History And Philosophy Of Science | Ants, Apes and Humans: Genes, Behaviors, and Societies
X100 | 3004 | Rasmus Winther


Imagine living in a society where almost everyone surrounding you is a
sterile sister--you only have a few reproductive brothers and sisters.
Your common mother produces offspring which you, a female, together
with all your sterile sisters, help raise.  Your society, as if guided
by an emergent intelligence, may have subterranean agricultural fields
or may be constantly on an organized nomadic prowl for prey.  Now
imagine being a member of a society, dominated by females, in which
you had a long period of dependency on your mother.  As an adult you
find that conflicts are resolved, and dominance is established, by
continual sexual interactions of all kinds.  These two social systems
already exist in the world around us.  What, if anything, can we learn
about human societies from studying, respectively, ant and bonobo (a
species of chimpanzee), societies?  In order to compare ant, ape and
human societies, this class will explore the following themes: (1)
emergent "superorganismic" properties such as "collective
intelligence" and division of labor, (2) the nature and evolution of
altruistic and selfish behavior, (3) methods of communication and
conflict resolution among individuals, and (4) the role of nature
versus nurture, and biolgoy versus culture, in establishing appearance
and behavior.  You will read novels such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New
World and A.S. Byatt's Angels and Insects. You will also read
scientific works such as Frans De Waal's Peacemaking Among Primates,
Lee Dugatkin's Cheating Monkeys and Citizen Bees and Deborah Gordon's
Ants at Work.  A balanced presentation of empirical results and
theoretical perspectives will allow you to come to your own informed
conclusions about the focal themes.