Casey Luskin interviewed Eric Cassell on the remarkable navigational powers of many animal life forms, as set out in his recent book, Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021). He argues that an algorithm model is best suited to understanding the insect mind — and that of many animals:
Casey Luskin: This is one of the most incredible things you talked about in your book, how these tiny brains of an ant, or the worm C. elegans, which has only, I think you said, 302 neurons. How can a mind that small be programmed, and not just programmed with behaviors, but you talk about how these small brains are programmed to learn new behaviors? And (the worm can) also then have a memory so it can remember what it learned. (18:22)
Eric Cassell: Well, that’s kind of the big question. And it doesn’t just apply to C. elegans but many other animals as well. In this case, they’ve been able to map the entire brain, because it’s such a small number of neurons and the neurons are relatively large. But we have no idea how the programming of the behavior actually goes on.
Just to expand that analogy, the, other kinds of insects that are discussed in the book — honeybees in particular and ants — they also have relatively small brains. Now, in their case, they’re approximately a million neurons, which is still a really, really small brain compared to mammals for example. But they also have really sophisticated behaviors. (18:54)News, “Neuroscience mystery: How do tiny brains enable complex behavior?” at Mind Matters News
Takehome: Eric Cassell notes that insects with brains of only a million neurons exhibit principles found only in the most advanced manmade navigation systems. How?
There must be something going on that genes, as such, don’t account for.
You may also wish to read: A navigator asks animals: How do you find your way? The results are amazing. Many life forms do math they know nothing about. The question Eric Cassell: asks is, how, exactly, is so much information packed into simple brain with so few neurons?