It wasn’t really one of the more impressive colonies this side of the Berkshires, although truth be told how could such a thing be measured? By population? Architectural flair? It was, however, one of those anthills that would make someone like Charles hunch over, hands on knees, eyes wide in marveled appreciation for the wild logic of the whole operation. He had turned many a casual conversation sour attempting to explain his fascination with organizational intelligence. Wendy, amazingly, didn’t seem to mind. In fact she seemed strangely willing to put up with it, although she prefered to talk about the dances of bees than the chemical-laced eusocial Formicidae superorganism. Wendy said that even if the bees acted in concert in every observable decision, they were each making that decision individually upon seeing and interpreting the same information. They weren’t drunk on pheromones.
The dance was so accurate, so precise, so successful in delivering its intended message that the audience was compelled to only one choice. But, she said, that’s not to say it wasn’t a choice nonetheless. It was an informed choice. Perhaps a more informed choice than any of us will ever make. Have you ever seen a dance, seen anything, that made it absolutely clear what you were going to do right then and there, without question? Yes, Charles said, he was about 33,000 feet above the southeast corner of the Labrador coast. He would never tell her what he meant by that. The aloof avoidance would annoy her if it wasn’t coming wrapped in that charming accent.
It made no sense. Ants received signals, they spoke to each other, through chemicals. Why is that not a choice? Drugs aren’t the proper comparison. It’s apples and pears. Charles doesn’t think either method is any kind of choice. Organizational intelligence is premised on the individuals having no choice. The superherd follows nothing but the laws of physics and probability. The birds have a choice. The bees do not. Let me tell you.
But Charles wasn’t hunched over inspecting these particular ants, if for no other reason than the nearest entrance was underneath his car, about 18 inches away from where his leaking oil pan would soon add its contribution to the local ecosystem, and his narrowed eyes were set at his hand, taking in the information required for him to assess the risks and rewards and put a sensible and sufficient combination of coins in the parking meter. The air had that wonderful crisp October-in-New-England smell. His focus was broken by the sounds of laughter and applause. And yelling. Kind of sounded mad. Maybe it wasn’t laughter or applause? Now he couldn’t tell if the sounds were anger or merriment, but it was definitely something unusual. It wasn’t on the way to get the thing for Wendy, but maybe he’d go quickly investigate. He put in an extra nickel.