Bees (Was Re: Methodological Naturalism)

George Murphy (
Wed, 25 Mar 1998 16:59:41 -0500

Christopher Morbey wrote:

> Recently, it has been suggested (rather convincingly?) that the same
> mathematics used to describe the 6-D manifold of quarks can also be used
> to describe precisely the well-known dances of honey bees. The
> connection is possibly the ability of honey bees to detect the quantum
> field of the earth's magnetism (see Discovery, Nov. 1997).

This supposed connection is far from convincing, for the
following reasons.
1. Though the _Discover_ article refers to von Frisch's work on
bee navigation, it mentions only briefly (& as a mere possibility rather
than as something which has in fact been verified) any reference to his
findings that their ability to navigate relative to the position of the
sun is related to the polarization of scattered sunlight. Of course
that still leaves us with the question of how the bees "figure out" &
utilize this data, but it makes it considerably less mysterious than the
article suggests. (A discussion which may be accessible to some is in
Ch.15 of Alan Cromer's _Physics for the Life Sciences_, 2d ed.)
2. "Ultimately magnetism is described by quantum fields" the
article quotes. Yes - but good old classical magnetostatics is an
adequate approximation to quantum electrodynamics as far as the earth's
field is concerned. Or at least if there are any quantum fluctuations,
e.g., which are significant, they haven't been measured yet. So even if
bee navigation is related to terrestrial magnetism (but see point 1),
bringing in quantum field theory is gratuitous.
3. Finally, the connection between quantum electrodynamics and
the manifold needed to describe quarks is fairly remote: You have to go
to Grand Unified Theories which are still somewhat speculative to see
So - maybe. But _Discover_ certainly got carried away giving so
much space to a theory this tenuous.

George L. Murphy