Are bees more Bayesian?

by on December 3, 2010 at 7:00 am in Books, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

It appears, therefore, that a swarm's scout bees do something sharply different from what humans do to reach a full agreement in a debate.  Both bees and humans need a group's members to avoid stubbornly supporting their first view, but whereas we humans will usually (and sensibly) ive up on a position only after we have learned of a better one, the bees will stop supporting a position automatically.  As is shown…after a shorter or longer time, each scout bee becomes silent and leaves the rest of the debate to a new set of bees.  Figure 6.7 shows how this regular turnover in which scouts are dancing can help a swarm's scouts quickly reach an agreement…

In other words, the bee algorithms allow attrition (a time-honored process of improving the scientific community) to operate at an especially rapid pace.

That is from the fascinating book Honeybee Democracy, by Thomas D. Seeley.  Here is the book's home page.  Here is a good review of the book:

In the final chapter, Seeley suggests five lessons we could learn from bees.

†¢ Compose a decision-making group of individuals with shared interests. Here bees have a higher stake than us: all members of a colony are related (sisters) and nobody can survive without the group.

†¢ Minimise the leader's influence on the group. Here we humans have much to learn.

†¢ Seek diverse solutions to the problem. Humans realised only recently that diversity is good for a group.

†¢ Update the group's knowledge through debate. Here again, bees are superior to us, as each scout's "dances" become less effective with time, no matter how good a new site is, while stubbornness can lead humans to argue forever.

†¢ Use quorums to gain cohesion, accuracy and speed. Impressively, bees came up with this concept long before the Greeks.

As a departmental chair at Cornell University, Seeley says, he applies these principles at faculty meetings with great success.

Definitely recommended.

1 Michael Tinkler December 3, 2010 at 3:05 am

Sounds better than herding cats.

2 Vacslav December 3, 2010 at 3:32 am

Not that I am against improving communications and decision making processes. Still, it is humans, not bees, who developed IPods, waterclosets, money and safe sex. Somehow our stubborness, inefficient debate and limited diversity in groups must have played the role.

3 Andrew December 3, 2010 at 4:35 am

"…he applies these principles at faculty meetings with great success."

Maybe I'll try this bee technique at the next meeting. Unleashing a swarm of bees into the room couldn't be anything but satisfactory.

4 Kelvin December 3, 2010 at 5:57 am

Bees live short lives, and dancing is a very energy-costly form of communication, so they discount the present value of continued dancing very quickly. Of course they would have quick attrition.

Maybe it's not human stubbornness. Maybe a lot of the things we argue about are rather pointless from a life-or-death perspective. Put a bunch of humans in a sinking ship and you'll (usually) see much faster decision-making.

5 anonymous December 3, 2010 at 7:22 am


Put a bunch of humans in a sinking ship and you'll (usually) see much faster decision-making.

Please explain the last two years.

6 cournot December 3, 2010 at 8:33 am

Hmm. Diversity is good GIVEN that the bees are already all sisters. I think that the lesson to draw from this is vastly different from what the diversity crats want to suggest.

7 hornet December 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

"Diversity Dogma" and "Diversity crats"?
Cranks, monotony and tin foil hats!

So…Sailer…what are you attempting to say about altruism based on a comparison of a non-human species to humans? Humans are smarter than bees, AND humans are all related to one another. But ask any family law or estate lawyer what impact sharing genes has on altruism. Your point looks like it is trying to be an ideological jab at the idea of altruism.

8 dirk December 3, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Here's a thought experiment: I suspect I'm genetically closer to Steve Sailer than to the drummer in my band, but whereas I might buy the drummer in my band a beer I'd happily kick Steve Sailer's ass.

9 JS Allen December 3, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Andrew, check out Oprah releasing a swarm of bees on her audience on last week's Conan. You can find it on your favorite search engine.

10 dirk December 4, 2010 at 1:38 am

I admit I judge Sailer perhaps a bit too much based upon the words of his acolytes. I've never read anything Sailer wrote that amounted to race-hatred, but I've read tons of shit on the web that amount to race-hatred which references Sailer. Read the comments on Roissy's site after a typical political post, for instance.

Whatever Sailer's intentions may be, I'd think if he had a problem with the race-hatred going on so often in his name he would go out of his way to distance himself from it. As far as I can tell he has remained silent on the issue of the race-hatred he has stirred up — or which at least frequently name drops him — on the net. It seems like the guy would want to respond to that shit if he had a problem with it.

As for his theories: a whole lot of extrapolation going on. Sure one likely cares more about their immediate relatives than others — on the whole — but does that translate into me caring about another Scotts-Irish descended American more than a Nigerian-American who I happen to share a cultural background with (American)? Race is only one major point of cleavage between groups. There is also language, religion, geography, and other cultural factors (art, music, comedy…). The civil war in America didn't take place between people with vast genetic differences. Nor did the Korean or Vietnam war. The current meme (i believe attributed to Sailer, rightly or wrongly): proximity + diversity = war — is where we are now, thanks to idiots in the human biodiversity world.

If Steve wants to denounce some of the race hatred promulgated by so many of his acolytes, perhaps I could look at his point of view with more open eyes.

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