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The Beatrix Potter Syndrome

In F


When making an attempt to know one thing new, we routinely search for parallels in our earlier expertise: we search examples from the acquainted as a way to higher perceive the unfamiliar. Usually, this may be useful, as once we be taught a brand new language and we draw on our information of one other language with a standard root.

Sadly, this technique also can take us down a path that leads to not larger understanding, however to the confusion of reality with conditioned thought and to a type of distorted imaginative and prescient.

This could readily be noticed within the interpretation of animal behaviour by reference to human behaviour, which is one type of what we name anthropomorphism. Myths and fables and kids’s tales are so suffused with the granting of human values and character traits to animals that it’s laborious to think about a creature that has not, in our imaginations, been stereotyped and imprinted with traits ascribed to it by somebody with a selected level to make, or axe to grind. Thus the fox is ‘wily and crafty’; the canine is ‘trustworthy and obedient’; the elephant is a ‘mild large’ and the snake is ‘sneaky and deceitful’. Aesop in all probability began the development, however I choose to name it the ‘Beatrix Potter Syndrome’, in recognition of her affect on the creating minds of 20th-century youngsters, of whom I used to be one.

Beatrix Potter was an completed illustrator and observer of nature, who, had she been born a century later, could effectively have had a distinguished profession in science. Sadly, she is now solely remembered for her youngsters’s books depicting animals in human clothes who stroll on their hind legs. From her tales, a direct line will be drawn to the emotionally charged portrayals of animals in lots of Disney movies, whereas the brutal actuality of the lives of untamed animals is hidden beneath a veil of sugary sentimentality.

Potter’s assignation of human attributes and behavior to animals is just one type of anthropomorphism. There are at the least two different methods by which we routinely corrupt our understanding of the non-human world by our alternative of language: using phrases to call or describe an animal and the outline of animal behaviour in human phrases.

We will draw examples from the world of bees for instance each of those phenomena.

Once we label the egg-laying mom of the colony as ‘queen’ bee, we impose on her by implication all of the that means with which that English phrase is loaded. Thus we could anticipate finding her as a monarch in command of the colony, issuing orders and, maybe, punishments for infringements of ‘colony regulation’. The time period ‘queen bee’ has handed again into the English language as an outline of a lady with a controlling and manipulate nature, who likes to have individuals round her to serve her wants and provides her consideration. This reinforces the favored however inappropriate image of an actual ‘queen’ bee, which ought to actually be extra precisely regarded as the egg-laying servant of the colony and definitely not its ruler. Whereas the queen bee does certainly have a retinue of attendants to feed and groom her, it’s they who lead her round and put together locations for her to put. When she begins to point out any indicators of a decline in her skill to supply eggs, she can be outmoded, ignored and left to starve.

Likewise the male bee, or drone, which has inherited the favored that means of its title as a parasitic idler, or one who lives off the labours of others. Whereas the male bees do no apparent and visual work in comparison with their generally hyper-active sisters, we all know remarkably little about their day-to-day actions as a result of comparatively small quantity of analysis that has been carried out on them. I counsel it’s extremely inconceivable {that a} colony would intentionally encumber itself with a ‘ineffective’ 10-15% of its inhabitants at a time when gathering meals is its main concern. Just because we’ve got thus far failed to review them with due care doesn’t entitle us to label them as ‘surplus to necessities’, which is how they’re regarded by most typical beekeepers. Actually, analysis by Juergen Tautz at Wurtzburg College has proven that drones could certainly have hitherto unsuspected duties throughout the hive and will effectively have features within the exterior world which have thus far eluded detection. As way back as 1852, Moses Quinby (Mysteries of Beekeeping Defined) prompt that drones would seemingly have features past mating with a queen, maybe together with serving to to maintain the brood heat. R.O.B.Manley famous that his finest honey-producing hives usually had “numerous drones” (Honey Farming, 1947).

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Once we come to bee behaviour, a lot of it’s alien to us that we battle to make sense of it, so it’s not stunning that we resort to makes an attempt to elucidate features of their world in human phrases. We speak freely of bees foraging for meals, scouting for a nest website, speaking by the use of the ‘waggle dance’, defending their dwelling, mating and finishing up their lifeless as a result of these are all actions that we are able to simply relate to and make sensible sense by way of day-to-day survival in a colony.

What is maybe extra stunning – and infinitely much less useful – is when individuals concoct mystical ‘explanations’ derived solely from their imaginations and go them on as if they’d some scientific validity or basis in actual fact.

Myths and legends, populated by gods and heroes, are poetic allegories via which we’ve got conveyed data – each oral and written – from technology to technology and thus gained some understanding of our cultural historical past. Many myths are anthropomorphic of their personification of pure phenomena, however so long as we perceive their origins and true nature, we are able to be taught from them with out complicated their content material with goal actuality.

Nevertheless, as our scientific understanding of the pure world grew quickly all through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was a parallel development of widespread curiosity in things like clairvoyance, telekinesis, telepathy, reincarnation, ghosts, out-of-body experiences and suchlike para-psychological phenomena that seem to not be topic to the recognized legal guidelines of physics, chemistry or biology. Regardless of the dearth of verifiable proof for such phenomena, they seem to occupy a nether area that stubbornly persists in widespread tradition.

Within the context of this text, the consideration of whether or not or not such phenomena actually exist is much less related than the truth that they’ve, since Victorian occasions at the least, been routinely offered as in the event that they have been real by individuals with a significantly larger expertise for showmanship than for scientific rigour. Demonstrations of ‘manifestations from the spirit world’ have been modern in late nineteenth century society, whereas Ouija boards and ‘table-tipping’ have floated out and in of style nearly to the current day, regardless of the efforts of rationalists comparable to James Randi and Derren Brown to reveal the trickery behind them. Variations on the ‘clairvoyance’ theme have been round at the least for the reason that days of the Delphic Oracle – in all probability the primary instance of a vacationer business constructed round a mystical cult – and present no indicators of dropping reputation, regardless of varied myth-busting public exposures of fraud and trickery.

Rudolf Steiner, in his lectures on bees, delivered in November and December of 1923 on the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, sought to interpret the world of bees by the use of ‘Anthroposophy’, a Christianized, model of the paranormal 19th century eastern-derived ‘non secular philosophy’ of Theosophy, whose best-known proponent, Helena Blavatsky, was additionally a performing clairvoyant. Each Steiner and Blavatsky claimed to derive their occult information from exterior the fabric world, by a course of that may these days be referred to as ‘channeling’.

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Steiner believed that mankind had existed on Earth – though not essentially in materials type – since its creation, and that bees (in addition to different animals) have been created for our profit. This chronological reversal of the reality as revealed by fossil proof – bees having definitely been round for greater than 100 million years earlier than Homo sapiens – units the scene for additional doubtful assertions, comparable to when he talks of embryonic queens “giving off gentle” that by some means causes a colony to swarm from “worry that ‘it now not possesses the bee poison”.

Anybody unfamiliar with Steiner’s idiosyncratic cosmology and his different writings concerning the supposed historical past of the Earth could also be stunned by passages comparable to:

“Our earth was as soon as in a situation of which one might say that it was surrounded by clouds that had plant-life inside them; from the periphery, different clouds approached and fertilised them; these clouds had an animal nature. From cosmic areas got here the animal nature; from the earth the essence of plant-being rose upwards.” (Lecture VIII)

Again on the planet of bees, Steiner makes a lot of the 21-day gestation interval of a employee bee as being equal to “a single rotation of the solar on its axis” (Lecture II), apparently unaware that the equatorial areas of the solar carry out a single rotation in 25.6 days, whereas polar areas rotate as soon as in about 36 days (NASA).

He goes on to say that ‘the drone is thus an earthly being’ (as a result of its completion takes longer than the solar’s rotation – which in actual fact, as we now know, it doesn’t).

He additional elaborates on this thesis:

“The drones are the males; they’ll fertilize; this energy of fertilization comes from the earth; the drones purchase it within the few days throughout which they proceed their development throughout the earth-evolution and earlier than they attain maturity. So we are able to now say: within the bees it’s clearly to be seen that fertilization (male fecundation) comes from the earthly forces, and the feminine capability to develop the egg comes from the forces of the Solar. So that you see, you possibly can simply think about how important is the size of time throughout which a creature develops. This is essential for, naturally, one thing occurs inside a particular time which couldn’t happen in both a shorter or an extended time, for then fairly different issues would occur.”

As occurs quite a few occasions within the Lectures, Steiner makes an announcement that’s demonstrably misguided, after which goes on to elaborate a sequence of specious arguments from it, which, being derived from false premises, should inevitably result in false conclusions.

It could be tedious to quote each occasion the place Steiner is obfuscatory, unnecessarily mystical or simply plain unsuitable. Suffice to say that, whereas not being completely devoid of curiosity, his Lectures are about as helpful a supply of insights into bees as a medieval e book of medicinal herbs can be for conducting fashionable surgical procedure. Certainly, Steiner even betrays his lack of fundamental understanding of the features of the human physique (Lecture VII) in saying that:

“…it’s represented as if the guts have been a form of pump, and that this pumping of the guts sends the blood everywhere in the physique. That is nonsense, as a result of it’s in actuality the blood which is introduced into movement by the ego-organization, and strikes all through the physique.”

Nevertheless, Steiner does make some non-mystical statements that should be thought-about, as they at the least fall into alignment with observable actuality. He warns in opposition to pushing bees for over-production, drawing a parallel with the dairy business (Lecture V); he emphasizes that “… the bee-colony is a totality. It should be seen as a totality.” (Lecture V); The one much-vaunted however typically mis-quoted, ‘prediction’ made by Steiner, normally misrepresented as a ‘prophesy’ of the overall demise of bees, quantities to a quite delicate criticism of the then comparatively new follow of synthetic insemination: “…we should see how issues can be in fifty to eighty years time…”.

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Proper on the finish of the ultimate Lecture, we discover clear proof that Steiner’s view of nature is definitely extremely anthropocentric:

‘Thus we are able to say: Once we observe issues in the precise manner, we see how the processes of Nature are literally photos and symbols of what occurs in human life. These males of olden occasions watched the birds on the juniper bushes with the identical love with which we take a look at the little muffins and presents on the Christmas tree. “…I’ve subsequently spoken of the juniper tree which may really be thought to be a form of Christmas tree, and which is similar for the birds because the blossoms for the bees, the wooden for the ants, and for the wood-bees and bugs on the whole.”

And so Steiner’s private mysticism, in addition to his sentimentality, seems to have a big element of anthropomorphism lurking inside it.

Having reached this level in our evaluation, we’ve got to contemplate what’s left to us: what can be a authentic methodology for the examine of bees, that may be free from the elephant traps of anthropocentrism, anthropomorphism, sentimentality and mysticism, but can embody the sense skilled by many who come into contact with bees that there’s ‘one thing else’ current, past the purely materials?

A rationalist would say, ‘observe with out interpretation: see what’s there and describe it as precisely as attainable, however with out overlaying it with that means. Be true to observable actuality’.

And but, many individuals report some form of transcendental expertise within the presence of bees en masse, so are their stories to be written off as mere whimsy?

Talking from my very own expertise, I can say that whereas working with bees and sustaining a peaceful, unhurried manner, I’ve had moments of internal peace akin to that I’ve additionally skilled whereas meditating or partaking in sure martial arts practices that intention to ‘nonetheless the thoughts’. Having one’s unprotected fingers in a hive containing 50,000 fully-armed bees has a manner of focusing the thoughts very a lot within the second, whereas any deviation from the ‘now’ is more likely to be punished extra quickly and extra severely than by a Zen grasp’s employees.

Being current ‘within the second’ is a rarer – and thus extra valuable – expertise for the 21st-century Twitter-dweller than for our ancestors. For the chance to expertise that sense of timelessness within the firm of a wild creature so many millennia our senior is a privilege that beekeepers ought to have fun and cherish.

Mysticism has had its day. We’re grown-ups now: we’ve got seen the atom bomb and the double helix and we have to come to phrases with goal actuality in all its great kinds with out ascribing all phenomena simply past our understanding to the work of gods, aliens, faeries or gnomes. We will recognize nature with out projecting our aspirations or values onto it. We will observe with out at all times needing to know the ‘hidden that means’ of what we see hear, odor and style. We will be elevated by what’s round us and luxuriate in all of the sensations accessible on this outstanding, pure world. We will even compose poems and songs, myths and fables to entertain us and our kids, however we now not want to sit down on the toes of all-too-mortal males who exert energy over the ignorant by interposing themselves between us and genuine expertise of the mysteries of life.


Tags: #FACES syndrome

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