February 23, 2019


Would you be 50 times smarter with a brain made of ants? Our mental muscles, as they are understood today, rely largely on the rapid interplay of specialized skills spread across different areas of the brain. Among the strongest insects, ants spread much of their thinking out across actions taken by specialized groups within the colony and bodily functions. For instance, rather than deep and specific memory ants use chemicals to trace the paths they have taken when exploring or searching for and retrieving food. We could imagine breaking down intelligence to reactions to specific chemical combinations but that would come together much differently than a mind made of active individual members.


The human brain ranges in weight but is about 3 pounds, or 1.3 to 1.4 kilograms, and is filled with nearly 86 billion neurons on average. An ant can weigh between 1 and 5 milligrams on average. That would mean the average sized human brain could be spread into to up to 1.4 million of the smallest or 280 thousand of the largest ants by weight. A question to explore next would be how emergence would differ if ants specialized in more than just active roles, such as gathering food, fighting intruders, and reproduction, as seen today but also represented different thought functions shared by the colony in its representation of a brain or mind. The human brain has three main regions but many specialized functions within each area.

With DNA information storage what would be possible to represent in a single ant? Estimates placing 5.5 petabytes of storage possible in a cubic millimeter of DNA mean even a couple ant sized creatures could hold massive amounts of information and function. That storage amount is many times larger than digital size of the human genome. What could ant man look like with this information? How would a mind move if it were made up of ants or neurons that could all move on their own in general? What other roles or functions could different ants or groups of ants represent? Which other insects would be interesting in composing a mind?

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