討論逐字稿 Ants, Control and Hierarchy

This is the transcript from our Ants, Control and Hierarchy discussion.

Discussion
So can someone summarise our article today?
It talks about ants and human beings.
...aaaaand?
Okay, the story is about an experiment about how ants' networks work, and compare it to human beings' society.
The first part, the short story is, if Argentinian ants eat the same things as other ants, they think they're friends.
I think what they eat matters so much because they communicate by touch and smell. So maybe for some human beings, they focus on how people dress, in that case what you wear and how you carry yourself is more important than what you eat.

Because we're more about vision than about smell.
I think it is maybe the social pressure. Because if all the group does the same thing and then if you don’t do that thing you will get social pressure and peer pressure. For example, if you drive a car on the road and if all the people drive on the right side, and if you go on the left side, you will be in big trouble. You have to follow. Or even if you’re walking it's a problem. So that's why people want to follow the trend, it's because it's safe, or more efficient.
You know, what you're saying is extreme, because that’s the traffic rules, it's not about following or not following. But trends, yes, or social values. We follow social values because we don’t want to be different from others.
I don't know about ants and cockroaches, but I think in human society, people will make friends when we maybe like the same thing, or are doing the same thing, because we will think that the other one understands your mind, or she maybe agrees with you, so we will make friends with this kind of people.
It's kind of like we need recognition from others.
I was just thinking that ants also need recognition, but it's kind of in a different sense.
But people also need unity, and I have an example. Like, if we've graduated from the same school in a company...
Yeah, because we have the same experience...
And we can talk about a lot of things.
But graduated from the same school doesn't mean we have the same opinion, or? It's not that relevant.
You have some shared experience, you have some common ground. But it's not everything, I agree with you!
But actually I heard about a psychology experiment, about movies. There were two different species of monkeys. In the movie different actors had to play black skinned monkeys, red skinned monkeys and yellow skinned monkeys. When they stopped for the break, the people separated each other by color of their monkey type. The red monkey costumes hung out with the red monkeys and so on.
So the setup was the movie?
It wasn't on purpose, but they found this out.
So we wear the uniform in school, and when we come to work, to make every classmate think that we are a team.
It works though!
Well, when we have to compete with other students.
Well, it works for sports teams.
I think that's similar to the fact that asian people tend to talk to asian people in the States.
...
But in Chinese culture, if people stand out, they'll get in trouble.
Whereas in Western culture, you're taught you have to stand out, or you'll not be able to compete/survive.
...
I remember last year, we read an article about an experiment, they showed some pictures of handsome guys and ugly guys, and just see that people voted for handsome guys.


Okay, let's look at 'Is central control always hierarchy'?
In what ways are people like this description of ants?
"Oh, what are you eating? Oh hey, that looks nice, maybe i'll go get that for lunch."
But I think that even individual people have individual personalities, but actually we all follow the big models. I think that's why psychology can use models to predict trends. I think that people will follow group activities, regardless of personalities, and eventually we'll go in one direction. People say that groups of people are not very complicated, we will all follow a big trend.
I think investor behavior in the capital market is just like ants. Some traders, when they wake up, they just want to buy stocks, abut after 10 minutes, the stock prices go down, and then someone just says, oh! Sell! And everyone follows. And when we see the stocks prices return, then we change our strategy to buy. And it's just like ants' food searching, and no one knows the reason. It's just buy and sell. And I think rumors are a kind of signal like this.
I agree with you, rumors for people are like smells for ants. But you can prove a smell better than a rumor.
But if i'm Ant A, maybe I didn't find any food, but if I told Angela, 'I found food', then everyone else in the group won't search for food. Will it happen?
'Do ants lie', is what you're asking!
[laughter]
Maybe a long time ago, there was a kind of ants that lied to other ants, so then another group won't trust this group, so they don't survive, because of evolution.
I want to know, is this a rumor?
[laughter]
This story we can tell our children.
So that's what i'm saying, people that don't cooperate maybe won't survive.
But that means if people are too selfish, they cannot survive, because people don't want to help them. So it's a kind of evolution.
I actually believe this is true about the human race. We kind of have to learn how to work with each other, and not compete. All 7 billion of us have to learn how to work together.

So, how are people different than this model of ant behavior?
Because we are more complicated. In the ant model, if we see a movie star wearing a strange color in in a movie, everyone will go home and try on this kind of color, but we're human, so we'll actually evaluate is this kind of thing suitable for us or not.
Or, maybe for, in ants' model, ants will not evaluate whether the task is of benefit or a disadvantage to them, but in humans model, when we receive a signal, we will value if it's worth doing it or not.
We're lazy!
Yeah, whereas the ant is like, 'oh, next'!
But about the fashion, people always want to do the same?
Well, sometimes it's about being different. Actually, you’re right, it's all about doing the same thing, it's just a more subtle game.

Is this actually a model of central control?
Wait, define 'central control'!
I think central control is a society with hierarchy, maybe we have a top president, and some managers, and some workers. But in the ants' world, it seems not going that way. It's just simple programming by very simple signal. They don't have a leader. I don't think it's about central control.
'Is there a central control that's not hierarchy?' is my question actually.
I have a question. When the ants collect food, do the elite get it first, or the ones biggest get the most?
But there's no hierarchy.
So they share equally?
No, I think those closer to the food get more.
But that's different, I thought the queen was the one in control.
See, it's a naming problem. In human society, the queens give the orders. But for ants, you know, a better name for the 'queen' is 'baby-producing ant'. Actually, i understand bees better than ants, so I'm going to use bees as an example. In the hive, all bees are born exactly the same. The hive just feeds the bees different things to turn them into different roles. Do you know, the hive produces a new queen every month. It's like the hive has a period, actually, ha. But so, it's not that a special baby is born. They just every month put a normal bee larva in the queen chamber and feed it different. They give it more royal jelly, and a bigger hole, and it turns into the queen. They feed the drones only on honey and some pollen, so they stay drones.
Wow, you know, it's just like people. Actually all people are basically the same, only some people get fed 'elite' education and culture, some people get fed 'working class' education and culture, some people get fed 'poor' education and culture. The bee or person is all born the same, they're just fed different stuff.

So it's not an example of central control, because it doesn't matter about the distribution. Like in my company, the central group, they behave like central resources, maybe the move the resources into a few groups, and then the central group will distribute to the rest of the group.
Yeah, that's not what happens with ants, or bees. It's like they have programs, or subroutines. When they find food, so the program is 'bring it back to the hive'. Or one bee subroutine is, 'bring the pollen back, bring the pollen back'. And another bee subroutine is, 'build the holes, build the holes', and another one is, 'feed these bees pollen', and another is 'feed these bees royal jelly'. There's nobody sitting around going, oh, these bees are elite, they deserve more, lets make sure they get fed. They're just doing the next task they see/determine needs to be done, according to their program. They just allocate the resources in a predetermined pattern. They're not making any judgement.
But it's the same in human society, if someone has power, we're willing to give them our resources, because...
Oh!
You know, because the queen or the king, we're willing to give them our best resources, even though they don't ask for that.
Yeah, it's kind of a subroutine behavior. Hey, that's culture! Culture is kind of like the bees' programming, or like subroutines in the computer.
I have another question, maybe in the model of central controlling, the central group can get the whole picture of the whole thing, like they have the level of resources, the whole task we need to do, but in the end networks, they don't need the whole picture, they just need to know now what's going on, what's happening.
Oo, I have an example. When my family went camping, when we got to the site, we were able to set up our tent and make dinner very efficiently, because my dad taught us all to identify what needed to be done next without being told. I used to think this was an example of empowering the group, but now i think it's that we were taught subroutines. Because like, not all of us had the same capability. The little kids did things like carry stuff where it needed to go, or set out the tent pegs. But we weren't allowed to use the axe, or set up the main tent poles. So like my older brother or sister would do that job. But because everyone knew what they COULD do, when they finished the job they were doing they would look around for the next appropriate job, without waiting to be told what to do, and we could set up camp and have dinner ready in like half an hour. My dad studied a man called Galbraith, who was one of the first people to set up factories to be more efficient, and he applied it to our family. But it turns out that he was just setting up a resilient system of subroutines, and we were carrying it out.
I think that hierarchy is about being afraid someone will be selfish. If i'm a strong person, but I don't want to hard things, I just want to take it easy, I can get a lot of benefit. If all the people can follow the orders, but if someone is selfish, the hierarchy will crash.
Why?
Take your family for example. If your older brother doesn't want to put up the tent pole, he just wants to carry the small things, the hierarchy will be broken.
Wait, no, that was a resilient system, so if the brother didn't do it the sister will take over.
Yes, but in a hierarchy, if somebody doesn't cooperate, it will be broken.
But ants are not a hierarchy.
But ants, what if they were selfish, they don't tell anyone else, they just eat the food first?
But, they're like eating first, and then they're carrying, have you ever watched?
Okay, bees.
Well, but I think the bee is eating as it's gathering?
But what if the bee is like, No, I'm not carrying any pollen!
[laugter]
Then the hive will die.
So like if the older brother is lazy, the family will die.
[laughter]
Why are you all laughing?
Because it's not relevant!
But it is, because...
But it's because ants don't have intelligence.
But in the ant model, if they just eat all the food, the others will just search for themselves.
Ok, but what if there's limited food.
So, they'll die out, just like the lying ants.
[laughter]
So the selfish ants die out, just like the dishonest ants. Evolutionarily.
But what about people?
Our evolution takes longer.
[laughter]
But, are people the same as ants, are we just following subroutines of information? Eat, carry, eat carry?
Yeah.
Humans are not greater than that?
I think it depends on the relationship of that group. If their relationship is good, then if there's something that needs to be done, and nobody does it, then someone will fill in the gap. But if the group, they don't trust each other, or they don't like each other, than that thing that needs to be done will just be left there and nobody will do it.
And the group will die.
[laughter]
The group, I don't know. I don’t know how long they will last.
I want to talk about this selfishness business. It think it's a mis-concept.
Like, obviously the bee who doesn't carry pollen back to the hive, that hive won't last very long. But if the bee never fed itself and only carried pollen back to the hive, it would die pretty quickly, and that hive would die out too.
So we need to say what is selfish. Is it taking care of yourself first?
[cross-talk]
No, it's sacrificing others interest for your own interest.
Okay, that's crossing the line.
Like if they took too much food and others don't have enough to eat, this kind of ant will disappear.
Why do ants need to carry the food back to the home, it's because they're teamwork, they're family. Do they have to? It's their culture?
I don't think they have to carry it back. I think they go, 'oh food! oh too much!' So they just carry it back.
I think they don't think too much about it.
Like going to Costco!
[laughter]
They have nothing to share with other.
They’re not thinking about sharing. So it's not about selfish. They're not thinking about eating all the food. I don’t think they're thinking that much.
Maybe they carry it halfway, and they think it’s too heavy, and they put it down.
Another ant will pick it up!
Wait, middle managers are thinking, I need a house and a car, and family and a golf membership. They're not being selfish per se, they're just following culture programming.
So the point is, what kind of behavior is selfish?
I think your point still stands. Sacrificing others' interest for your own is where the line gets crossed.
But consciously! Is the key. The middle manager is not conscious of sacrificing others interest for his own, even though he actually is doing so. His cultural programming doesn't let him know what he's doing. But once he realizes it, does he have a moral imperative to change? Because when you're talking about selfishness, you're talking about a moral judgment, right?
But in economic theory, everyone is selfish, and that's how the whole society can run.
Our economic models are predicated on selfishness?
Everyone is rational.
So selfishness is rational?
No.
But everyone do something for themselves.
In game theory, everyone is thinking about their own interest.

Concluding Statements
Maybe let's talk about 'selfishness' for the closing statement.
It's not a fun topic tonight.
But we're laughing the whole night?
You mean selfishness or ants?
Well, it's because I'm in a government institution, it's a very good example of a central control system. What I think is, it's not efficient in a central control system. Because you always have to wait for the orders from someone higher than you. And the order might not be the best, or might not be reasonable, but you have to do it, because there's no way for you to communicate all the way up to the people at the top. So, I really don't think central control system is the way, is a good way. But we talked about the system that the group works through doing the next subroutine. In my own opinion, it will only work in the group that everyone can trust each other, and they have a good relationships, and they have the same good goal for the future, and the same passion for the future. If they don't, if someone only wants to do, if they only treat the job as the job, not as a career, then I don't think that will work.
-Because they'll actually just sit in front of their broken computer, and not go to fix it.
-And I think central control system, the way we build it, you can nail who takes the responsibility, and who can be blamed. And it's easy to pinpoint the blame.
Wow, yes, I really learned something tonight.
But I think even when you still can blame, you still can't find the one in the group. The manager takes the responsibility, but the lazy person, it's difficult to pick out from the group, so the manager gets it.
But she's saying, the blame can be pinned, even if it's wrong. In the subroutine group it's almost impossible to say who should be pinned with the responsiblity, right or wrong.
But maybe he's more talented, and he's working harder, but as the manager, he's still taking the responsibility.
But that's another focus...
But if someone can play the politics, then he's always safe...
Now you know why bureaucracies end up being so ineffective.
We're saying, in a hierarchy, blame can be apportioned easily, but not necessarily accurately. So each level of the system will do its best to insulate itself from blame. So what seems like a good idea, actually turns into a bad idea.
They don’t want to take a risk, they want to play safe, because the pressure will go on you.
But i'm thinking that, for making decisions, central control decision may be more easy than the subroutine group efficiency. If it is a subroutine group, and everyone will set down things efficiently. But when it goes to discuss and fine tune a final decision, central control system might more quickly find the answer and leave the team to move on certain direction.
I think maybe, for the ant model, it's suitable for a familiar environment. Maybe that the environment, the people in that network, they all know the big trend or they are familiar with the task. And the task is simple. In that situation they don't need central control to make new decision, they just interact with their signals or their reaction.
They just want to live.
And maybe they trust each other, so they don't need to figure out the meaning of the signal. They trust what they receive. But in the hierarchy system, because people do not trust each other, they need to set up certain roles for certain people. Everyone just plays a certain role, because they don't trust each other. They need a clear structure, when something bad happened, the blame needs to be clear. Because of the lack of trust. Because, during the discussion, I just keep thinking, how the ants model can out into our company organization. And I figure out that for a small group of team, it might work, just for a certain program, but for the whole company, there are too may people, and we don't trust each other, so we will choose the hierarchy model, not just the ants model.

So, I need to say something about selfishness. Aiyo! I think it's humanity. I think...
Selfish is human.
Yes! Because it's not necessary to think that selfish is so bad. Because I think everyone sometimes will be selfish. We have to think about ourselves first, and then think about the group or the others. And I believe that selfishness won't lead to the end of the world! I think everyone has, there is an angel and an evil live in our hearts, I think there is some kind of balance.
Well, I think what we're saying, the selfishness we are talking about is not the selfish you are talking about now.
What's the difference?
What we are saying is, you sacrifice other people's interest to fulfill our interest, that kind of selfishness.
For example?
In order to move up the ladder of the management, I just set a trap for someone. If I compete with the other one, and I set a trap for the other one, then he or she missed the chance, and I move up.
Yeah, that’s not a novel behavior. But I think everyone will have different judgment of this kind of behavior, maybe someone will say, 'oh, you're so smart!' maybe you did something bad, but you got the promotion. But maybe someone will say, you are not so honest to win the competition. So I don't think, I think everyone is selfish.
Yeah, I agree.
So I think, it's not so easy to avoid this kind of event.
Even superman is selfish.
Why?
Superman saves others just for himself, he want to be a hero, he wants other people to say good things about him. He doesn't save others just because he wants to save others.
So I think selfishness is not so bad, this is my conclusion.
So you mean, he wants to be a hero so he saves others?
For some people, they want to hear others say, "oh, you are very good, you are nice, you are sweet", so they do good things for others. So behind their behavior, it will be this kind of message.
Because I just think about if superman met the Dark Knight, Batman. They both want to be the hero.
So do it a different way
Or they set a trap for each other,
Oh! They compete to be the hero. That would be inefficient.
But in the stories, don't the heroes always work together?
An American character!
An American ideal! Not necessarily character.

I think in the biology point of view, maybe from the beginning, they have a lot of variety. But during a lot of evolution, they will find the most efficient way, or the final pattern for survival. So that's why we can see the ants or the bees this way, because that's the most efficient way for evolutionary survival. If they do another way, they'll maybe die quickly. So that's like humans, a long time ago we cooperated to kill animals, so that's how we survived, so we pass this pattern until now, so in our gene we know we have to cooperate to survive. It's all about the kind of evolutionary pattern that enables survival.

I just want to say something about a movie I saw last week, The Life of Pi. In that movie, Pi changed when the environment changed. Before, he is a vegetarian person. So I just was just reacting to what Henry said, for survival, species will change to survive. When Pi ate meat, he cried, he had no choice.
Well, he did have a choice, but he chose his survival over his morals.

My opinion is also related to Henry's perspective. Because I think right now in our company, their company culture also changed to a kind of subroutine. Because there's a basic rule. If you know what things have to be done, and it will be good for the company, you should help your colleague to do that, and also to get things done, so that right now the company begins to train their employee to know every department's task. Like deploying them to different departments and learning their tasks. So if anything has trouble, you can first understand, every employee will know which part have problems, and then easily solve the problem more easily. I think right now the society is not like in past years, that they want to be specialized. Because they think specialization will make things more quick and efficient. So they separate each other to do different things, but now they train everyone to be a jack of all trades, so you can help each other. So then the responsibility will also be blamed on every member of the group. If you know that it should be done for the good of the company, and you don't do that, you will all be blamed.
So they use social pressure to make things work?
Oh, no wonder, because now most companies, when they hire people, when they want to recruit them, the criteria for employees is so multiple, they need multiple capacity persons. It's totally different than before. Before companies want a specific skill, but nowadays they always want you can have good communication skill, also planning skill.
But you know, people are naturally multitalented. Very few people are good at just one thing.
But I think it's maybe more in Asia, need to have teamwork.
So need to have multi-skills.
The company wants to cost down.
You know, that’s another reason!
I thought the job rotation is because it makes people easily understand other colleagues' work.
Yeah, because if you know what they're going though you can understand them better, and communicate better.
And if you know what others do when you do your own task, you will have a different kind of thinking and you will be on a different, you will do the same task in a different way.
Yeah, like when I'm recording. I learned there's a way to speak where the sound comes out really clean. If you speak normally, the sound of your saliva in your mouth makes all these little clicks that you don't hear normally, but the microphone really picks it up. And the engineer has to spend time and energy to get those off of the recording. But if I can speak with a really clean sound, that engineer has much less work to do, and the whole job goes smoother.

No comments:

Post a Comment