Ok, we need to talk about this. This is a spider setting up a cozy little home.

Essential steps and the abilities they require (require of Something, not necessarily of this exact spider)

  • What made him do this, “I need a place to sleep.”? (Executive function: I better get this done)
  • What makes him choose this one shell out of many? Did he check it out for size? (Critical thinking: This one will work better than those)
  • Did he set up that block and tackle lifting system ahead of time? (Foresight: I’ll need this in a few minutes)
  • How did he know “That’s about enough” after wrapping the shell for lifting? (Predicting outcomes: This is enough to haul it up without falling)
  • Do spiders have imagination and logic? (Creative thinking: Hey…those things would make good houses!)

Most people would say “It’s instinct, it’s just instinctive behavior” putting the issue to rest. Here’s the definition of instinct “An innate typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli”.

Instinct sounds meaningful but it isn’t. “Instinct” is a tautology, circling the question. Semantically it says “Yes, that behavior is a thing.” or “I don’t know why or how, but they all do that” or even “That’s what it is, but we don’t talk about that”. The word instinct is a placeholder description, not a real answer. Saying Instinct shuts off questioning without providing answers, it is an empty box labeled “behavioral presets”. The classic Darwinian answer to “But how, why?” would be “Spiders that behaved this way were better at surviving and reproducing. That is why the behavior was retained”.

I have questions:

  • Did the first spider to do this have a Eureka moment, and imagine this step by step means to an end? Can spiders do that?
  • Or was it already a behavioral preset? If so, how?
  • Was this behavior assembled over millions of years through random, unrelated actions that finally hit the jackpot in one lucky spider? Why would the direct offspring of THIS spider repeat this cosmically unlikely action?
  • Or did the second spider to do this have a brand new behavioral preset inherited from the first? If so how?
  • How is the script or template of this behavior edited and saved, where, how and by whom or what?
  • How did this many-staged process to achieve a complicated goal even happen without some kind of mind seeing the point of it? How is this conceived without logic, imagination or even understanding the reason for it?

If we can’t think of a mind that could do that, we should start wondering what a mind like that would have to be like.

If you feel certain that this idea of some kind of mind is bubble-headed nonsense, you are saying:

“While I have zero idea how this happened, I’m 100% confident about how it didn’t happen.” The second half of that sentence seems a bit ambitious in light of the first half. I’d call that speculating beyond the data or a pre-existing bias concerning the outcome.

The automatic impulse to answer with instinct and instantly reject mind as a possible area to investigate is knee jerk scientific reductionism. This model of thinking was a barricade against a flood Christian pseudoscience and a brake on “fluffy” ungrounded thinking in general. It also went about slaying infant ideas in the cradle if they varied from its harsh, Spartan attitude. It needs an update that keeps everyone honest but accepts the astonishing, the subtle and complex where we find it. When faced with something that can’t honestly be reduced, we shouldn’t. Breaking complex systems down to inert bits doesn’t explain those systems. Negative bias is as inaacurate in science as positive bias.

We aren’t close enough for answers but we are close enough for questions. Questions should run free and procreate. And we should joyfully puzzle over them.

(Some) Steps of the Scientific Method
  1. Make an Observation. Scientists are naturally curious about the world…(weird spider behavior!)
  2. Form a Question. After making an interesting observation, a scientific mind itches to find out more about it…(How could that happen?)
  3. Form a Hypothesis…Every question can be considered this way, “What elements and functions are necessary to create this result?” We should generate as many answers as possible to that question. When Mendeleev was imagining and mapping the periodic law he hit many dead ends. To advance, he imagined what sort of thing would have to be there, evidence or not. By and by the missing elements appeared.

We are using the scientific method responsibly up to this point. We can’t make an experiment yet but we can and should hypothesize daringly and often. We should imagine the question as deeply and intimately as we can. This will reveal fruitful possibilities and when we are close enough to test, experiments will suggest themselves.