The path of an ant

After 4 long months of quarantine, which was mandated for all 9 million or so common citizens of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and which didn’t even make a hint of an impression on the coronavirus situation—after the lockdown was before the lockdown, and after another month of regular lockdown, I was finally enjoying a good cup of coffee in my favourite coffee shop again.

And as I was reading the News of my own country, Austria, where they obviously didn’t read the News about the nil efficacy of lockdowns, I observed a tiny little ant walking all over my MacBook.

„Hey there little explorer”, I subvocalised. As I leaned back to observe the ant roaming about I observed it walking fairly quickly and erratically. But then I also saw how well it bent its little body to each side, and how it twisted and lifted and lowered its antennas, and how it looked around, stopped and started, back-traced even, compared its position to its scouted-out landmarks. I had the impression that its – at a first glance – rather erratic looking path is actually a quite well considered one.

I recalled a quote from Derek Jarman’s movie Wittgenstein, „If a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand what he said. I can’t understand the lion’s language, because I don’t know what his world is like. How can I know the world a lion inhabits?”

When ants walk alone, they run in adventurous looking meanders, I imagine the shapes of natural rivers and creeks… very distinct from how they walk when they walk in groups of thousands… which appears to be more straight, more stressed, and less playful in comparison… even though there’s always the occasional break-away ant, meandering out and away from the busy ant highway.

Since years I was wondering how a single ant’s path would look like. And while I watched the little explorer, I realised that this was my chance to find out. I pulled out my iPhone, waited patiently for Ant vs. Wild to cross over my MacBook one more time, and recorded a little video. Then I tried to trace the ant’s path on my iPhone for an hour or so, in which I failed miserably. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. Finally I succeeded on my MacBook with Apple Compressor (export OpenEXR Image Sequence with 10 fps) and Pixelmator Pro (import into layers with Opacity on „Darken”).

So finally, I got my answer.

I failed to hold my iPhone completely steady during the recording, that’s why you see multiple layers of my MacBook’s outlines on this image, a composition of 163 images. Also, the ant appeared to walk on tip-toes while she was on the slightly indented trackpad. Either she was just amusing herself, or walked in a sort of environment-aware, sea-level preserving fashion. Who can possibly know what an ant thinks while repeatedly roaming over a MacBook in a coffee shop?