Ant Colonies: Social Organization without a Director

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Ant Colonies:
Social Organization Without a Director?


How come geese fly in organized V-shaped flocks, and fish swim in schools? Is there a leader? Maybe the one in front? What's responsible for the layout and development of a city over time? The mayor? It's interesting that most people think of social organization in terms of a director, someone (or some thing) that is different from other participants in a group, who has in mind what the group is supposed to be doing, and who tells other participants what they should be doing to achieve the overall organization.

Is it possible that there could be social organization without a director? Could a group of individuals, all of whom are the same, achieve sophisticated social organization solely through their own interactions? Could the behavior of such societies change over time even if the individuals didn't themselves change?

Deborah Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University, has posed and answered many of these questions in an extended series of studies on ant colonies. This exhibit explores them through a series of computer models motivated by her work.

For more on modeling and its uses in educational contexts, see:

Section 1: Organization and Interactions

Part 1: Looking at an ant colony: task allocation
Part 2: Looking for a director
Part 3: Looking instead at interactions
Part 4: Interactions and dynamic equilibria
Section 2: Changing Group Behavior
Part 1: Response to perturbation
Part 2: Response to intruders

Section 3: Conclusions and Models

Conclusions and Extensions
Complete Model and Model Details

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Organization and Interactions: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
Changing Group Behavior: Part 1 Part 2
Conclusions and Extensions
Complete Model and Model Details

Exhibit by Laura Cyckowski and Paul Grobstein, in association with the Serendip/SciSoc Group, Summer 2006.
Applets created by Laura Cyckowski, using NetLogo, the availability of which is gratefully acknowledged.

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