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My uncle told me about a story when I was a kid, between 1989 and 1995. It is either a written story or a short film. There might be obvious mistakes in my description, but I am hoping someone can recognize this one:

A scientist is experimenting on an ant colony (or another kind of bug colony). He finds a mysterious element that he thinks is a byproduct of the existence or activities of the ants. However, he is unable to ascribe this element to anything sensible. In the end he discovers that the element is a byproduct of his interaction and experiments on the ant colony. The story ends with him finding (perhaps by accident) the same element naturally present in the Earth's atmosphere. Astonished, he realizes that there must be another higher being experimenting on humankind the same way he did with the ants.

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  • I heard this story somewhere between 89' and 95'.
    – Abai
    Mar 13 '16 at 18:00
  • 2
    This doesn't fit all your perimeters, but could it be "Sandkings" by George R. R. Martin? It had a scientist experimenting on ant(like) creatures.
    – ivory
    Mar 13 '16 at 21:56
  • @ivory I read the summary for "Sandkings" it sounds very interesting but I don't think that is the book. While at it I also came across "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon. Some great similarities there too, but I am not entirely confident it is the story I am looking for. Thank you!
    – Abai
    Mar 16 '16 at 10:34
  • FWIW "Sandkings" was adapted into the first episode of "The Outer Limits" (1995) (see wiki article here), but the adaptation plays out as a somewhat different story. In the adaptation, a scientist performs a rogue experiment on ant-like creatures brought back to Earth from Mars; the twist in the adaptation is that his subjects turn out to be highly intelligent and dangerous, and were actually toying with him until they make an escape, threatening the world.
    – Anthony X
    Jan 14 '19 at 4:08
  • My first guess was imdb.com/title/tt0070531 but it does not fit.
    – Hothie
    Jan 14 '19 at 7:53
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This hasn't collected a better answer yet, so I'm going to propose "Mana" (1937) by Eric Frank Russell. Originally published in Astounding, it was reprinted in The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978, rereleased with a new cover 1986).

In the story, Omega, the last human, is attempting to leave a legacy of the human race by uplifting ants to sentience before he ends his existence. He doesn't discover an element that is involved in uplifting the ants, he theorizes, after many attempts, that photons carry an effect of something he calls "mana."

"It must be photons," declared Omega, standing before the chair. "A thousand experiments have shown that either cosmic rays or photons perform the function of carriers of mana. And I still maintain that it cannot be cosmic rays. If it were, there could be no mana upon the ozone-wrapped Perdel, in Alpha Centauri."

He is using his own brain as a source/amplifier of this mana to pass on to his ants, and apparently succeeds, as when he releases them they begin to use the cart he has provided them.

He theorizes that mana originally came from some higher beings to uplift humanity:

"When the first hairy biped rode the waters on a log, that was mana," he proclaimed. "When fire was found, and made, and used, that was mana. Whenever men struggled one step higher up the ladder of life, it was mana." He swung an arm in a sweep embracing the entire cosmos. "Even as it was given to us by those whom we could never know, I give it to those who can never know men. I give it as our everlasting monument."

You can read "Mana" in the original issue of Astounding at the Internet Archive.

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