Bee Movie Still
  • Bee Movie Still

A description of the experiment that suggests bees can sometimes feel the blues:
Bateson and Wright trained their honeybees to associate one scent with a sugary reward and another scent with bitterness. Then they shook half their beehives, mimicking a predator attack. Afterwards, shaken bees still responded to the sugary scent, but were more reluctant than their unshaken brethren to investigate the in-between smell.

Further analysis of the shaken bees’ brains found altered levels of dopamine, serotonin and octopamine, three neurotransmitters implicated in depression. In short, the bees acted like they felt pessimistic, and their brains looked like it, too.

All of this brings to mind a surprising turn I encountered near the end of Nick Lane's wonderful book Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. The turn is not a hard turn made by a man with a background in the hard sciences (Lane is a biochemist), but a soft turn to the dreamy speculations of panpsychism. The turn was made to hint at the place one might possibly find an explanation for the nature of emotions and states of mind:

Feelings are physical, yet the known laws of physics, which can supposedly give us a complete account of the world, have no place for them. For all its marvellous power, natural selection doesn't conjure up something from nothing: there has to be a germ of something for it to act upon, a germ of a feeling, you might say, that evolution can fashion into the majesty of mind. This is what Scottish physical chemist Graham Cairns-Smith calls `the bomb in the basement' of modern physics. Presumably, he says, if feelings don't correspond to any of the known properties of matter, then matter itself must have some additional features, `subjective features', that when organised by selection ultimately give rise to our inner feelings. Matter is conscious in some way, with `inner' properties, as well as the familiar external properties that physicists measure. Pan-psychism is taken seriously again.

When it was last taken seriously, at the end of the 19th century, the psychologist/philosopher William James called conscious matter some kind of "mind-dust."