Osho World Online Magazine :: June 2012
Science & Religion
Ants and the Collective Mind By Ma Anand Bhagawati

Humans and ants co-inhabit planet Earth. Personally, I find them fascinating and often find myself observing their behavior. There are plenty of species where I live and I can see how well organized they are and how amazingly they communicate with each other. I usually let them be; after all they clean up a lot of debris and carry off other dead insects to their nest for food to share. If they do get into the kitchen or take over some area of the house, I find ways to let them know that it is time to move on.

Scientists are now saying that with the expansion of the human populations, our societies are behaving more and more like ant colonies.

As reported by Jennifer Viegas in Discovery News, a new study, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, points out that both humans and ants (termites, too) live in societies that may consist of up to a million plus members. 

The author of the study, Mark Moffett, told Discovery News, "As a result, modern humans have more in common with some ants than we do with our closest relatives the chimpanzees. With a maximum size of about 100, no chimpanzee group has to deal with issues of public health, infrastructure, distribution of goods and services, market economies, mass transit problems, assembly lines and complex teamwork, agriculture and animal domestication, warfare and slavery.

"Ants have developed behaviors addressing all of these problems," added Moffett, a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. He pointed out that only humans and ants have developed full-blown warfare. 

Moffett analyzed ant societies, and specifically those of the Argentine ant, which has colonies that expand hundreds of miles. One colony, with a total population probably in the trillions, spans over 621 miles from San Francisco to the Mexican border in California. An even larger colony exists in Europe, with supercolonies of Argentine ants also in Australia, New Zealand, and ever-widening regions of Hawaii and Japan. 

What makes such size and growth possible for a society is that membership can be anonymous; members are not required to distinguish each other as individuals for a group to remain unified. Societies are instead bonded by shared identity cues. For ants, those are largely tied to pheromones. 

Humans release pheromones too, but we bond in other unique ways. 

Moffett explained, "Societies require a nationalistic or patriotic kind of bonding, the sort that soldiers die for. The cues humans have used since prehistory to form these groups have included language, rituals and other ethnic traits, though a transformation in recent generations from mostly nationalist (ethnically homogenous) societies to multi-ethnic societies has required increasing dependence on abstract symbols." 

Anonymous membership means that both human and ant societies can grow as large as environmental conditions allow, although some researchers suggest that an ultra large society can implode. 

Looking at our planet today, the implication sounds plausible. Osho compares the crowd and the collective mind to the behavior of ants and yet again implies that with trust and meditation humans can get out of the collective mind:

“I have heard about one psychoanalyst who went on a picnic They were trying to find a right spot; then one member of the group told them to come. "This is a beautiful place," he said, "the right spot. Big trees, shade, the river flowing by, and absolutely silent."

The psychiatrist said, "Yes, ten million ants can't be wrong."

Ten million ants can't be wrong. Ants gather together wherever there is a picnic spot – flies and ants. That is our inner mathematics … that so many people … then they cannot be wrong. Alone, one feels dizzy. With the crowd, people all around – this side, that side, in front, in back – a whole ocean of people, one feels perfectly right. So many people are going: they must be going in the right direction. And everybody is thinking the same.

Nobody knows where they are going. They are just going because the whole crowd is going. And if you ask everybody individually, "Are you going in the right direction?" he will say, "I don't know. Because the whole world is going, so I am going.”

My whole effort here is to bring you out of the collective mind, to help make you an individual. In the beginning you will have to face chaos. And great trust will be needed, tremendous trust will be needed. Otherwise you can get out of the collective mind and you may not get into the individual mind; then you will be mad. That's the risk.

Without trust, moving into meditation is risky. I will not tell you to move into it; I will tell you it is better to remain normal, whatsoever normality means. Remain adjusted with the society. But if you are really ready to go on a great adventure, the greatest, then trust. And then wait for chaos.”
Yoga: The Alpha and the Omega Vol. 9, Ch 6, Q 1

Osho World Online Magazine :: July 2012
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