top of page

Philosophy, horror, and sphexishness.

Nope, not another Hawkwind album, read on...but first, What is this thing lurking......

and im not sure i have mentioned, but grasshoppers always seem to be at the bottom of the food chain of many of the animals that i see. And even some plants. Anyway, this is the typical challenge to a wildlife photographer of insects and their natural what to do? Lets try a bit of diffused flash, and some stealth....

bingo, a much better view and picture as this Sphex subtruncatus - a type of wasp with a narrow waist - is caught mid sting plunging its stinger into the body, which then results in paralysis of its prey insects (and making their eyes boggle too).

now the horror:

This wasp already has a "nest" (some species dig nests in the ground, while others use pre-existing holes) which they then stock with captured insects. Typically, the prey are left alive, but paralyzed by wasp toxins. The wasps lay their eggs in the provisioned nest and the wasp larvae feed on the paralyzed insects as they develop.

OK, ok, stuff of nightmares....but what about the philosphy??

OK, here goes......(from Wikipedia) Some writers in the philosophy of mind, most notably Daniel Dennett, have cited Sphex's behavior for their arguments about human and animal free will. Some Sphex wasps drop a paralyzed insect near the opening of the nest. Before taking provisions into the nest, the Sphex first inspects the nest, leaving the prey outside. During the inspection, an experimenter can move the prey a few inches away from the opening. When the Sphex emerges from the nest ready to drag in the prey, it finds the prey missing. The Sphex quickly locates the moved prey, but now its behavioral "program" has been reset. After dragging the prey back to the opening of the nest, once again the Sphex is compelled to inspect the nest, so the prey is again dropped and left outside during another stereotypical inspection of the nest. This iteration can be repeated several times without the Sphex changing its sequence; by some accounts, endlessly. (some writers have) used this mechanistic behavior as an example of how seemingly thoughtful behavior can actually be quite mindless, the opposite of free will (or, as Hofstadter described it, sphexishness). Philosopher Fred Keijzer challenges this use of Sphex, citing experiments in which behavioral adaptations are observed after many iterations. Keijzer sees the persistence of the Sphex example in cognitive theory as an indication of its rhetorical usefulness, not its factual accuracy.Of course, the repeated inspection of a disturbed nest may very well be an adaptive behavior, thus diminishing the aptness of Hofstadter's metaphor. As he concludes, "There is no reason for humans to remain stuck in an endless behavioral loop when wasps don’t." Well, aside from Politicians that is.


bottom of page