Are Social Structures Emergent Behavior?

Fascinating press release from Arizona State University about a biologist’s studies in emergent behavior among social insects (ants, bees, termites) and humans. The reigning theory is that these complex social organizations (in insects and in humans) arise from evolutionary processes and natural section, but the incredible simplicity and individual stupidity of individual insects (er…and humans?) argues for some other mechanism. Jennifer Fewell, author of the study, believes that it is network dynamics that can create extremely complex social structures built upon very simple connections between individuals. The release states:

Though social networks are commonly thought of as evolutionary adaptations, Fewell turns this idea on its head by proposing that the network forms first, following the logic and pattern of group connections, then adaptation follows to strengthen the pattern. Social organization, seen in this light, is essentially an emergent property that comes from the network’s geometry – a natural pattern to which organisms adapt.