The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

The Strangeness of bug Consciousness


When we look at insects and other bugs we don’t normally think of them as being in any way conscious.  They appear to be autonomous little machines performing functions for a hive of some sort, whether they are bees, ants, worms or what have you.  Yet as more and more research is done on them when they express group behavior, they exhibit something else:  intelligence.  This intelligence is sometimes exhibited in spectacular form, such as with these leaf cutter ants:  (At about 3 minutes in they show the colony.)  We may have to revisit how we perceive these tiny creatures.  They are demonstrating a group consciousness that is only achievable telepathically.

Another example is termite mounds, which even varies within a species according to what the environmental conditions are:

More than one way to make a mound

Termites of the African species Macrotermes bellicosus have developed two very different strategies to optimise mound ventilation to local weather conditions. On the hot, dry savannahs of east and west Africa, their mounds are many-spired “cathedrals”. According to biologist Judith Korb of the University of Osnabrück, Germany, this is one instance where heat gradients drive currents of air circulation that sink through the nest and rise in the walls during the day. This circulation gets more or less switched off at night when the temperature gradients disappear or reverse, avoiding heat loss and keeping the nest at a roughly constant temperature.

In the cooler forests of northern Ivory Coast, though, the same species builds simpler dome-shaped mounds in which buoyant warm air rises up through the nest and escapes through small holes in the walls. This design seems to trap more heat by limiting outward airflow, making sure that the fungus gardens that provide the termites’ food are kept at an optimal temperature.

Thousands of miles away, another species of termite has developed an innovative way of making sure it gets the most out of the sun. The magnetic termite Amitermes meridionalis of Australia uses Earth’s magnetic field to build mounds elongated in a north-south direction. The broad eastern and western faces soak up the weaker rays of the morning and evening sun, while a relatively narrow surface is subjected to the fierce glare of the midday sun – helping to keep the temperature relatively constant.

All termite mounds, Korb says, seem designed to produce homeostatic conditions in which the inner environment remains as constant as possible. The very different environments in which termites thrive show how successful they are.

What these bugs are demonstrating is something very different from our usual perspective.  Building these large and exceedingly complicated homes requires a level of sophistication far above what we would normally attribute to these lowly creatures.  While there is certainly a large amount of genetic instruction wired into the process of making these homes, that explanation cannot solely account for the building of these spectacular structures.

First of all, as noted above, the same species of termites are building structures specific to their locations such as the large cathedrals for the savannahs and the dome shaped mounds for the cooler forests.  But more than that, these are delicately balanced structures designed for a very specific internal temperature range and airflow, so all these structures will have to be adapted to specific micro climates where they’re built.

Second: these structures have to be built both quickly and efficiently and this goes for all types of creatures building their homes.  They must use their energy efficiently and make themselves safe from predators in as little time as possible.  This means that workers several feet away from each other need to somehow work in concert so that the whole structure is built at once.

Third: it is impossible to create a large structure without some improvising and adapting to unforeseen conditions and situations.  Changes have to be made to the original plan and the thing has to still work properly.  This is just how things are in construction whether the builder is a tiny insect or a large construction company.  Things never go exactly as planned.  Let’s look at the problems the termites might have:

excessive rain; something breaks the mound during construction; predators take half the hive; soil conditions  aren’t quite suitable, (too much sand for example) all require different approaches.

There are no termite structural engineers, working with termite architects, poring over blueprints and talking with termite foremen.  They all have to know exactly what to do without being told.  This requires a group consciousness far in excess of what we normally think bugs are capable of.

The idea that the means to handle every single different situation the colony encounters is somehow programmed in to each member is an extreme mechanistic scenario and is frankly far fetched.  As I’ve shown, the natural and changing complexity faced by these creatures would be flat out impossible to program in.  And studies into the brains of insects and other bugs show that they have the capacity for giving something their attention.  In fact, their brains are designed along the same lines as ours, albeit on a much smaller scale. In a nutshell, that means they are conscious.  And this makes sense.  Nothing quite beats intelligence in the evolution game; the smarter you are, the more likely it is that you will succeed.  Here’s a personal example I have:

One bug or insect alone isn’t very smart, but in groups there is definitely intelligence at work.  Even in small groups.  I once had wasps start a nest inside a the electrical box of a light fixture in my garage.  Because of the location I could not spray anything at it from a distance and I really did not want to get too close.  Their stings hurt.  So I got a vacuum and shoved the business end of the hose right next to the hole where they were coming out and thus began a cat and mouse game that took half an hour.  Since I was using a long hose they wouldn’t necessarily figure out what to attack if they escaped my trap.  (A few of them did anyway and I got one sting out of it.)  Wasps do not bunch up when they attack.  They spread out and attack based on opportunity.  Had I ever faced more than two or three at a time flying around me I would have run for it.

They did not simply march out of their nest to their doom either.  I had to turn the vacuum off and wait.  At first, a lot of them attacked.  When that didn’t work they sent out smaller groups and they would wait several minutes before attempting to leave and when they did it was done in a rush.  In other words, they were working together.  They figured out that the end of the vacuum nozzle wasn’t good for them as well.   The groups got progressively smaller until finally the last to attack were clearly young juveniles.  After that the nest was cleared and I could remove it.  The point is, even though the nest was doomed, the method of defending it was clearly intelligent.  They adapted to the best of their ability to an incredibly foreign attack.

Here is an excerpt from a personal story Jim C., one of my readers, shared with me regarding his experience with a black and gold striped fly on my Weiler Psi Facebook site:

(…)When i would talk to him, he would move around, it seemed in response. When I wasn’t talking he stayed still. So, after a few days of this, I offered him the back of my hand. He looked up at me, and climbed on. I turned my hand around and he reacted by turning his body so we stayed face to face. Then when I stopped turning my hand, he would turn in circles. After a short time, he would fly back to his chrome perch. He would only perform this trick once in each session. He would still give me his attention, but he wouldn’t get back on my hand.

We did this a few more times in the days to come. One day, I held out my hand from five feet away and called him to get on. He did! He took off and made one or two circles and landed on the back of my hand. We did this trick every day for quite a while. I even got to show it to a couple of friends. He turned to me and then turned to the audience… and I think he made a little bow. (…)

Insects and other bugs can’t talk and their communication methods are rather limited.  Chemical trails, dances and such.  Yet what they can accomplish together far outstrips this.  This strongly suggests that colonies have a group consciousness which provides them with the intelligence to handle ordinary situations and the telepathy they need to perform their tasks in concert.

This may one day force us to look at intelligence and consciousness differently one day.  We have always viewed the lowly insect and other bugs as stupid, unthinking automatons but this may not be true.  It may be that their intelligence is formed in an entirely different way; perhaps as a group acting in concert with individual creatures more like the fingers on a hand than anything else.  Or perhaps individuals can comprehend more than we know.  Right now though, we at least know that they are not stupid.

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