the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

atelier bow-wow on instinct, environment and specialized perception

Posted by rigorousm on March 4, 2015

Streifzunge Durch die Umwelten von Tiren und Menschen (A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men) by Jakob von Uexkull and Georg Kriszat reminds us how we felt ourselves united to environments when collecting insects. The authors, taking the tick’s life history as an example, called the world of organisms “Umwelt (environment).” The tick moves to the tip of a twig for more light, using “a general photosensitivity of her skin.” Taking as signal the odor of butyric acid emanated from the skin glands of a warm-blooded mammal that passes under the twig, it hurls itself down to its prey. Then it “find[s] a hairless spot” and burrows deep into the prey, and slowly pumps herself full of warm blood.” Thus, the tick’s successive responses to the three stimuli—light, the odor of butyric acid, and the tactual perception of hair—determine how it behaves. Conversely, a huge world in which the ticks live becomes impoverished, now merely reduced to the three perceptual and behavioral signals. “The poverty of the Unwelt is just that which is responsible for the reliability of action, and reliability is more important than riches.” An organic order arising from the synthesis of a limited number of inorganic signals might be called the tick’s intelligence. The woods in which we navigate through the tick’s intelligence will appear very special– almost poetic.

Atelier Bow-Wow, “Insect-Hunting” in Echo of Space / Space of Echoes pp 030-031


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