Driftless's Reviews > The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct

The Leafcutter Ants by Bert Hölldobler
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's review
Jan 11, 11

bookshelves: nature
Read in January, 2011

Over the past few centuries, plenty of thought, ink and celluloid have been devoted to imagining what extraterrestrial civilizations might be like. But when the first human steps out of her spaceship to explore another life-bearing planet, how will she decide when she's truly encountered a new civilization.

The Collins English Dictionary defines civilization thusly:

"a human society that has highly developed material and spiritual resources and a complex cultural, political, and legal organization; an advanced state in social development"

I think it's fair to argue that his definition is rather anthropocentric, given that it restricts civilization to humanity right up front. If I get out my red marker and cross out the underlined and non-essential words, making the definition a bit more inclusive, we have a definition that might work anywhere in the galaxy.

"a society that has highly developed material resources and complex organization; an advanced state in social development"

But if one thinks diminutively, yet broadly, the Earth already plays host to non-human civilizations that might be as alien as anything we might encounter on another planet. In The Leafcutter Ants, celebrated biologists Bert Hölldobler and E.O Wilson explore what may be the pinnacle of terrestrial, non-human civilization.

You can read the rest of my review at The Leafcutter Ants.

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