Original Research

“Die siel van die mier”: Reflections on the battle for ‘scholarly’ intelligence

Martin Olivier
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 11, No 2 | a77 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v11i2.77 | © 2015 Martin Olivier | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 February 2016 | Published: 01 November 2015

About the author(s)

Martin Olivier, Department of Computer Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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This essay traces two research programmes in broad strokes. Both programmes start from the same observation — the behaviour of an ant (or termite) colony and the ability of the ant colony to act in a collective manner to achieve goals that the individual ant cannot. For one programme such behaviour is indicative of intelligence; for the other it is indicative of (collective) instinct. The primary intention of the essay is not to assess the claims of intelligence found, but to consider the rationale of the researchers involved in the two programmes for doing such research. It is observed that virtue in one programme is understanding (with the concomitant ability to explain — and, hence, teach), while the primary virtue in the other programme is the utility — and ultimately efficiency — that this may add to human problem solving skills. The two programmes used as illustration are Eugène Marais’s study of termites in the first half of the 20th century and the emergence of artificial intelligence projects that are inspired by ant behaviour in the second half of the 20th century. The essay suggests that the current emphasis of inquiry at tertiary education institutions embraces utility to the extent that it displaces pure insight — and hence the ability to explain and, ultimately, the ability to teach.


Tertiary education; Intelligence, Artificial intelligence; Epistemology


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