Monday, May 28, 2012

Ants and Copernicus

Formicidae Denizens

I have a colony of ants in my bathroom.  The colony is part of a massive one that is, no doubt, scattered throughout the entire apartment building.  I've had my little battles with them for a couple of years now.  I always ALWAYS feel guilty for setting traps.  I don't like killing anything.  But I see it like this: they're destroying the structural integrity of the home in which my son is sleeping.  An earthquake plus rotting wood frame does not equal safety.  So I set the traps.

Well, I think about ants now and then.  Probably more than a gal should.  Collective species, eausocial, superorganisms, they are.  They share information with each other about where to find food, where is the nearest threat, should they build up or out despite zoning laws, etc.... The queen is the brain, in a way.  The nexus of the collective.  Her wishes become the colony's missions.  The workers carry out the mission while soldier ants protect them from invaders.  The collective system is strong and runs like a well-oiled machine.  That is the world of ants.  Ants don't survive well alone.

Ants don't survive well by themselves, (unless there are other bugs to help them).

Well anyway, I take a shower and see ants taking the food from the traps.  The food contains boric acid, which mixes well with sugar and slowly kills the ants and queen, since she is fed this food like a diva being fed bonbons.  And I think about this.  The queen eats this stuff, maybe detecting something odd, knowing it's not a normal food, and still wants more.

The ant queen, middle, is the nexus of the colony.  Is she wants poisonous bonbons, then you better dang well get her some poisonous bonbons.

Her wishes become the colony's mission, remember? They keep eating the poisonous food and bringing it back to her.  They are all living for the next 24 hours on borrowed time, all because momma queenie has to be kept happy and fat.

You better keep her happy!

Well, I see some poor ant there in the shower with me.  Now I have a vivid imagination.  I imagine she's talking to another ant, most likely about where the bait is, maybe about how hot and humid it got suddenly, who knows.  She kinda stops a bit, appears perplexed, like something is amiss, then regains the pheromone trail the others are on.  I look at this worker ant, just there, doing her job, and I think, "I bet she knows there's something wrong with this food."  (Another part of my brain goes on a tangent thinking, "Awww crap.  The ants.  They know too much!" And a 1940's noir-style scenario where the ants are like an insect mafia and I'm an undercover cop starts taking off.  That scenario runs in my mind's background and amuses other parts of my brain at that point.)

But Yelp said the food in Sarah's bathroom was awesome!

This poor worker ant.  She tastes the food, says, "Something is horribly wrong with this food source.  We shouldn't be eating this," and has no choice but to carry out her mission.  It would be nearly impossible for her to walk away from her colony and away from the danger.  She'd have no protection, no communication, and a sense that she is not fulfilling the mission she knew from the first time she left her larval stage.  She is doomed, and she knows it.  She will watch her sisters die, her queen die, and she won't be able to stop it.

The little worker ant in my shower has this on one of her Pinterest boards, I bet.

I then start thinking about humans that have been in this sort of position.  Those people who say, "Hey, something isn't right here. This doesn't make sense."

A person who sees a truth the others don't is a very lonely person.  Everyone else around this person goes along with some directive without questioning "Why?" If he or she says, "You know, this doesn't add up" she/he feels or actually is oustracized, belittled, made fun of.  A lonely life.  That person has to decide "do I go along with the crowd because they are my family and friends, or do I stay here alone with the truth?"

Copernicus.  He was sure the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around.  He was also very afraid to offend the church and his collegues with the truth he knew.

Nicolaus Copernicus was one of those people.  He has been credited with the heliocentric model.  He said the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around.  He was really, really nervous about telling everyone about his findings.  His closest friends knew what he had found, and said, "Come on, Nick, publish this!" but he was so worried about religious objections that it was only at his deathbed that De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was printed.  If it weren't for the support of his closest friends, the heliocentric model of the solar system and subsequent discoveries would have been in jeapordy.   Around 50-60 years later Kepler and Galileo gave Copernicus's theory the world-wide treatment it deserved.  Both of these men, too, were alone in their ant-worlds, pointing to a truth the established colony denied existed.

Seems like such an ordinary fact to you and me, but in the mid 1600's this picture was heresy and could get you killed. Times change, science advances, humanity advances.  What seems far-fetched and blasphemous to many now may be an ordinary fact in a 100 years.  You or I could be one of the people who change humanity's mind, if we're brave enough.

In the 16th century, it took guts for a man to say, "The earth is not the center of the universe."  That takes cajones.  Guys like Copernicus stood to lose everything, including their lives.  We look back at people in that era and say, "Those guys, were stupid!  Of COURSE the Earth revolves around the sun.  Pfft, everyone knows that!"   Well, we know it now because brave people decided to ask a few questions instead of just accepting what everyone simply accepted as truth.  In fact, most of the advances in science and morality that we take for granted-take as fact now, were only brought to light by men and women who stood alone in a sea of hatred and contempt with nothing but their belief in their truth.

It's a lonely world for these people. Humanity moves forward, and it has done so on the backs of lonely and accused people.


A look at how far humanity has come in what we know to be true.