Friday links: General mish-mash

Mississippi towboats, ant memories, and the Decadent Society.

Ant colony memories

Super interesting article about emergent ant behavior. Ants are fascinating, always a fan of comparing ant colonies to our own brains.

The Finnish myrmecologist Rainer Rosengren showed that when the ants emerge in the spring, an older ant goes out with a young one along the older ant’s habitual trail. The older ant dies and the younger ant adopts that trail as its own, thus leading the colony to remember, or reproduce, the previous year’s trails.

(Also: Radiolab’s episode about emergence is one of my favorites.)

Mississippi towboats

Wild article about some insanely badass people hauling barges on the Mississippi.

Because they typically lack propulsion of their own, barges strike bridges with some frequency. Sometimes they sink; once, a rice barge sank to the riverbed, and when the millions of grains hit the water, they expanded, warping the steel walls of the barge. Other times, they break loose and Jenkins’s deckhands have to go chasing them down like cowboys roping cattle. “You have no control out here,” Captain Deckard says. “You ride the river and just hope you’re in the right spot when you need to be.”

Peter Thiel: Back to the Future

Review of Ross Douthat’s “The Decadent Society: How we became the Victims of our own Success”, outlining “four aspects of decadence: stagnation (technological and economic mediocrity), sterility (declining birth rates), sclerosis (institutional failure), and repetition (cultural exhaustion).”

“Repetition” names the condition of our culture, endlessly remaking remakes of remakes. Whereas the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties all had distinctive by-the-decade styles in design, clothing, music, and art, from the nineties to now feels like one big remix.