Monday, April 07, 2008


"Nature first, then theory. Or, better, Nature and theory closely intertwined while you throw all your intellectual capital at the subject. Love the organisms for themselves first, then strain for general explanations, and, with good fortune, discoveries will follow. If they don't the love and pleasure will have been enough."
E.O. Wilson

Just one of Dr. Hildebrand's achievements showed that the insect olfactory system is organized the same as man's --with intriguing differences. But it must be analogy, not homology -- the last common ancestor was practically single-celled with no real nervous system to speak of. This is all the more surprising when you consider that most of the work coming out of contemporary neuroscience highlights the contingent nature of neural processing -- seeing the mind as a very biological entity rather than logically put together in correspondence with fundamental physical constraints. A good example is that you also can't train animals to get a reward by moving away from a stimulus that predicts reward. Pavlovian conditioning trumps Skinnerian.

But many neuroecology insect olfaction experiments are Behavioralist in their treatment of insects as automatons. Any variation is "noise". But aren't bugs sometimes curious about an odor, sometimes another? Why does this fly stay smelling my socks for exactly 4 seconds and the banana peel for exactly 7 seconds? Can you explain every wingbeat?

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