Ants are very interesting creatures—so much so that one of the world’s most eminent biological writers, Edward O. Wilson, devoted his career to studying them. (This field is called myrmecology). Each individual ant is nothing to write home about. But collectively, a colony of ants is a sort of super-organism with a hive-mind capable of impressive feats of architecture and other problem-solving abilities. Each individual ant can be thought of as a neuron, with the colony representing a brain.
Humans aren’t much different: it’s extremely difficult for us to survive on our own. We’ve always been a social species, living in groups and dividing labor between people working for the good of the whole community. The main thing that’s allowed us to advance so much farther than other species is transmissible culture—the collection of knowledge, skills, and beliefs that can be passed down from one generation to the next, with the goal of helping people to survive and prosper as efficiently as possible. Although oral culture had flourished for millennia, it was the invention of writing that allowed transmissible culture to really take off.
All our incredible engineering projects—including all of our technologies—are only possible with many different people working together using ideas and derivatives of ideas that have been passed down from antiquity, modified and optimized with each new generation.
We got lucky being born when we did. Genetically, we’re little different than cavemen. Our technologies are the result of the enormous collective effort of millions of people—some living, but mostly dead. We owe our progress to all of those who have come before us.
A few hundred years ago, the most educated people in the world were capable of knowing practically everything there was to know at the time—human knowledge simply hadn’t progressed that far. Today, no matter how much of a genius you are, you’re only capable of having expert knowledge in—at best—a few niche fields. We’ve come so far that people are only capable of understanding a miniscule sliver of all that there is to know. There’s probably not a single living person who completely understands what goes into making each component of a computer, for example.
If it wasn’t for transmissible culture, we wouldn’t be much better than ants. If you’re being bothered by Brooklyn ants or any other insect, give us a call so you can rest easy!