Time Flies For Flies

I am an intellectual. I believe we are all intellectuals. Even animals and plutocrats think. It’s Descartes, upside down: Animals Think, Therefore They Survive.

I developed my idea that “INSTINCT IS FAST LEARNING.”

Time perception can only reflect how rapidly an animal’s nervous system processes information. To test this, researchers show animals a flashing light. If the light flashes quickly enough, animals perceive it as a solid, unblinking light: this is the principle of the movies.

Beyond 60 frames per second humans see a continuous motion; yet, anyone who has tried to catch a fly or a lizard know they move, and decide to move, faster than humans.

Time Is Relative In More Ways Than One

Time Is Relative In More Ways Than One

This gives a window for a lot of learning to happen in a bee, that looks like instinct.

The animal’s behavior or its brain activity reveal the highest frequency at which each species perceives the light as flashing. Animals that detect blinking at higher frequencies perceive time in a more frequent manner. Movements, events, learning itself, unfold more slowly to them—think slow-motion bullet dodging as recent movies.

The smaller the animals, the easier it is to turn them into dinner. So the more reactive they have to be, to dodge the bullets. Thus one would expect that species perceiving time more slowly to be smaller and have faster metabolisms. This is (roughly) was is observed (although some of the results are dissonant, maybe an experimental artifact: rats may be slow visually, but fast olfactively, say).

“Ecology for an organism is all about finding a niche where you can succeed that no-one else can occupy,” Andrew Jackson, an author of the study in Animal Behavior said. “Our results suggest that time perception offers an as yet unstudied dimension along which animals can specialize and there is considerable scope to study this system in more detail. We are beginning to understand that there is a whole world of detail out there that only some animals can perceive and it’s fascinating to think of how they might perceive the world differently to us.”

Flies, or plutocrats, may not think deep, but they think fast. And they cannot think deep, because they think fast. The most exploitative philosophy is thus the fastest, and shallowest. That is no doubt why, in one of his variants, the Devil, Pluto, Belzebuth, was represented as Lord of the Flies.

Patrice Ayme’

(Connoisseurs of Nazi philosophy will appreciate the connection with Heidegger’s “Sein Und Zeit“. Time is, indeed, the Dasein. As with a computer clock: no clock, no computer.)

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2 Responses to “Time Flies For Flies”

  1. Dominique Deux Says:

    Amusing that as I open your link, I am sitting at my workstation, sharing it with a few flies (living in the countryside you know). I have a small saucer of yellow stuff which they love to gorge on, then die a most pleasant death. The more dead barflies in the saucer, the more atttractive it is.

    More to the point, I have observed this: when a fly lands on one of my hands and I swat it with the other one, my kill ratio is zero. Fast thinking, you’d say. However, if I slowly bring my upper hand in position (as if to swat) then, instead of slamming down, I slam UP with the hand the fly is using as a landing pad (or snack), then I have an encouraging 50 percent ratio.

    This is rather counterintuitive, as you’d think that the sudden motion of its support would send it flying ASAP. Not so.

    My own explanation has to do with the neuronal processing of the visual signals (visual signals are always processed in the brain – eyes are in fact brain extensions). Many animals – including some vertebrates, such as frogs – do NOT see motionless or slow moving objects, meaning their visual cells do not fire; motion, on the other hand, is detected very quickly and accurately, uncluttered by background, hence the fast reaction, useful to prey and predator alike. So far, so good.

    (Some of those animals get a reality check on their surroundings by moving briefly their heads – lizards – and some, when walking, keep their heads motionless relative to the ground so as to stay motion-alert – some long-necked birds which you see “nodding” as they walk). Flies use only the barebone system. If it moves, I see it and I react.

    However this system has a drawback – when the fly’s support is moving, everything is in motion for it, and it simply cannot afford to fly away every time the leave it is sitting on or the prey it is riding (in the case of carnivorous flies) is moving. Yet all its visual cells are firing, a photochemical process it has no control on. So in that case, the perceived motion-fast take off link has to be disabled at the neuronal level. This is why it does not get alarmed as its world flies down when I lift my hand. To it, the world is still perceived as motionless, including my waiting hand. Only non-visual stimuli, such as air pressure as my hands get close to each other, tell it to scramble – hopefully, too late. Scrunch.

    If this assumption is sound, it need not imply fast thinking, rather the reverse; what we have is an extremely efficient stimulus-action cycle (aka reflex) which works well in most situations, but does not allow for a primate’s devious thinking and countermeasure. Not a frequent enough occurrence to be taken into account by evolution, so I can go on up-swatting flies for the next million years.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Excellent and instructive, Dominique. I will add a mention of that in the essay. The original paper, which has cats and rats slower than humans, has the defect of checking only the VISUAL system. Right now, weirdly, as if to illustrate this debate, it’s WordPress that does not delete anymore (!!!!). Simpler is faster, yet defective to fully handle reality…


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