When You Wish Upon A Star

February 7, 2013

The dung beetle wears a helmet (below) designed by scientists to make sure his (her?) eyes can’t see upward. It is a test of the latest theory about how dung beetles know where they are and where they are going.

Turns out on moonlit nights – they orient by the light of the moon.

But when there is no moon – they orient by the light of the stars – our Milky Way to be exact.

Dung Beetle Follows The Stars

Holy Crap! I couldn’t find our Milky Way unless it was in a vending machine. These bugs stash their shit navigating by the light of stars millions of miles away. It is strangely reassuring to know even this lowly critter has stars in her eyes.

She is not alone in finding signposts in the natural world.

Wild Pacific Salmon are born in tiny streams high in the mountains, swim down into some of the wildest and most disorienting seas in the world, live their salmon lives, and somehow make their way, over thousands of miles and a couple of years, to the exact stream high in the mountains in which they were born – so they can spawn the next generation of salmon. Scientists think they smell their way home.

Birds do it. Their sign posts are not really visible to us either. Maybe its their noses, or an ability to sense the earth’s magnetic field, or read genetic or visual imprinting at the right time of year.

Caribou do it. Whales do it. Butterflies do it. Creatures big and small do to.

They find directional and timing cues in their environment. Stuff that tells them, in no uncertain terms. Go in this direction, NOW.

So how do we, us people, know where and when we should hit the road, jack, and where we should journey.  How free is my free will? Is there some species wide  biologic imperative at work? I mean, short of procreation… are there any urges so strong in any of us that we all  hear that same call of the wild?

Nature? Nurture? Or the Media?


Our self-determination is prompted more these days by societal programming rather than the cycles of nature or the cosmos. We and our children are barraged by images and messages in the ether. Airbrushed bodies of supermodels. Snack foods. Beer, new cars and shiny technology.

Enlightened self-interest? Fughedaboutit. How about more for the sake of more.

Retail therapy. Or instant gratification of instant instant gratification.

Then there is the fear side of the equation.  Our news media and politicians tell us we are not safe enough, and that we need to wage some kind of war or other – on terrorists, some nation, crime, drugs our fellow citizens or some other trumped up evil.

How much of this kind of media have you consumed today? And what does this media do to your brain. How does it affect what you see. Or hide the signs from nature that are all around us.

Would you know it one of nature’s cues if hit you on the head? Are they event relevant to us humans anymore? After all, we have our smartphones. I don’t really need to know how to get to the address I can’t remember anymore with that tool.

The grid of human life is layered on an subtly interconnected world. It shouldn’t take the the drowning of Wall Street (not in manipulation or deceit) but under waters from super storm Sandy to let the worlds capital markets know we have a climate change problem. And the quant geeks who have created the economic models on which the giant corporations have based their profit projections, probably ought to add a little more uncertainty to their exquisitely complicated equations – to help factor in the externalities – of nature.

And those of us who operate on a smaller scale – who go to work, and have a family, and come home, and do it again the next day – need to slow down, get out in nature, and do nothing there but un-tether ourselves from commerce, and technology and fear.

So we can dip into the the natural net, look at the stars around us and find ourselves and our true direction.





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