Anyone who travels much by air knows that pilots try to ride the wind. Flights may even deviate substantially from the shortest-distance route if the wind is strong enough elsewhere. But of course the wind is not likely moving exactly toward your destination. Add to this the fact that the wind also varies with altitude, and the problem of designing the optimal route of flight becomes highly complex. It is a problem in the calculus of variations (optimizing functionals rather than mere functions) and is analogous to the optics problem of predicting the path of light through a medium with variant refractive index. But this approach requires analytical wind fields, described with functions, rather than numerically derived winds described, for instance, on a grid. In practice the optimal routing problem is solved using various iterative methods. Amazingly, migratory insects also solve this type of problem. Read more
17 Replies to “Insects Compute Optimal Flight Plans”
Ok Dr. Hunter,
Insects Compute Optimal Flight Plans – but do they book ahead for hotel rooms and car rentals?
Perhaps one could say that insects follow what appear to us to be near optimal paths. I see no evidence that they actually plan, that they actually compute, nor that the paths are actually optimal (as distinct from near optimal).
Until we are able to read insect minds (if they can even be said to have minds), we will be unable to know whether they had an actual intended destination, or whether they just opportunistically rode the winds when they were heading in a reasonable direction and just settled wherever they happened to finish up after their flight.
Neil Rickert you state:
The main point to be learned from Dr. Hunter’s paper is the ‘foresight’ that is clearly displayed in the design Butterfly migration. For you the only options seem to be that the butterflies themselves ‘intended’, or that it was an accident of ‘opportunity’, that the ‘optimal’ flight plan of the butterfly ‘happened’ to coincide with the most favorable time of year, with the ‘optimal’ altitude to catch the most favorable wind speed etc.. etc..,, Yet clearly there is a foresight displayed that the butterfly is not capable of nor is blind chance privy to. i.e. only Intelligence is capable of such foresight! Exactly what butterfly is doing the global weather forecasting Neil? ,,, But to really drive the point home as to the ‘miraculous’ foresight displayed in Butterflies, during metamorphosis,,,
View a preview for Metamorphosis now from Illustra Media – video
Watch the Amazing Butterfly Life Cycle
,,, the caterpillar dissolves into a chemical soup and transforms into a completely different creature of the Butterfly. Please Neil tell me exactly how many trillions of tries did it take evolution to dissolve a caterpillar into a chemical soup before the chemical soup finally, completely by chance, came up with the correct instructions to turn that soup into a butterfly who knew how to correctly navigate thousands of miles,, OPTIMALLY? 🙂 01: ?????
My comment (#2) was mainly an expression of my skepticism of the “brain is a computer” idea that is being assumed in Dr. Hunter’s post.
ID proponents should also be skeptical of “the brain is a computer”, for that idea does far more to undermine their theology than the theory of evolution will ever do.
I dunno Neil, as far as insects are concerned, and my theology, as I hold insects are not ‘soulish’, i.e. my elementary theology as I was taught in Sunday school, I have no problem with the butterflies having extreme computational abilities designed into their pinhead brains.,, i.e. it does nothing to undermine my ‘theology’ in the least. but Neil, as for your own personal Theology, please tell me Neil, exactly how many trillions of tries did it take evolution to turn a chemical soup of a caterpillar into a butterfly? Or do you hold to a quasi Theistic explanation since materialism is clearly shot down in this instance?
WOW Neil, check this out butterflies appeared right at about the same time that flowering plants appeared:
Fossils of butterflies are rare with the earliest butterfly fossils from the early Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago.
And look exactly like they do today!
Picture of butterfly fossil
Flowering plants or angiosperms (Magnoliophyta) make their first unmistakable appearance during the Early Cretaceous (140 MYA)
,,,, Boy Neil ain’t evolution grand as to how it just happened to evolve pollinating butterflies at the same time as flowering plants??? Myself I ain’t got enough faith to believe that was an accident!!!
corrected link for butterfly fossil:
If a pinhead-brain is sufficient for that complex kind of navigation, why did we have to wait so long before anyone figured out that e=mcc
It is strange that animals (and humans) can do very complex computations but then can’t do simple math.
For example, when a baseball player runs to the spot where a baseball is going to fall, how does he estimate the speed, height, angels etc. that are necessary for him to get to the place where the ball will land? Yet, give him a paper and pencil and tell him to figure it out and the ball will hit his head 10 minutes before he is done.
Neil, the brain is a material organ. We all take note that Neil wants us to know that “the brain as a computer” is bad for ID and bad for theology. Whomever thinks that the stated description is all there is will be glad you pointed it out.
Message received. Thanks.
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Neil have you ever thought about how semiotic content came into being? When, Where, How?
The mind can do many things that the waking mind, the so called “conscious” mind, cannot do.
The waking mind is only a small part of our consciousness and of our mind.
You may already know my idea, but just for clarity:
The brain is certainly also a computer (among other things), because it certainly computes. And it does it well.
Collin@9 and gpuccio@11
I think it is more about the way these types of things are done. A computer will typically use an algorithm to solve the problem. It needs the formula in order to make the calculation. The brain does not work like that. Using the baseball example, right from when we are a baby we are observing physics in action. We start making predictions based on these observations. Each prediction and result is user to further optimise that particular prediction engine within our brain.
In fact I read some where that some psychologist believes that brains are really just prediction engines.
For example We make predictions about the way people will respond to what we say.
So I don’t know how the brain actually does it, but I am pretty sure its not via a formula.
I think it is similiar to how we can ‘know’ things. My philosophy 101 professor said that if God is all knowing there is no free will. The idea being that if he knows how we will act there is really no free will. I think that implies a kind of materialistic view of ‘knowing’ i.e. everything is deterministic when really it is more a sense of knowing the way you ‘know’ how a friend will react in a given situation. God ‘knows’ us perfectly and therefore he may ‘know’ what we are going to do, but that does not mean we don’t have free will.
Sorry, a bit off topic.
notes on the ‘mind’:
The Amazing Human Body – Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – video
There are about….
One-quadrillion “connections” (synapses) between the one-hundred-billion cells (neurons) of an adult brain. The brain’s one hundred billion neurons match the number of stars in the Milky Way, and the number of connections active in the brain’s functioning verge on the number of stars in the entire known universe. To fill the capacity of all those synapses, a person would have to learn a one-billion volume encyclopedia (a million “letters” per encyclopedia). That’s enough to fill a bookshelf 10,000 miles long. In contrast, the Library of Congress (The largest library in the world) only has 17 million volumes. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe, far surpassing, by many orders of magnitude, the most advanced supercomputers. One human brain generates more electrical impulses in a single day than all of the world’s telephones put together. This is all done with the power equivalent of a single flashlight, 12 Watts. All of our senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, feeling) are transformed to electrical impulses which are sent to general regions of synapses in the brain where we, after complex transformations, finally become conscious of it. To accomplish all this thinking, the brain uses 20 to 25% of the body’s oxygen and 20% of its blood sugar, even though it is only 2% (3 pounds) of the body’s weight. You don’t consume any more calories studying for a test than you do gazing at a cloud.
Autistic Savant Stephen Wiltshire Draws the City Of Rome From Memory
Derek Paravicini on 60 MINUTES – Autistic Savant – video
Kim Peek – Mega Savant
Kim Peek – The Real Rain Man [2/5]
The Human Calculator – Ruediger Gamm – video
Is Integer Arithmetic Fundamental to Mental Processing?: The mind’s secret arithmetic
Because normal children struggle to learn multiplication and division, it is surprising that some savants perform integer arithmetic calculations mentally at “lightning” speeds (Treffert 1989, Myers 1903, Hill 1978, Smith 1983, Sacks 1985, Hermelin and O’Connor 1990, Welling 1994, Sullivan 1992). They do so unconsciously, without any apparent training, typically without being able to report on their methods, and often at an age when the normal child is struggling with elementary arithmetic concepts (O’Connor 1989). Examples include multiplying, factoring, dividing and identifying primes of six (and more) digits in a matter of seconds as well as specifying the number of objects (more than one hundred) at a glance. For example, one savant (Hill 1978) could give the cube root of a six figure number in 5 seconds and he could double 8,388,628 twenty four times to obtain 140,737,488,355,328 in several seconds. Joseph (Sullivan 1992), the inspiration for the film “Rain Man” about an autistic savant, could spontaneously answer “what number times what number gives 1234567890” by stating “9 times 137,174,210”. Sacks (1985) observed autistic twins who could exchange prime numbers in excess of eight figures, possibly even 20 figures, and who could “see” the number of many objects at a glance. When a box of 111 matches fell to the floor the twins cried out 111 and 37, 37, 37.
To Sleep, To Dream: To Dream, Perchance, to Learn
Excerpt: They tested 99 subjects by having them learn a 3D maze. Some subjects reviewed the task while awake; others were given a 90 minute nap. A few hours later, the subjects were retested on their ability to work the maze. Only the subjects who napped and dreamed about the maze performed better – up to 10 times better.
further notes on ‘the transcendent mind’:
Miracle Of Mind-Brain Recovery Following Hemispherectomies – Dr. Ben Carson – video
Removing Half of Brain Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives:
Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of memory and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor,” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining; In further comment from the neuro-surgeons in the John Hopkins study: “Despite removal of one hemisphere, the intellect of all but one of the children seems either unchanged or improved. Intellect was only affected in the one child who had remained in a coma, vigil-like state, attributable to peri-operative complications.”
The Day I Died – Part 4 of 6 – The Extremely ‘Monitored’ Near Death Experience of Pam Reynolds – video
The Scientific Evidence for Near Death Experiences – Dr Jeffery Long – Melvin Morse M.D. – video
Blind Woman Can See During Near Death Experience (NDE) – Pim von Lommel – video
Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1997) conducted a study of 31 blind people, many of who reported vision during their Near Death Experiences (NDEs). 21 of these people had had an NDE while the remaining 10 had had an out-of-body experience (OBE), but no NDE. It was found that in the NDE sample, about half had been blind from birth. (of note: This ‘anomaly’ is also found for deaf people who can hear sound during their Near Death Experiences(NDEs).)
Quantum Consciousness – Time Flies Backwards? – Stuart Hameroff MD
Excerpt: Dean Radin and Dick Bierman have performed a number of experiments of emotional response in human subjects. The subjects view a computer screen on which appear (at randomly varying intervals) a series of images, some of which are emotionally neutral, and some of which are highly emotional (violent, sexual….). In Radin and Bierman’s early studies, skin conductance of a finger was used to measure physiological response They found that subjects responded strongly to emotional images compared to neutral images, and that the emotional response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds BEFORE the image appeared! Recently Professor Bierman (University of Amsterdam) repeated these experiments with subjects in an fMRI brain imager and found emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Moreover he looked at raw data from other laboratories and found similar emotional responses before stimuli appeared.
Mind-Brain Interaction and Science Fiction (Quantum connection) – Jeffrey Schwartz & Michael Egnor – audio
In The Wonder Of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind, Eccles and Robinson discussed the research of three groups of scientists (Robert Porter and Cobie Brinkman, Nils Lassen and Per Roland, and Hans Kornhuber and Luder Deeke), all of whom produced startling and undeniable evidence that a “mental intention” preceded an actual neuronal firing – thereby establishing that the mind is not the same thing as the brain, but is a separate entity altogether.
“As I remarked earlier, this may present an “insuperable” difficulty for some scientists of materialists bent, but the fact remains, and is demonstrated by research, that non-material mind acts on material brain.” Eccles
“Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.”
Heinrich Heine – in the year 1834
A Reply to Shermer Medical Evidence for NDEs (Near Death Experiences) – Pim van Lommel
Excerpt: For decades, extensive research has been done to localize memories (information) inside the brain, so far without success.,,,,Nobel prize winner W. Penfield could sometimes induce flashes of recollection of the past (never a complete life review), experiences of light, sound or music, and rarely a kind of out-of-body experience. These experiences did not produce any transformation. After many years of research he finally reached the conclusion that it is not possible to localize memories (information) inside the brain.
Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiment, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?”
I do believe that the brain computes, even if it is true, as you say, that it does many other things which exploit the conscious self to obtain even greater results.
But many basic activities, including motor control or organized perception, could not happen without complex computations.
The amazing computational abilities of some autistic persons are IMO a demonstration that the brain does compute. Whatever the algorithm or procedure it uses, the result is a computation.
Yes, that’s pretty much what I am saying. And your other comments are in the right direction too. The Artificial Intelligence people are saying that free will is only an illusion, consciousness is only an illusion, and meaning is only a matter of attribution. If that is what is implied by the “brain is a computer” idea, then we should be skeptical.
And a general note. I am not denying that butterflies are pretty amazing creatures. But I think we should be cautious about possibly overestimating their abilities.