on a plate in view of where you sit and attempt to avoid the action of indulging.
I think it's much more probably that ants have some high-level chemical signals that the fungus uses. One to climb, and another to bite maybe?
Ants already use pheromones to communicate.
It seems to me it requires the whole fungus to assembly itself in some kind of "fungus brain". Really fascinating stuff
These evolutionary processes do not imply any kind of intent. They exist because they work. The things that don't work eventually disappear.
Emergent properties don't require sophistication. They arise despite the lack of sophistication or the ability for specific intent. That's the definition of "emergent".
Sounds very Stargate SG-1!
But maybe if society and science has advanced to such a level, maybe we won't need humans anymore. If our understanding of the brain gets to such a level, organic/natural humans who be an evolutionary dead end and we'll be producing sentient AI. It seems like AI and brain research goes hand in hand. One informs the other and vice versa. The more we learn about the brain, the more we learn about AI. The more we learn about AI, the more we learn about the brain. Very interesting stuff.
It is like watching the Alien scene, except this is real.
Imagining A Bug's Life or Antz could have been far less family-friendly if a couple of these spores made an appearance.
Like pitcher plants? Or spiders? Yikes!
But then you see what a determined column of army ants can do to a frickin' horse, and you feel less bad about mother nature's ruthless biowarfare striving to keep them in check.
No wonder insects and swarms are the inspiration for so much horror-y sci-fi
Surely it would be best for spreading the fungus to make them go to the anthill and die there?
It seems more like a quarantine mechanism from ants POV. The fungus would spread faster if the ant continued as usual till it died, or stayed in the anthill.
But it also helps the fungus in a way - if the ants died in the anthill the whole anthill would soon die and the fungus with it.
So - maybe the ant reaction to the infection is actually a coevolved compromise between the fungus and the anthill, that lets both survive at the cost of individual ants?
It certainly can look like a co-evolved compromise, though it formed through two competing species. I think what you're getting at is the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Queen_hypothesis
And fungus just make them stop by destroying the correct muscles.
EDIT: and there's also another fungus, that makes the parasitic fungus sterile, so the fungus want to be spread away.
Damn biology is complicated :)
EDIT2: and they've checked and the fungus can't grow in the anthill for some reason.
The more reliable mechanism is the one that evolved - other insects decide who gets to stay and who has to be removed.
Also rabies and toxoplasmosis.
The accompanying article in National Geographic:
Headbrain: associates, upper spinal column: movement, coccyx: instinct, solar plexus/heart: emotion, sexual region: drive. Each is supposed to function self-sufficiently, contemplates & reacts to the environment, at a certain velocity. For instance if one accidentally touches a hot-stove, all react without ones explicit decision or will: instinct -> emotion -> movement -> thought. The act they once called "mindfulness" or "self-observation" takes these impulses into account.
Wondering now how ants walk and climb and such -- it would seem easier to go for the brain if you need to effect complex behaviors like that. But I recall that with insects' wings, at least, the brain only needs to send one signal and they'll beat for a long time. So maybe such behaviors are stored down by the legs or whatever, and that's why it doesn't need to go for the brain?
Does the fungus compel the queen to spread it to the entire hive?
Or does the hive choose to banish the queen, and thereby lose its ability to reproduce?
I'm glad to see he got funding for ep3 of the series.