I, cockroach

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I, cockroach

The RoboRoach. Photo courtesy of Backyard Brains

Do insects feel pain? Are they conscious? A science kit for at-home cyborg cockroaches provokes the hard questions

Brandon Keim is a freelance journalist specialising in science, nature and technology. His work has appeared in Wired, Nautilus and Scientific American Mind. He lives in Brooklyn.

2400 2,400 words
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Between the ages of six and eight or so, when I was old enough to run around outside but too young to have cooler things to do, I spent quite a bit of time with insects. Not that I was especially into entomology or even science. Bugs were just something fun and animate to play with: I kept caterpillars, feeding them fresh leaves and cleaning their jars every few days, nourishing them to moth-hood. At the same time, with no sense of contradiction, I spent entire summer vacation mornings killing ants, spraying them with window cleaner, setting them on fire, or coaxing them to fight in bottles.

If that sounds sadistic, let me say that it wasn’t done with a cruel spirit, or any memorable pleasure at the ants’ discomfort. It was just something to do, and I don’t think my experience was especially unusual, at least not among boys of my generation. Quite a few guys I’ve known can relate similar stories. Magnifying glasses are a fairly universal feature.

These days I don’t much like to think of those ant-massacring mornings, but I did after reading about Backyard Brains, a Kickstarter-funded neuroscience education company. The company’s flagship product is RoboRoach, a $99.99 bundle of Bluetooth signal-processing microelectronics that’s glued to the back of a living cockroach and wired into the stumps of its cut-off antennae. Cockroaches use their antennae to detect objects; they react to electrical pulses sent through these nerves as though they have bumped into something, allowing children to remote‑control them with smartphones. Other experiments involve measuring nerve activity in severed roach legs.

Given that few people spare a second thought to kitchen cockroach-stomping or classroom ant farms, the experiments might not seem too troubling. But using the insects like this, rather than killing them or watching them, is a different proposition. Some bioethicists have criticised Backyard Brains for encouraging children to think of living beings as tools, existing not for themselves but for our entertainment and edification. Those misgivings resonated with me. High-school students might do this in biology classes — but children, on the low end of the company’s suggested age‑appropriateness?

One of childhood’s elemental lessons, learnt in no small part through our immediate relationships with creatures less powerful than us, is how to think about and treat other living beings. There’s no bright line, at least not then, between empathising with animals and with people. I’m thankful that, in the end, my caterpillar-caring side prevailed over my ant-frying tendencies, and wonder if the instructive virtue of empathising with insects might outweigh whatever educational gains can be had from steering them with an iPhone.

A note on the company’s website does reassure customers that, though it’s unknown if insects feel pain, anaesthesia is used during procedures on cockroaches, and also on earthworms and grasshoppers involved in other experiments. This question of pain is an interesting one, and it opens up its own can of worms: as philosophers and scientists usually define the term, pain is intertwined with emotion, which in turn is intertwined with consciousness. You can’t experience pain unless there’s a you — a sense of self, an interior dialogue beyond the interplay of stimulus and involuntary response, elevating mechanics to consciousness.

Such sentience is quite unlikely in a bug, says Backyard Brains, and most people would likely agree. ‘It’s very important to avoid anthropomorphising the cockroach with thoughts such as: “If I do not want my own leg cut off, then the cockroach does not want its leg cut off”,’ reads the site. And yet — do we really know this? A good scientist assumes nothing, and the possibility of insect sentience is rather more scientifically complicated than one might expect. In fact, there’s good reason to think that cockroaches just might possess it.

Before dismissing bug consciousness out of hand — their brains are so tiny! And, they’re bugs! — it’s worth recalling that one of the first scientists to seriously consider the notion was Charles Darwin, who spent most of his adult life, even as he completed The Descent of Man (1871) and On the Origin of Species (1859), thinking about earthworms.

Earthworms aren’t insects, of course, but for all practical purposes people usually lump them together in the realm of invertebrate-creepy-crawlies-with-no-meaningful-inner-life-to-speak-of. Not so Darwin. His investigations of ‘how far [the worms] acted consciously’, as described in his final book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits (1881), run for more than 30 pages. In painstaking detail, he describes how earthworms plug the entrance to their burrows with precisely chosen and arranged leaf fragments, and how instinct alone doesn’t plausibly explain that.

‘One alternative alone is left, namely, that worms, although standing low in the scale of organisation, possess some degree of intelligence,’ wrote Darwin. ‘This will strike everyone as very improbable; but it may be doubted whether we know enough about the nervous system of the lower animals to justify our natural distrust of such a conclusion.’ Moreover, as the environmental philosopher Eileen Crist writes in her essay ‘The Inner Life of Earthworms’ in the edited collection The Cognitive Animal (2002), Darwin doesn’t simply describe the worms as unexpectedly sophisticated problem-solving machines. His descriptions implicitly acknowledge the realm of experience, of lives not lived by instinct alone, but with awareness and some ability to make decisions.

The worms couldn’t speak, but the weight of evidence did

Some might accuse Darwin of anthropomorphising, or carelessly attributing human qualities to other animals. But assuming human uniqueness can be its own fallacy, too. Darwin was, simply, scientifically open-minded. He granted that earthworms might be conscious of what mattered to them — objects in their immediate environment, the shape and temperature of their burrows — and made inferences on the basis of their behaviour and what’s known of intelligence in other animals, including humans. The worms couldn’t speak, but the weight of evidence did.

That principle is fundamental to the consciousness many scientists now acknowledge in mammals and birds (and, depending on whom you talk to, in reptiles, amphibians and fish). As for cockroaches, intimations of their experience could come from research on honeybee cognition, which has fascinated researchers ever since the zoologist Karl von Frisch’s 1973 Nobel Prize-winning discovery of waggle dances, the complicated sequence of gestures by which honeybees convey the location and quality of food to hive-mates.

Using methods designed to probe building-block fundaments of thought — can a bee learn to follow green rather than red marks through a maze? How quickly does it apply that concept to geometrical marks, rather than colour? Do waggle dances convey only spatial information, or olfactory qualities, too? How does a bee adapt when moved to an unfamiliar location or exposed to a new stimulus? Does that correlate with past experience? — scientists have assembled a portrait of extraordinary cognitive richness, so rich that honeybees now serve as model organisms for understanding the neurobiology of basic cognition.

Honeybees have a sense of time and of space; they have both short- and long-term memories. These memories combine sight and smell, and are available to bees independent of their immediate environments. In other words, they have internal representations of their worlds. They can learn to recognise patterns, and also concepts: above and below, same or different. They have simple emotions and beliefs, and apply those memories and concepts to their decisions. They likely recognise individuals. Those are qualities typically ascribed only to larger animals, with far larger brains, but life’s challenges are universal: find food, don’t become food, reproduce.

In a chapter of Evolution of Nervous Systems in Invertebrates (2007), the neuroscientists Randolf Menzel, Björn Brembs and Martin Giurfa argue that, even if we’ve tended to assume that insects solve life’s challenges mechanistically and without thought, there’s now ‘considerable evidence against such an understanding’. Cognition is only one facet of mental activity, and not a stand-in for rich inner experience, but underlying honeybee cognition is small but sophisticated brain, with structures that effectively perform similar functions as the mammalian cortex and thalamus — systems considered fundamental to human consciousness.

The upshot of all this, thinks Menzel, is that bees themselves possess some form of consciousness. It’s not a human consciousness, obviously, but certain features are likely to be common: a sense of awareness and intent, an ‘inner doing’. And if it sounds like maybe someone’s spent too much time with bees, it’s also the belief of Christof Koch, the chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle and one of the world’s foremost investigators into the neural basis of consciousness. To Koch, consciousness is a function of neurological complexity, which bees and many other insects clearly have in abundance.

The nature of their consciousness is difficult to ascertain, but we can at least imagine that it feels like something to be a bee or a cockroach or a cricket. That something is intertwined with their life histories, modes of perception, and neurological organisation. For insects, says Koch, this precludes the reflective aspects of self-awareness: they don’t ponder. Rather, like a human climber scaling a cliff face, they’re immersed in the moment, their inner voice silent yet not absent. Should that seem a rather impoverished sort of being, Koch says it’s worth considering how many of our own experiences, from tying shoelaces to making love, are not self-conscious. He considers that faculty overrated. (For the record, Koch doesn’t lose sleep over swatting a mosquito in the middle of the night, but neither will he kill insects when he can avoid it.)

It’s impossible to know how cockroaches would perform in honeybee-style cognition tests as few have even been attempted in other insects. Perhaps honeybees are exceptional. But perhaps not, says the ethologist Mathieu Lihoreau. His 2012 article for the journal Insectes Sociaux, ‘The Social Biology of Domiciliary Cockroaches: Colony Structure, Kin Recognition and Collective Decisions’, co-authored with James Costa and Colette Rivault, is a must-read for anyone interested in these creatures.

When kept in isolation, individual roaches develop behavioural disorders; they possess rich spatial memories, which they use to navigate; and they might even recognise group members on an individual basis

Among the surprising — to me, anyway — facts detailed by Lihoreau, Costa and Rivault about Blattella germanica (the German, or small cockroach) and Periplaneta Americana (the American, or large cockroach), found in kitchens and sewers worldwide, is their rich social lives: one can think of them as living in herds. Groups decide collectively on where to feed and shelter, and there’s evidence of sophisticated communication, via chemical signals rather than dances. When kept in isolation, individual roaches develop behavioural disorders; they possess rich spatial memories, which they use to navigate; and they might even recognise group members on an individual basis. Few researchers have studied their cognition, says Lihoreau, but cockroaches likely possess ‘comparable faculties of associative learning, memory and communication’ to honeybees.

As to whether cockroaches possess a self, in the pages of Cockroaches: Ecology, Behavior, and Natural History (2007), co-written by William J Bell, Louis M Roth and Christine A Nalepa, I happened upon a reference to Archy, a popular early-20th-century cartoon cockroach who said: ‘Expression is the need of my soul.’ Archy’s inclusion was intended in fun, but there was a grain of truth. Cockroaches could very well possess a sense of self, and one that’s perhaps not entirely alien to our own.

As for how they fare in Backyard Brains, I do feel fewer misgivings now than when I started learning about insect inner experience. After talking with one of the company’s co-founders, a neuroscientist named Greg Gage, I came away impressed by his respect for the insects: if he doesn’t grant them sentience, he at least recognises the possibility that they feel pain, and encourages customers to care for their animals when experimentation has concluded. I also suspect that a cockroach, by the standards of its own experience, can live as fulfilling a life in research as under a sink. And though I still don’t like the thought of middle-schoolers doing the company’s experiments, at least its sensibilities are rather more compassionate than that of most people, who regard cockroaches as fair game for squashing.

Gage also justifies the costs to their insects by the benefits of teaching children about neuroscience in actual experiments — and they have conducted research to show those benefits are very tangible and real. It’s a legitimate argument. At the very least, though, the costs should be calculated as accurately as possible, in light of the sentience that cockroaches — and earthworms, and crickets — very likely possess. Maybe that means using fewer of them, or housing them with an eye to the dark, warm and moisture-rich conditions they naturally prefer. Perhaps it also means being thankful for them, and respectful, and actively trying to empathise with them.

I do wonder, however, whether both cockroaches and burgeoning scientific curiosities might be better served by studying cockroach behaviours and cognition in a less intrusive way. The Backyard Brains website admonishes against assuming a cockroach wants to keep its legs, but I don’t think Darwin would agree. He’d see this as a question to be tested, and one can envision the experiment: if, after making a choice, such as going through one of two doors, a cockroach has a leg removed, will he or she be as likely make that choice again?

That’s a bit gruesome, but other experiments in cockroach cognition would be fascinating. In the manner of honeybee learning experiments, squares and circles might be printed on the doors, with food placed behind one, in order to test whether cockroaches can learn shapes. To test spatial memory, the insects might be placed in mazes; and then, in light of research on how groups coordinate to find food, students might test whether large groups solve mazes faster. How do two roaches interact when they’re familiar with one another? What about when haven’t met before? If they’re closely related, or less so? Are these the results the same for males and females? And so on.

Let students do this sort of research, and leave the RoboRoach-ing and leg-cutting to those with an active interest in neuroscience, if only because cockroaches just might, however improbably, be happier that way. And to those who still consider that view soft-hearted and perhaps soft‑headed, I offer this: according to Gage, remote-controlled roaches respond to commands only for a while. After that, they ignore the signals. As best as we can tell, they go where they want to go.

Read more essays on automation & robotics, biology and consciousness & altered states


  • Lester

    Whenever we talk of consciousness and intelligence we usually think of a specific type of consciousness and a limited spectrum of intelligence. Verbal/numerical intelligence in conjunction with spotlight consciousness is usually what we mean. But of course this isn't even the full spectrum of human intelligence/consciousness let alone the various constellations of animal intelligences/consciousnesses.

    I am very happy to say cockroaches are conscious and intelligent. I'm not able to define the parameters of these concepts in a cockroachy way but that they have them is certain.

    But then I am very partial to panpsychism which suggests that mind/awareness/consciousness is a fundamental feature of the universe and thus everything is a manifestation of that - even cockroaches.

    On a sociopolitical note, it's interesting that Darwin attributed "personality" to earth worms, and mentions love 95 times, mentions survival of the fittest only twice and yet we now live in a paradigm of competition and separation.

    Shame our form of intelligence is so limited really

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      Our intelligence is guided by our discoveries; our knowledge base. Alas, over the last few millennia, a whole lot of very advanced knowledge was suppressed and human evolution slowed down.

      Love, Mind, and Will are three thought units I think are appropriate here. Without mind, there is no idea; no primary image of what is to be. Without will there is no action. And without love, there is no attention to detail.

      When I look at some of the incredible designs of the various living creatures and plants on this planet, and being as how I am a literary and visual artist, I constantly marvel at the achievements. In my wildest imaginings I could not have come up with some of the colour schemes of tropical fish, for example, or designed a giraffe; thinking it too improbable and nobody would believe it.

      Every day for me is a miracle and full of new things to discover. One place where I really like discovering is places like here; where I discover there are others 'out there' who can think and express themselves eloquently.

      I am reading from bottom to top, btw as I reply. I had already read you all on the way down. You are all worthy of thoughtful replies and hence, I am taking my time and hope my words are encouraging and helpful.

  • http://shastrix.blogspot.com/ Srinivas Shastri

    Interesting one; thank you. From the Bhagavad Gita: (verse 9:11)

    Deluded men despise me
    in the human form I have assumed,
    ignorant of my higher existence
    as the great lord of creatures.


    • Iarwain Benadar


      • Emmanuel Truthseeker

        Karma get back. People make their karma and killing makes for bad karma. 'Thou shalt not kill,' is a very good admonishment because killing truly makes a bad vibe. The love of killing living things is highly over rated. I recommend not to go there. However, I do not believe in spineless behavior. If something is intent on killing you and you are not ready to go, I suggest extreme prejudice be your response. That turning the other cheek idea is a sophistry and totally contrary to what is what. The Archangel Michael is depicted with a sword raised high above his head. That is not to suggest he is about to test lightning. No, that sword is to prune the unrighteous from the fold.

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      We are to be the stewards and friends of creatures; not their slave masters and destroyers. All life has a purpose unto Heaven. Let it be.

      However, as far as cockroaches in the kitchen, or in my couch; OUT! I say. Get thee hence to DC where others of your kind are waiting to receive you.

  • moviewise

    You're a wonderful writer. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I also admire and agree with your ethical position regarding "bugs": "Perhaps it also means being thankful for them, and respectful, and actively trying to empathise with them."

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      I was invited to have lunch with a cockroach. I never took up his offer. Lunch with the mayor is not my thing.

  • Ken Weiss

    Darwin also marveled at the sophistication of tiny ants with their tiny brains. To say that cockroaches don't 'want' to have their legs pulled off is perhaps a wrong way to put it. They behave as if they feel fear, don't like uncomfortable situations (like being upside down), flee from pursuers, etc. Insects have the same basic set of sensory systems as we do, often involving very similar genes and cellular mechanisms. So they are complex sentient beings (as the article clearly notes), and is it right to say that if it's not just like 'us' it doesn't count?

    Is there a self-serving element here? If we have to admit that cockroaches....or fruit flies or....mice have fear, might our research have to be curtailed? Where do the appropriate ethics and constraints lie?

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      I believe that we, as stewards of the life on this planet, are responsible for ethical living; which includes the reverence for living things. Albeit killing is offensive, it the death is due to scientific research and that death has benefited the positive development of our circumstances here, it is justified; however, that life lost must never be taken for granted. Prayers of thanks resonate on high and must be sung to absolve us from the 'stain.'

    • Muhammad Abbass

      Ants are one of the strangest entities I've encountered. Not individually. They come into their own as a colony, so do other colony type species but ants have become a favourite of mine from the point of view of dealing with the intelligence they are. The colony itself forms a kind of network intelligence which must be what the Borg in Star Trek are meant to be about. The result is a very serious creature and I deal with ant infestations on my property carefully. I've found they can be "trained" and made to recognise "treaties" The intelligence is simple in it's out look but extremely powerful in it's will and it has a pretty remarkable body if you think about it. Able to disassemble itself and work at millions of tasks individually or in any size network and each little component itself is an incredibly powerful and generally robust little unit in its own right. I've learned to identify each colony and there's rarely more than a couple on a city block and rather than just poison them wherever they turn up I use a combination of poisons and sometimes bribery type baits to make my limits clear. This takes u a year or two on average but I end up with ants who know to keep away from the house and certain areas of the yard, like my BBQ area and yet they are still in the environment, quite easily able to be found and it helps to toss them a bit of a feed from time to time when I see their scouts running further afield than usual, meaning their food source is low and like any group starvation can lead to desperation and what meaning a treaty if my people are starving?

  • http://thewayitis.info/ Derek Roche

    I wonder how different RoboRoach is to all the humans I see walking around with their eyes and ears glued to their smartphones. Does he surrender to the mental prosthetic? No, we are told, he learns to ignore the distraction and get on with his life. Unlike humans, he seems to have a mind of his own.

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      Derek, your observation is a very profound one because you have hit a nail on the head. The dangerous cell phone technologies have not only intensified the dumbing down process of human beings, it now controls their movements. People will blindly follow directions coming from the GPS tracking device in their 'smart' phone; all the while staring at their little screens, as they fall down open man holes.

      • Muhammad Abbass

        Controls their movements indeed. That is not far fetched in the literal sense anymore either. I predict the control technologies to be or possibly being employed will depend largely upon the self awareness level of the subject to determine their effectiveness.

    • Muhammad Abbass

      Little different in fact in the sense of their awareness. Human consciousness is not so special as most think and whether or not it is a new phenomenon I can't say but human consciousness all around me is diminishing in a frightening way. Just as consciousness can draw self awareness from the archetype, or model upon which each life being is sent out, they can also recede back into it for lack of "exercise" It requires a conscious effort of curiosity and a desire to progress to be able to keep doing so and the entropic forces of creation which place an equal and opposite force in opposition to each new creation will draw the weak and flagging awareness back into nothingness. The last point of contact will be the gate of entry, the archetype. The cockroaches will mostly just be archetypes. No more self awareness than the brainless drones we are thinking of. The difference is in what one has to gain and what the other has lost.

  • http://wildernessvagabonds.com/ Mike Lewinski

    I had very similar childhood experiences of rearing caterpillars from cocoons and sometimes watching their entire life cycle proceed to new caterpillars in my bedroom. And I killed my share of ants with the magni-frying glass.

    Today I'm fascinated by insects and other arthropods and spend hours photographing them. I also read insect poetry. Fellow insect enthusiasts might want to check out The Cockroach Monologues by Shelly Geiser:


    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      I did not know insects wrote poetry. Who is publishing them? Grasshopper Corp? Lol

      Just kidding, Mike.

      Like you, all creatures fascinate me. I love watching insects and do so when possible, when the land I live in is not covered with ice and snow; like now. I get a great kick out of watching even the tiniest little 'comma' move across my page and reflect on the fact that little speck has: eyes, a little brain, a nervous system, it has lungs, a 'heart', bowels... Oh, it just pooped a little period in the middle of a sentence as it wiggles its little antennae and. That is the thing, what comes after the, 'and'? Is it laughing inside?

      Yeah, living creatures are amazing phenomena. I am happy I share a planet with other creatures and plants; don't forget them; for they also exhibit rudimentary intelligence; albeit it manifests in a different time frame; and is of a very different; and yet not so different, manifestation. Plants want to live just like the rest of us and enjoy days in the sun.

  • blkdoggy421

    'When kept in isolation, individual roaches develop behavioral disorders'. Really ? how can they tell ? Does it sit there in the corner and talk to itself ? So, if they are intelligent and conscious how can I communicate with them to tell them - Peace brother you keep in your space I'll keep in mine, you don't come in my house I will not kill you, capice ?

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      You tell them with RAID. They tend to understand roach poison; for a few moments when they reflect on; 'I shouldn't have eaten that.' It is unfortunate you have to teach them over and over again because those following don't get the message and assume their friends are merely sleeping.

  • wylekat

    Why should anyone care that a disease bringing health hazard would feel pain after it has BROUGHT pain to billions by being a filth and disease magnet.

    • http://zenshaman.com/ Zen Shaman

      You apparently do not understand the environment in which you live. These little shit rollers are integral to the development of life, upon this living planet. Every living thing has a purpose, and this, one of the oldest creatures on this planet, plays an integral role in life. Dare I say life as we know it would not have evolved without the cockroach. They were here, converting waste into viable food for others, before the emergence of mankind, and will continue long after the uncaring and unfeeling attitude of those who wish to separate themselves from all life has passed into the aether beyond. I highly recommend you develop your sense of empathy, instead of killing it.

      • Emmanuel Truthseeker

        Human beings need to keep their living environments very clean and develop other 'magnets' to attract cock roaches and other unwanted pests. I am all for empathy for insects, but to a degree. Even though I admire all of God's creation, and enjoy watching bugs; I just don't like watching them scurrying about amongst the pots and pans in my cupboards. Fortunately I do not live in such circumstances up here on top of the world. I sympathize with the people of Washington D.C because they are over run by cockroaches.

        • http://zenshaman.com/ Zen Shaman

          Lmao. Well said, sir.indeed.

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      Because of the cockroach's ability to do what you say, Wylekat, is why we refer to a certain group of 'people' as cockroaches, because they too are very adept at bringing disease and death to millions of people. Actually, those 'people' are worse than cockroaches because those sociopaths know what they are doing. The cockroach just does what it does and is not wired to think about where to deposit its poo.

      • Shannon Hubbell

        What is this certain group of people?

        • Emmanuel Truthseeker

          Zionists and their minions.

      • Shannon Hubbell

        Oh, wow. I just saw the comment notification in my email. I'm glad your response was deleted. I wish the same could be said for the first one.

    • Conuly

      Actually, cockroaches are very clean. The word entomologists use is "fastidious". They only are dirty when they live with dirty humans.

  • Brent Eades

    I'm an amateur naturalist. I study everything from microbes in my microscope, to bugs with my macro lenses and birds and mammals and herps with my other lenses.

    Are all these creatures 'sentient'? I don't know. Depends on your definition of that word, I suppose. But if 'sentient' means "I know I'm alive, and I know I'd like to stay that way"; well then yes, most living things I've observed are sentient.

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      I think you meant to say you study microbes under your microscope. The ones in your microscope should be cleaned out with isopropyl alcohol, or a good slide cleaner should do it.

      • Martin Spacek

        Not if they're sentient they shouldn't. You obviously don't extend your empathy of wasps to microbes. Why not? Answering that to yourself truthfully will provide you with a lot more enlightenment than any of the new-age BS you seem to be so fond of.

  • kk

    Wonder whether the following point may have any repercussion with respect to the practical aspect of this issue, that we know of other human's consciousness not based on science but interaction, and that of a bug almost by science alone.

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      I do not entirely agree, KK, because I have, like you, no doubt, interacted with lots of insects over the years and I have come to recognize behavior patterns. Wasps do not sting me because we 'understand' each other. Surely you have played with insects and discovered how they might play back; hide and seek for example with a finger or a little stick or whatever. In one marvelous book I read some years ago, I recall the author suggesting that the praying mantis exhibits high order behavior which indicates a significant level of intelligence. I think the way the author put it is; the mantis actually looks at you. You get my drift? As you move, it moves its head and watches what you are doing.

      • Martin Spacek

        "Wasps do not sting me because we 'understand' each other"

        Of course! You both understand each other to the same degree: not at all.

  • Roy Niles

    All living things must make survival choices and learn from the making of their mistakes. And in addition have that learning inherited by their offspring. They have, in other words, their own particular versions of trial and error intelligence. That intelligent ability is essentially what differentiates the living from the non living. Period.

  • Mike Anna Griffin

    I will just say this about all living things. If you believe that some part of you goes to another place after death, you must also believe (after deep reflection) that every living thing also goes to that place. Work with it and see what you come up with.

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      Alright, Mike Anna Griffin, here goes:

      There are seven mind spirits which manifest on planet Earth, AKA, Gaia. Known also as, Urantia. These mind spirits are like circuits, if you will. The mind circuits are received by the various levels of mind, which I will place on a continuum from say 1 to 100; an amoeba being 1 and me being 100.

      Alright, let's take a look at these seven mind spirits:

      The first is Intuition. The second is Understanding. The third is Knowledge. The fourth is Courage. And the fifth is Council. These five mind spirits/circuits are all functioning in the higher animals; dogs, cats, elephants, whales... The insects exhibit the first four; and possibly, given the social behavior of cockroaches, they actually may also have the spirit of council, the source of the gregarious instinct.

      What sets human minds apart from the other manifestations of 'intelligence' are the further functioning of two more mind spirits. The sixth is the spirit of worship and the seventh, the spirit of wisdom; whereby we place our selves on progressive paths of self development by fine tuning the functioning of the other mind circuits and their connection with the Cosmic Mind as we grow our selves into God Consciousness and Oneness With The Father in Paradise. That is about as succinct a manner I can put it. If you read the chapter on Mind Spirits in the Urantia Book, you will get the full story. The Urantia Book is completely available on line.

      Of all the books I have read, and believe me I have read more than two; The Urantia Book is the proverbial book I would take with me to the desert island; or the FEMA camp, if they will let me bring a book. NOT. Not the book, the FEMA camp. Not over my dead body. Amen.

      • Mike Anna Griffin

        I was thinking on a more scientific level. We are all comprised of atoms and when we die they are rearranged., ergo every living g thing is comprised of atoms and therefore do not die, just get rearranged.

        • Muhammad Abbass

          There's only a limited set of blocks in this playroom. It is OK because each new arrival can take from what's here and use it for the time they are in this room.

  • Emmanuel Truthseeker

    Before I go further into this thread, I want to compliment you, Brandon, for a very well written article which totally kept me focused throughout. I appreciate the references to: Darwin's booklet regarding earthworm behavior and Eileen Crist's essay. I will endeavour to obtain them and then use them for references in a book of funny short stories about anthropomorphic earthworms; under my birth name.

    I also much appreciated your sense of humour. You are a good writer, Mister Keim. Thank you for adding a good vibe to my day. Now, to move on and read what your commenters have to say. Can't wait. I expect this will be an interesting discussion.

  • Dave_Mowers

    All living creatures are animals. All animals have cells. All animal cells have five instinctive functions; Consume, Propagate, Transmutate, Kill, Apoptosis. These basic commands relate to one another and adjust based on the whole organism's needs as they interact. Our social functions all deal with serving these five animal functions.

    Aliens from another galaxy would see us as the lowest form of intelligence in the universe and not worth trying to tech anything as we would use all knowledge for the same five functions. There is no God; the void in your thought is a lack of imperial directive by the five functions because you need external stimuli (social interaction) to execute.

  • KingofJugheads

    To all the Felix Ungars out there:
    Cockroaches bring about as much disease and sickness as any other insect..They just happen to like garbage..which we humans produce a lot of. They have obviously been maligned by the billion dollar pest control industry whose chemical death cocktails are a trillion times more harmful to humans than roach droppings will ever be. Don't want roaches ? Go live on the moon.

  • ariadne stardust

    one big reason why Jesus in the New Testament does not openly talk about reincarnation ,but certainly NOT denying it, is because he knew if he would make it to a big issue Mankind would start using reincarnation as an excuse for doing evil in their current life. And indeed , many people actually do it anyway!..."I'll do it differently in my next life"..hahahhaha-kind-of-attitude....

  • mothman777

    Of course insects are conscious. And don't think that just because their bodies are small that their consciousness is highly insignificant in comparison to yours. Whilst sunbathing a couple of summers ago for instance, a rare bee that was entirely black in colour landed on me, and appeared to enjoy staying with me, for twenty minutes in fact, and as I let it walk around on my skin, it twirled around doing a bee dance thing repeatedly for prolonged periods of time, and flapping it's wings as if encouraging me to come and visit the hive, or maybe check out some nice flowers for some very tasty pollen, 'come fly with me' indeed! The thing was, the bee trusted me, and as a former bee keeper I know that empathy is extremely important, and as a yogi, I know that each soul in every creature is extremely tiny, and uniform in size, no matter what the species, so a bee soul is in no way inferior to a human soul

    I have done yoga for several decades, and have had many profoundly clear experiences of interaction with the consciousness of other souls in other species as well as the human species, including jiva souls and Krishna in the spiritual Vaikuntha planets, and Brahma and Saraswati in the Brahmaloka highest material planetary system for instance.

    And as the bee flapped its wings and rotated for several minutes, and then walked around on my arm, and up onto my head, it crossed over a turquoise bracelet that I was wearing on my wrist, and as it walked over the bracelet, the bee transmitted to me what it was seeing, as if I were where the bee was, seeing through it's eyes, gigantic turqoise boulders to walk across, that it found very beautiful and wanted me to know that, as I indeed wished it to enjoy the experience, and I guess that conscious wish touched the mind and heart of the bee and she reciprocated in such a beautiful way, continuing to stay with me to express her warmth of heart and spirit, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    Yes, bees and other insects are all fully conscious. Share some love and empathy with them and you can have some wonderful experiences of shared consciousness, as you can with any creature, as long as your consciousness is pleasing and benevolent towards them, especially if you have presence of mind to pray for them to move beyond reincarnation in the material planetary systems, to dwell once again in their original true eternal position in the spiritual planets with their Higher Self God, Krishna, by whose light their spiritual senses are all fully activated once again.

    After deer have approached me, and nuzzled my hands and face, I have had extremely and very prolonged lucid experiences as if i were a deer myself in the bracken with them, shoulder to shoulder. All creatures are profoundly psychic and have spiritual yearnings just as we do. The thing about 'do creatures have consciousness and do they feel pain' is just so awful, and we should never have had that limiting belief system inflicted on us in the first place.

    Jaya Radhe, Jaya Govinda, Hare Krishna

    • Dave_Mowers

      I had a hummingbird do something odd this Summer. We have had a feeder for a long time and can watch the birds from the windows without them seeing us so I can identify individual ones by sight. One of the oldest buzzed my head while watering the front yard one day. I thought it was a Japanese hornet until he did it again, flying in a complete circle around my upper body and stopping in mid-air slightly to my right at shoulder level. The buzzing was loud from his wings. He sat there staring at my face, tilted his head several directions as if he was looking at my face to see recognition I was paying attention to it. I waved. After a minute he left then came back and buzzed my head one last time before disappearing. A full minute or more in time I was able to see this animal within arms length; incredible.

      I know it is anthropomorphic to think it but who wouldn't see intelligence in that?

      • mothman777

        Good to hear from you Dave, that is really nice. When I was a boy, a migratory robin bird would fly all the way to the back garden of my family home every winter, and show up regularly to be fed, and every year, my mother would put food out for it each day, such a tiny little thing with such amazing hardiness and intelligence to travel immense distances and find an exact place again and again. I have seen sparrows in the middle of the Atlantic migrating and coming to land on the ship I was working on for a quick rest.

        Sometimes I love to feed the robins and other birds by hand, and the robins and bluetits amongst others will dart down, and land on my hand for a fraction of a second to peck up a seed and dart off again to sit in the trees till they are ready for another seed to eat.

        Where I live there are some lovely parks, and the birds there have become very familiar with humans and readily come to you to feed, as there are often people there feeding them, entranced by their beauty, and the experience of another species being so close.

    • Christopher Carr

      My goodness -- talk about anthropomorphizing.

      • mothman777

        Once, when standing on the roof of my apartment, I was relating to one of the other residents who was also on the roof fixing his TV aerial, about how wasps will land on a wound and clean and debride away any infected tissue for you, without any fear of being harmed whilst doing so, without having any intention of attacking or stinging you, but actually wishing to benefit you, and at that time I actually had an infected cut on my thumb, and at the very moment I related how wasps can sometimes do this, a wasp flew between us and landed directly on my thumb, and proceeded to spend quite some time tidying up my wound before peacefully flying on, which really amazed the other chap, as he had been conditioned all his life that wasps would only ever land on you to attack you.

        To let the wasp do this is an exercise of my Vaishnava yoga philosophy also, I suppose, recognizing that all souls are eternal and have consciousness in all species, and under certain conditions, even a sense of community with humans, with the further understanding that all these souls can eventually be restored to their eternal constitutional positions and share a much deeper communal consciousness in higher dimensions as perfect equals (the spatial dimensions of each soul in all species being exactly the same as ours, being described as practically atomic in size), when their consciousness fully flowers, in the eternal spiritual Vaikuntha planets.

  • Ken Albin

    Of course insects and other invertebrates have a sense of consciousness, intelligence, and they do feel pain. We deny it because we would otherwise feel empathy towards them and guilt when we torture and kill them. The focus here is on us, not them, and it says a lot about the cruelty of human beings.

  • Kay Cee

    I think all he needed to do was put a fishhook through an earthworm, they certainly act like it hurts.

  • Muhammad Abbass

    I know the answer to this and humans as they are today would be very uncomfortable if they did on the whole know the truth about other life forms. Consciousness exists in the simplest of plants and insects as well as fish and all higher animals. I have a gift which allows me to sense and communicate on a certain basic wavelength with anything with consciousness. I also know others have it to more or lesser degrees. Those most empathic with not just other people but animals right down to insects and plants in some cases. I can do the lot and I can say I have found nothing alive which did not exhibit consciousness and I've met intelligences and consciousness vaster than any human a few times, including in very old trees. The most awe inspiring "being" among life I've met was a 700 year old Oak tree in Northern Europe. I could do little more than cry in its presence it was so wise and knew so much. I see it as a blessing but am not sure how society would function if everybody knew. It would be best if the understanding was introduced gradually anyway.

    • Muhammad Abbass

      A little PS though for the author's peace of mind. From my own youth I do indeed have memories of ants and the occasional other bug suffering at my hand. Magnifying glasses and chlorine with brake fluid feature in a lot of them. It was as you say and I credit my mum with the first lesson in empathy when she caught me burning snails. She used my magnifying glass to burn my hand as she held it down. Short sharp lesson which engrained itself in my mind forever though.