The biology of traffic jams and the pseudo-evolved species

Is Homo sapiens the higher species? Is complexity always superior? Why are ants better society that humans?

A group of researchers published in Physical Review Letters an article on trafficking in ant trails, comparing it to human highways based on data collected from real ant files. They describe the velocity and pattern of movement of ants in unidirectional  files, and comparing it to the unidirectional sections of freeways. After impressive data analysis and model development, Alexander John and his collaborators realized that ants are much more civilized than humans when it comes to traffic control. Some of their conclusions point out that the overtaking phenomena (responsible for many accidents and disturbances in human trafficking) simply does not exist in ant trails. And what is more – while in human highways the speed of vehicles remains constant only for very low vehicle densities, ants are able to speed irrelevant of the actual number of ants in the trail. Simply because (my words, not the authors’) ants cooperate and move as one, and are not self-centred jerks (unlike many drivers). Bottom line being that ant trafficking is much more efficient and safe than human vehicle trafficking. For that (but not only) reason, scientists have been long pondering on whether ants are superior species to humans. It might just as well be the case especially as human progress was boosted dramatically after developing and optimizing systems being inspired by ant behavior. For that matter, ants are not even the only ones being more efficient and advanced social species than humans.

How and when in our development as a species we lost our inherited abilities to be considerate of others and miss-evolved into a pseudo-social species remains unknown. Or did evolution gave up on us and focused on more prominent species instead? Only time will show, and until then Mother Nature will keep rubbing in our failures – at least we can try learn and marvel at its achievements.

(source John, A., Schadschneider, A., Chowdhury, D., & Nishinari, K. (2009). Trafficlike Collective Movement of Ants on Trails: Absence of a Jammed Phase. Physical Review Letters, 102(10), 108001.)


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