What Do Bees Think?

Today, I’m going to write on a subject that turns off a lot of people. But with the release of new studies on the subject, it’s a conversation that must get started.

Less than a year ago, Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, concluded a long-term study on the origins of consciousness. Part of their research focused on insect consciousness, in which scientists conducted studies of insects’ mid-brains – the area of the brain in both insects and animals that supports awareness.

Here’s what they learned: insects are hardwired not only for conscious awareness (a sense of selfhood), but also the ability to feel, to experience egocentric behavior, and to sense things within themselves. They feel fear. And they are capable of suffering.

The study concluded that insects have the capacity for all the most basic aspects of consciousness. Their capacity for awareness has been evolving toward refinement for thousands of years, just like ours. More than ever, insects are more deeply experiencing the world around them.

The Macquarie consciousness studies have ushered in new ways of looking at non-human beings, and more importantly, call us to move step-by-step away from our primitive ideas about insect life and its basic integrity.

The intelligence of the natural world is astounding. Except for humans, all the earth’s inhabitants have found ways to share space without engaging in needless violence. Incredibly diverse species live together in small spaces and have developed ways to thrive on available resources. The cycles of birth, life, and death go forward seamlessly. When something breaks, nature endeavors to fix it, or adapt to the new paradigm.

But most humans live in a state of separation from this amazing natural world. Most of us were raised in closed homes or apartments, where an insect on the ceiling was viewed as an intruder. Our parents taught us to quickly kill insects who’ve wandered into our homes. The standard approach to insect intruders includes crushing, spraying with poisonous chemicals (which we in turn inhale), flushing down the toilet, burning, and even torturing. We have no problem with ending an insect’s one and only life.

Our relationship with insects is rooted in so much violence. Why?

Just as we’re taught as children that eating animal meat and drinking cow milk is natural and desirable – and now we’re discovering that its neither – we’re also taught to kill insects when we can, in whatever way we can. We perceive insects as ‘Them’ – those who don’t look like us, sound like us, or have the same priorities and behaviors as us. Sound familiar?

Insects are not here to harm us. It’s tremendously unlikely that any insect ever started his or her day with the thought, ‘I’m going to hurt a person today’. In fact, there are just two known insects – mosquitoes and black flies – that bite humans for any motivation other than self-defense. They bite human and non-human animals to feed on our blood so that they may reproduce. Not pleasant, but not life threatening.

Insects are here for the same reasons we are – to experience, to express, and to evolve themselves. But we ascribe other, human-like meanings to their motives. We imagine that they exist with the intent to make us miserable, to frighten us, gross us out, and to hurt us.

There isn’t an insect in the world who sets out to interact with humans in a spiteful and damaging way. Unlike humans, some of whom, in their greed, anger, lust, and fear, habitually harm others. Direct experience has taught me to be wary of people, but not at all of insects.

Violent responses to insects doesn’t just harm the insects, they harm us. When we are violent toward others, we attract violence to ourselves. When we evoke fear in others, we become fearful ourselves.

Every time I indiscriminately kill an insect, I become more comfortable with violence and the feelings it evokes. I become more acquainted with the frustrations of powerlessness and feelings of inferiority that come with violence. I become more attuned to allowing my fears and uncertainties to erupt as violence, to delight in crushing others into submission. I become a psychological engine of killing.

Insects, we know now, experience a sense of self and a modeling of the world. When we evolve in our relationship with the increasingly awake insect world, when we value their lives and conscious awareness as we value our own, when we give them the reverence and respect they deserve, and when we cultivate a heart-centered approach to all beings we share this earth with, then our minds will finally meet and we will all begin to evolve. And from this a more peaceful world will be born.

Live in peace.

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