Biology Forum Community General Discussion Herman Hesse and biology

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      I hope you don’t consider this to be offtopic but as I was reading "Demian" by Hermann Hesse, he presents an analogy using the characteristics of a certain butterfly. In my opinion, I think his example is invalid, but I would like to read your comments.

      "You see, we don’t have free will even though the pastor makes believe we do. A person can neither think what he wants to nor can I make him think what I want to. However, one can study soemone very closely and then one can often know almost exactly what he thinks or feels and then one can also anticipate what he will do the next moment. It’s simple enough, only people don’t know it. Of course you need practice. For example, there is a species of butterfly, a night-moth, in which the females are much less common than the males. The moths breed exactly like all animals, the male fertilizes the female and the female lays the eggs. Now, if you take a female night-moth – many naturalist have tried this experiment – the male moths will visit the female at night, and they will come fom hours away. From hours away! Just think! From a distance of several miles all these males sense the onle female in the region. One looks for an explanation for this phenomenon but it is not easy. You must assume that they have a sense of smell of some sort like a hunting dog that can pick up and follow a seemingly imperceptible scent. Do you see? Nature abounds with such inexplicable things. But my argument is: if the female moths were as abundant as the males, the latter would not have such a highly developed sense of smell. They’ve acquired it only because they had to train themselves to have it. If a person were to concentrate all his will power on a certain end, then he would achieve it. That’s all. And that also answers your question. Examine a person closely enough and you know more about him than he does himself."

      I was trying to analyze the analogy he presents about the night-moth from a biological point of view, and I don’t think nature works that way. It is a general assumption in biology that insects behave mostly by instinct. Many insects only mate because of certain chemicals they can percieve. Thus, the male moth isn’t born knowing that he must procreate, nor does he learn it. He simply follows his instincts. In other words, he simply picks up a scent, flies to the female and acts as he was "programmed" to act. Therefore, he does not see the female as a goal. He doesn’t have to train to acquire this "sixth sense" because he was already born with it. This is thanks to natural selection. This means that at one point there were moths that had this "sixth sense" (due to a mutation) and moths that didn’t have it. Obviously, the ones that had the "sixth sense" were able to pick up the scent of the female at a far distance, mate with her and procreate offspring that have a high probability of having this gene of "sixth sense" passed down to them. Thus, the male moths never had to toil themselves to death to acquire this "sixth sense" because they were simply born with it.

      Thank You,

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