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Octavio Aburto David and Goliath CaboPulmo NatGeo2012

During several years, Octavio Aburto thought of one photo. Now, he finally got it. The recently published photograph by Aburto, titled “David and Goliath” (it his in fact David Castro, one of his research science colleagues at the center of this stunning image) has been widely shared over the last few weeks. It was taken at Cabo Pulmo National Park (Mexico) and submitted to the National Geographic photo contest 2012. Here, he captures the sheer size of fish aggregations in perspective with a single human surrounded by abundant marine life. On a recent interview, he explains:

[…] … this “David and Goliath” image is speaking to the courtship behavior of one particular species of Jack fish. […] Many people say that a single image is worth a thousand words, but a single image can also represent thousands of data points and countless statistical analyses. One image, or a small series of images can tell a complicated story in a very simple way. […] The picture you see was taken November 1st, 2012. But this picture has been in my mind for three years — I have been trying to capture this image ever since I saw the behavior of these fish and witnessed the incredible tornado that they form during courtship. So, I guess you could say this image took almost three years. […], in , Dec. 2012.

Video – Behind the scenes of David and Goliath image. This photo was taken at Cabo Pulmo National Park and submitted to the National Geographic photo contest 2012. You can see more of his images from this place and about Mexican seas on Octavio‘s web link.

There is an entire genealogy to be written from the point of view of the challenge posed by insect coordination, by “swarm intelligence.” Again and again, poetic, philosophical, and biological studies ask the same question: how does this “intelligent,” global organization emerge from a myriad of local, “dumb” interactions?” — Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit.

[…] The interest in swarms was intimately connected to the research on emergence and “superorganisms” that arose during the early years of the twentieth century, especially in the 1920s. Even though the author of the notion of superorganisms was the now somewhat discredited writer Herbert Spencer,63 who introduced it in 1898, the idea was fed into contemporary discourse surrounding swarms and emergence through myrmecologist William Morton Wheeler. In 1911 Wheeler had published his classic article “The Ant Colony as an Organism” (in Journal of Morphology), and similar interests continued to be expressed in his subsequent writings. His ideas became well known in the 1990s in discussions concerning artificial life and holistic swarm-like organization. For writers such as Kevin Kelly, mentioned earlier in this chapter, Wheeler’s ideas regarding superorganisms stood as the inspiration for the hype surrounding emergent behavior.64 Yet the actual context of his paper was a lecture given at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole in 1910.65 As Charlotte Sleigh points out, Wheeler saw himself as continuing the work of holistic philosophers, and later, in the 1910s and 1920s, found affinities with Bergson’s philosophy of temporality as well.66 In 1926, when emergence had already been discussed in terms of, for example, emergent evolution, evolutionary naturalism, creative synthesis, organicism, and emergent vitalism, Wheeler noted that this phenomenon seemed to challenge the basic dualisms of determinism versus freedom, mechanism versus vitalism, and the many versus the one.67 An animal phenomenon thus presented a crisis for the fundamental philosophical concepts that did not seem to apply to such a transversal mode of organization, or agencement to use the term that Wheeler coined. It was a challenge to philosophy and simultaneously to the physical, chemical, psychological, and social sciences, a phenomenon that seemed to cut through these seemingly disconnected spheres of reality.

In addition to Wheeler, one of the key writers on emergence – again also for Kelly in his Out of Control 68 – was C. Lloyd Morgan, whose Emergent Evolution (1927) proposed to see evolution in terms of emergent “relatedness”. Drawing on Bergson and Whitehead, Morgan rejected a mechanistic dissecting view that the interactions of entities “whether physical or mental” always resulted only in “mixings” that could be seen beforehand. Instead he proposed that the continuity of the mechanistic relations were supplemented with sudden changes at times. At times reminiscent of Lucretius’s view that there is a basic force, clinamen, that is the active differentiating principle of the world, Morgan focused on how qualitative changes in direction could affect the compositions and aggregates. He was interested in the question of the new and how novelty is possible. In his curious modernization of Spinoza, Morgan argued for the primacy of relations – or “relatedness,” to be accurate.69 Instead of speaking of agencies or activities, which implied a self-enclosed view of interactions, in Emergent Evolution Morgan propagated in a way an ethological view of the world. Entities and organisms are characterized by relatedness, the tendency to relate to their environment and, for example, other organisms. So actually, what emerge are relations:

If it be asked: What is it that you claim to be emergent? the brief reply is: Some new kind of relation. Revert to the atom, the molecule, the thing (e.g. a crystal), the organism, the person. At each ascending step there is a new entity in virtue of some new kind of relation, or set of relations, within it, or, as I phrase it, intrinsic to it. Each exhibits also new ways of acting on, and reacting to, other entities. There are new kinds of extrinsic relatedness“.70

The evolutionary levels of mind, life, and matter are in this scheme intimately related, with the lower levels continuously affording the emergence of so-called higher functions, like those of humans. Different levels of relatedness might not have any understanding of the relations that define other levels of existence, but still these other levels with their relations affect the other levels. Morgan tried, nonetheless, to steer clear of the idealistic notions of humanism that promoted the human mind as representing a superior stage in emergence. His stance was much closer to a certain monism in which mind and matter are continuously in some kind of intimate correspondence whereby even the simplest expressions of life participate in a wider field of relatedness. In Emergent Evolution Morgan described relations as completely concrete. He emphasized that the issue is not only about relations in terms but as much about terms in relation, with concrete situations, or events, stemming from their relations.71 In a way, other views on emergence put similar emphasis on the priority of relations, expressing a kind of radical empiricism in the vein of William James. Drawing on E. G. Spaulding’s 1918 study The New Rationalism, Wheeler noted the unpredictable potentials in connectionism: a connected whole is more than (or at least nor reducible to) its constituent parts, implying the impossibility to find causal determination of aggregates. Whereas existing sciences might be able to recognize and track down certain relationships that they have normalized or standardized, the relations might still produce properties that are beyond those of the initial conditions – and thus also demand a vector of analysis that parts from existing theories – dealing with properties that open up only in relation to themselves (as a “law unto themselves”). 72 Instead, a more complicated mode of development was at hand, in which aggregates, or agencements, simultaneously involved various levels of reality. This also implied that aggregates, emergent orders, have no one direction but are constituted of relations that extend in various directions:

We must also remember that most authors artificially isolate the emergent whole and fail to emphasize the fact that its parts have important relations not only with one another but also with the environment and that these external relations may contribute effectively towards producing both the whole and its novelty“.73 […]

in (passage from), Jussi Parikka, “Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology“, Chapter II – Genesis of Form: Insect Architecture and Swarms, (section) Emergence and Relatedness: A Radical Empiricism – take one, pp. 51-53, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2011.

Fig. – Zeus turns ants into Men thus populating the Island of Aegina, his nymph above right next to the eagle (this lovely 17th century drawing was sent by a friend, Isabel Figueiredo). Some sources also say Zeus turned himself into an eagle before doing this.

According to the Greek mythology the island was inhabited when Zeus had a romantic interlude with the nymph Aegina there and had a son, Aecaus (later, grandfather of Achilles). Zeus, at the request of Aecaus populated the island so Aecaus would have subjects in his kingdom (source). Those inhabitants were entitled Myrmidons:

“These were men created from ants on the island of Aegina, in the reign of Aeacus, Achille’s grandfather, and they were Achilles’ followers in the Trojan War. Not only were they thrifty and industrious, as one would suppose from their origin, but they were also brave. They were changed into men from ants because of one of Hera’s attacks of jealousy. She was angry because Zeus loved Aegina, the maiden for whom the island was named, and whose son, Aeacus, became its king. Hera sent a fearful pertinence which destroyed the people by thousands. It seemed that no one would be left alive. Aeacus climbed to the lofty temple of Zeus and prayed to him, reminding him that he was his son and the son of a woman the god had loved. As he spoke he saw a troop of busy ants. “Oh Father,” he cried, “make these creatures a people for me, as numerous as they, and fill my empty city.” A peal of thunder seemed to answer him and that night he dreamed that he saw the ants being transformed into human shape. […] So Aegina was repopulated from an ant hill and its people were called Myrmidons after the ant (myrmex) from which they had sprang.” (Hamilton, Edith, Mythology, Warner Books, New York, 1969)

Aegina is the 2nd closest island to Athens after Salamina at the Saronic Gulf, with 86 square Kms and a current population of 12000 people. The island is home to one of the most beautiful temples of late Archaic Greece, the temple of Aphaia. A volcanic island with plains of respectable fertility to the northern and southern parts. Aegina is also where the famous pistachio nuts can be  found alongside the other main produce of the island, grain, vines, almonds and olives. The southern end of the island is rocky and barren. The highest peak of the island is Mt. Oros.


Dynamic Optimization Problems (DOP) solved by Swarm Intelligence (dynamic environment) - Vitorino Ramos

a) Dynamic Optimization Problems (DOP) tackled by Swarm Intelligence (in here a quick snapshot of the dynamic environment)

Swarm adaptive response over time, under sever dynamics

b) Swarm adaptive response over time, under severe dynamics, over the dynamic environment on the left (a).

Figs. – Check animated pictures in here. (a) A 3D toroidal fast changing landscape describing a Dynamic Optimization (DO) Control Problem (8 frames in total). (b) A self-organized swarm emerging a characteristic flocking migration behaviour surpassing in intermediate steps some local optima over the 3D toroidal landscape (left), describing a Dynamic Optimization (DO) Control Problem. Over each foraging step, the swarm self-regulates his population and keeps tracking the extrema (44 frames in total).

 [] Vitorino Ramos, Carlos Fernandes, Agostinho C. Rosa, On Self-Regulated Swarms, Societal Memory, Speed and Dynamics, in Artificial Life X – Proc. of the Tenth Int. Conf. on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems, L.M. Rocha, L.S. Yaeger, M.A. Bedau, D. Floreano, R.L. Goldstone and A. Vespignani (Eds.), MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-68162-5, pp. 393-399, Bloomington, Indiana, USA, June 3-7, 2006.

PDF paper.

Wasps, bees, ants and termites all make effective use of their environment and resources by displaying collective “swarm” intelligence. Termite colonies – for instance – build nests with a complexity far beyond the comprehension of the individual termite, while ant colonies dynamically allocate labor to various vital tasks such as foraging or defense without any central decision-making ability. Recent research suggests that microbial life can be even richer: highly social, intricately networked, and teeming with interactions, as found in bacteria. What strikes from these observations is that both ant colonies and bacteria have similar natural mechanisms based on Stigmergy and Self-Organization in order to emerge coherent and sophisticated patterns of global foraging behavior. Keeping in mind the above characteristics we propose a Self-Regulated Swarm (SRS) algorithm which hybridizes the advantageous characteristics of Swarm Intelligence as the emergence of a societal environmental memory or cognitive map via collective pheromone laying in the landscape (properly balancing the exploration/exploitation nature of our dynamic search strategy), with a simple Evolutionary mechanism that trough a direct reproduction procedure linked to local environmental features is able to self-regulate the above exploratory swarm population, speeding it up globally. In order to test his adaptive response and robustness, we have recurred to different dynamic multimodal complex functions as well as to Dynamic Optimization Control problems, measuring reaction speeds and performance. Final comparisons were made with standard Genetic Algorithms (GAs), Bacterial Foraging strategies (BFOA), as well as with recent Co-Evolutionary approaches. SRS’s were able to demonstrate quick adaptive responses, while outperforming the results obtained by the other approaches. Additionally, some successful behaviors were found: SRS was able to maintain a number of different solutions, while adapting to unforeseen situations even when over the same cooperative foraging period, the community is requested to deal with two different and contradictory purposes; the possibility to spontaneously create and maintain different sub-populations on different peaks, emerging different exploratory corridors with intelligent path planning capabilities; the ability to request for new agents (division of labor) over dramatic changing periods, and economizing those foraging resources over periods of intermediate stabilization. Finally, results illustrate that the present SRS collective swarm of bio-inspired ant-like agents is able to track about 65% of moving peaks traveling up to ten times faster than the velocity of a single individual composing that precise swarm tracking system. This emerged behavior is probably one of the most interesting ones achieved by the present work. 


[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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