Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Intelligence of Bees

I think that in school everyone was likely introduced to the "bee dance"--the discovery that bees can, in a sense, draw a map to a source of food that they've found, by doing a meaningful "dance" to be observed by the other bees in the hive. What is odd about the way this fact is usually told is that it is presented as purely instinctive behavior; somehow we are supposed to believe that the steps and their meanings are hard-wired into the bees' brains. I've never seen an explanation of how this hard-coded programming manages to cope with the infinite number of variables in the real world.

But that's old news. More recently, scientists have been able to train bees to detect bombs, scientists have been able to determine that bees can count and, in my favorite of these types of stories, that bees can learn to recognize human faces... even in a crowd of strangers.

Not bad, considering that bees naturally have no real need to recognize human faces. And not bad considering that for the movie "Marley and Me" 22 different dogs were used to play the part of Marley--and I haven't heard one person complain about the differences.

Yes, I do think the ability to recognize facial features of a different species should work in both directions.

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