Showing posts from February, 2018

The Conscious Patch

If consciousness is viewed as being on a dimmer switch - i.e humans have a lot of it, dogs and magpies have some of it, bees have a bit of it - what might a patch map of consciousness look like? In Nick Lane’s fantastic book ‘ Life Ascending ’ he lists consciousness as one of the “ten great inventions of evolution”. Reading this got me thinking about how, if at all, the concept of consciousness could be applied to the patch. Within this are two questions 1) is there consciousness on the patch? 2) is the patch conscious? An answer to either of these will hinge on which of the various definitions of the word we choose to employ. These definitions range from the rigorously scientific to the less scientific - new-age beliefs, via religion and metaphysics. An interesting way to approach this question is to look at the various attempts to explain consciousness and speculate how a ‘map’ of consciousness on the patch might look on each of these views. To put it simply, if consciousnes

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated sawflies do it

Bumblebee mimic hoverfly mating (Volucella bombylans) - sexual reproduction is popular! Birds do it, bees do it, even educated sawflies do it. Yes, sexual reproduction is popular, everywhere you look, living organisms are well and truly 'at it'.  However some organisms manage perfectly well without it.  'Consider the aphid' (as the bible verse doesn't go). They reproduce asexually by the process known as parthonongenesis. As a rule the blackfly and greenfly are all females. These females give birth to more females, then a third generation arrives. And so on. Even, without a single male in sight the aphid population can expand exponentially. It's been calculated that a single aphid could produce 600 billion descendants in one season (if you take predation out of the equation). Try spraying those with your Aphid-Be-Gone (other made-up insecticides are unavailable). Aphids reproduce pretty effectively without bothering with sexual reproduction

Embiggening Things

Micropsectra atrofasciata - with close up of the male's 'claspers' - a diagnostic feature. If you wish to observe the world of the very small you have two main options. a) Invent a machine that shrinks your body down to the scale of the object in question. b) Buy a microscope. I weighed up the problems inherent in option a), such as defying the laws of physics and getting trodden on...versus clicking a button on Amazon.  Call me feckless if you like, but I decided to eschew the, potentially Nobel Prize winning first option, and opted to go down button clicking avenue. My decision has proved to be perfectly cromulent and I've been having fun embiggening 1 things. Apropos microscopy … …I’ve switched the moth trap on during a couple of recent mild nights. On Monday I had the first moth of the year – the optimistically named Spring Usher.  A jack-in-a-box style escape of flies, midges and gnats often accompanies the trap opening. As there