21 May 2010

The Ants Crawl In . . .

I walked down the front walk of home too early this morning. But I came up upon a most interesting sight. In the crack of the sidewalk along the edge where it butted up to the grass line, a small earthworm, about 11/2 inches long and curled about in a spiral. It was overrun with tiny ants, obviously intent on getting that body down the ant hole where it might serve as a repast for a good many ants for who knows how long.

It was clear to me that either the deceased worm was too large for the hole, or that the hole was too small for the ants to easily pull the worm into it. But I was fascinated by the endeavor, and watched for a quarter of an hour while the ants poured over the worm and around the site in some effort to do something. Over the course of the day, however, I observed the steady effort undertaken by this community, and watched as they strategically continued to enlarge the hole until by dinner time (for all concerned, I suppose, even me, though I changedthe meal from spaghetti to mere soup) the ants had created an opening into which the worm had slipped.

Of course, I thought immediately of two accounts of ants that sit in the center of my consciousness. First, is the story “Leinengen vs. the Ants,” a short story I recall reading when I was in school too many years ago. As I recall, the story recounts the losing battle Leinengen fights with a huge army of ants that voraciously consumes everything in its path—including, I think, Leinengen! The second instance is Thoreau’s account of the battle of the ants in Walden, in which he compares these ants to that of the heroic Greeks, not at all complimentary to the latter.

But what intrigues me in the incident I observed outside of my home was the apparent consciousness of these ants. I have a few questions: who planned the strategy? How was it communicated to the others? Who directed the operations? And how many ants finally were called upon to participate in the task? And I am stunned by the absolute success. I might have suggested cutting up the worm into much, much smaller pieces, but apparently someone knew better.

And then there was this article in the newspaper suggesting that physicists had discovered some reason why there is something here (in the universe, that is) rather than nothing. That is, equal amounts of matter and anti-matter were present at the moment of the Big Bang, and theoretically, they should have canceled each other out leaving nothing. (I wonder, would that be ‘nothing’ in the universe, or would there just be nothing and no universe). But clearly there is something here, and physicists have for some time wondered why? I have wondered all of my life why I am here, and now am somewhat relieved that the physicists have answer to my existential query, but I certainly wish they could write it in some form I could understand. Anti-matter? Anti-muons? Mesons, and not the social organization?


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