I recently decided to revisit an older scenario I came up with, Ant-hill world, but I have been hitting roadblocks, both old and new. One of the bigger roadblocks is the evolution of such an odd multiple bodied animal.

On of my current thoughts are related to Swarm intellegence, which is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, typically consisting of a population of simple agents interacting locally with one another and with their environment, often through pre-programmed instinct. The agents follow very simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local, and to a certain degree random, interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of "intelligent" global behavior, unknown to the individual agents. One of the best known examples of Swarm Intelligence are Ant Colonies.

My hope is that these swarms evolve into a collective consciousness, the theoretical perfect organism. The only real problem lies in the fact that the real world equivalent of a collective consciousness can only be found in very simple organisms. After reading a little for into ant behavior and discovering Swarm Intelligence, I have a new hope.

Is it possible for the Swarm intelligence of ant colonies to advance into a kind of single collective mind? If this is possible, what evolutionary pressure would support this?

  • $\begingroup$ Nobody is leaving comments to tell you. +1 from me because it's an interesting question $\endgroup$ Sep 18, 2016 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby thanks, I would be willing to fix it, but without a close vote (the the forced reason for it) or a comment I cannot. $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Sep 18, 2016 at 7:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe being pressured by many many predators could work, the ants would have to be able to respond quickly and correctly to the threats. This might mean that they might evolve to become able to communicate much faster than before and one day become a collective consciousness for efficiency? This question about their evolution should help any answerers worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/45455/… which was asked by Uncle Tres actually $\endgroup$
    – Skye
    Sep 18, 2016 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Sky sounds like a real cool dude. I have heard theories on their evolution, I am asking about this specific theory $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Sep 18, 2016 at 12:31

1 Answer 1


Swarm intelligence (i.e. emergent intelligence) is certainly possible because that is how our brains work. Individual cells each decide where they need to be located and what they need to do. No individual cell has any idea what the bigger picture is, but it just follows a simple set of rules. The end result of this is that after a few years the swarm of human cells can hold a conversation with you.

Relevant questions regarding using ants rather than neurons to form a swarm intelligence would include whether the ants are able to maintain a coherent map of network connections between ants despite individuals being mobile (as opposed to neurons which are largely stationary). Another question would be whether the ants are able to maintain a network connectivity with high enough bandwidth and low enough latency.

I would suggest that your ants use optical communications rather than pheromonal (which is what real ants use). Each ant could have a gland which glows to transmit light (like a firefly gland but smaller). The gland should be recessed in a mirrored pocket on the body. The recessed pocket will make the signal narrow, so only a few ants will be able to see it (thus reducing the problem of cross-talk and increasing the signal strength to the chosen ant). The mirrored interior of the pocket would maximize the efficiency of the light emitter.

There should also be a light receiver, which would be an eye which has been optimized for looking at narrow viewing angles at just the specific wavelength used by the trasmitters. In other words, a telephoto lens.

Each ant should have multiple transmitters and receivers so she can communicate with multiple other ants simultaneously. (Many neurons either transmit or receive from multiple neurons at once.) Transmitters and receivers should be steerable - either on stalks, or perhaps more robustly mounted to the carapace in ball and socket joints (like human eyeballs are mounted to the skull).

Ants which are currently tasked with thinking should avoid moving around a lot to avoid breaking connections. They should also hang out in three dimensional environments like large caverns where they can hang from the walls and ceiling allowing thousands of ants to talk to thousands of other ants. This will improve data processing speed. Obstructing line of sight will impede efficiency.

Each ant needs to have a name (in computer terms, an address). Each ant would memorize the names of all ants it connects to. If two ants lose connection they each broadcast their names until they are able to reconnect.

Each ant should probably also have a youthful understudy who is expected to take over that network node when its elder dies. That way the mind would outlast the lifespan of individual ants.

Lastly, nobody can answer what kinds of evolutionary pressure would result in sentience. We've only seen it happen a single time (in the case of human ancestors) and we have no idea what was different about this situation. I would suggest you make up anything that seems plausible to you. Whatever your explanation, I would urge you to make it an unusual collection of events that has not happened before with other organisms.

  • $\begingroup$ good answer, but you mistake sentience for sapience; sentience is reacting to stimuli; such as a dog or a spider; humans are sapient hence Homo Sapiens $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Sep 18, 2016 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, you are right. In that case I'm not sure what your question is. Ants clearly react to stimuli. Ant colonies clearly react to stimuli also, and in a way that is different than the reactions of individual ants. Even slime molds have attained that. $\endgroup$
    – hexagon
    Sep 19, 2016 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ I'm acting if collective ants can be sentient not just individuals acting together, but a collective acting by itself, made of individuals but also its own $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Sep 19, 2016 at 3:53

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