By R.N. Carmona
Before I talk about the philosophical depths and conundrums of this type of mimicry, allow me to define it. Batesian mimicry is when one species adapts the features of another, usually poisonous species, so as to protect itself from predators. The most common example is the viceroy who adapted the wing patterns of the monarch for sake of avoiding its predators; note: this might actually be an example of Müllerian mimicry. Evolutionary biologists and geneticists have a handle on the genomic going ons that contribute to this, but philosophically speaking, this form of mimicry is intriguing. It boggles my imagination.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that I’m far from sympathetic to pseudoscience and as such, I don’t think creationism gets any closer to explaining the why of Batesian mimicry. Intelligent design doesn’t either. I highly doubt that the god of the Bible is siding with the prey and therefore, harming the predator. The height of benevolence would want what’s best for both prey and predator and wouldn’t actively harm one or the other. There’s also the case of imperfect mimicry, so if one wants to imagine that a designer is writing code into the fabric of reality, the designer isn’t the perfect designer of monotheism. With that said, my philosophical hold up has nothing at all to do with creationism and/or intelligent design.
My question is this: how did the viceroy know that a monarch’s pattern would protect it from predators? Does it have enough intelligence to understand its surroundings that well? Did it, in other words, survey its surroundings to the degree that it understood that birds avoid monarchs because of their wing patterns? Assuming we relinquish our tendency to belittle animal intelligence, how did the viceroy have the power to put these genetic changes into motion? That, that (!) is a question science doesn’t seem to care to answer. We can vaguely say that nature made this happen, but that moves the question of agency into a vague, mindless concept. Furthermore, it doesn’t explain the power of an animal to rewrite its genome.
Philosophers from Plato to Kant suggested that there may be more to reality than we realize. Before the advent of quantum mechanics, philosophers understood that reality might not be as simple as it appears on what Kant called the phenomenal level. There may be more to it. The powers of mimicry may be a hint. In Doctor Strange, the Ancient One, portrayed by Tilda Swinton, suggested that cells can be made to repair themselves and organize in all sorts of ways. She also implied that doctors like him are accustomed to one known way and are unaware of others. Humans do not have powers of genetic changes that are directed to a given end in the way some animals do. Batesian, Müllerian, and acoustic mimicry might be a most unexpected vindication for thinkers like Kant.
Westworld inclines me to ideas of competing engineers coding and recoding the fabric of our reality. Perhaps the true nature of reality is an elaborate game, a desperate reach for data, a simulation aiming to remap history before the present the engineers find themselves in. Perhaps not. Not everything makes sense; not everything has to. The Ancient One was right about that as well, but there are aspects of nature that don’t appear to be confined to nature and certainly can’t be readily explained by nature in and of itself. The noumenal, the Hegelian Absolute is the overarching objectivity that humans, in all their subjectivity, are striving for. There are phenomena available to our perceptions that may suggest that our arms are much too short to reach up and grasp that object of our desire. Perhaps we are doomed to decades of subjectivity, an existence that never apprehends truth. For some of us, there’s certainly no comfort in that.
Maybe this is the price we pay for being aware of our consciousness. In being aware of our consciousness, we have been disconnected from the full fabric of reality. Because of this awareness, maybe we are veiled from that which lies behind the curtain. We believe ourselves to be on the stage performing in the most meaningful way and in the only way that’s considered significant when in actuality, we are the audience that sees but the shadows of the performance. We can explain mimicry in our very limited ways, but we’ve apprehended only shadows. We have nothing in the way of why and nothing in the way of explaining to what is nothing short of a super power. We have nothing in the way of explaining the will and agency that drives such mimicry and much less the awareness necessary to accomplish it. Plato may have been right. Here we sit in the cave…
By R.N. Carmona
I can envision waking up in this body, becoming conscious, and somehow being plugged into the ugliness of human existence and the world. I can imagine being distracted by bird songs, the waves of the ocean, a starry night, the chill of a winter breeze, and the warmth of a sunrise. The beauty of nature can become scales over my eyes, a way to blind myself from the horrors of the world. For every child stricken with a fatal disease, the laughter of children playing in the grass can bring me to forget their plights. For every casualty of war, I can recall the sight of two people in love. For every victim of a natural disaster, I can focus on those who survived. I can exist in a state of perpetual forgetfulness so as to avoid the quandaries of human life.
Like Ultron, I can reason that humanity is to blame. We are the catalysts of climate change, of war, of social inequalities, and of the misfortune of others. For our own personal gain, individualistic and selfish drives, we would ensure the poverty of another human being. To sustain our own life, we would allow for the death of another person. There is no one willing to walk away from Omelas, even after realizing that our joy and the entirety of our way of life depend on the misery of a child in extreme poverty. Humanity stands on bones, the filth of urine and feces from centuries past, and the dried up blood of their ancestors. How forgetful they are of the price people paid. How soon they forget the sweet taste of dying for one’s country or the reality of the bitterness of that sacrifice.
If such thoughts are to cloud my judgment, suffocate my incessant faith in humanity, am I to conclude like Rust Cohle that humanity is an evolutionary aberration, a freak accident, and that our inevitable end is a mass suicide. Deforestation, animal slaughterhouses, the impact we have on our oceans and on the wildlife within it, extinction events, the blind eye, and the bystander effect is our doing. We procrastinate on these quandaries, await a savior, a genius, or a scapegoat. Often we would sweep the dirt under the rug to save face or be content with pointing out that it isn’t really our problem if we haven’t directly contributed to it. What scum we are!
Surely proceeding this way is to a detriment, for one must realize that humans are also best qualified to address these quandaries. What is required is an elevation of consciousness. The alternative is a willful connection to the web, a replaying of all of these horrors, a revisiting of the grief and the loss. Perhaps humanity is the psychopathic Alex who needs to be tied down to a chair and entranced by these collective memories. Resurrect the bones before them, make the blood flow again, allow the blood of immolations to spill onto his face, and let him watch as the laughter of one child becomes the screams of another. Keep his eyes open by force and make him watch!
In fact, make them all watch, for a state of perpetual forgetfulness is the broad way and many go by it. The narrow way is the path of reminder, the valley not of death’s shadow but of its presence, a cold and unceasing night in where the howls of the wind are indistinguishable from the lamentations, the cries for help, the hands reaching out. This is the nightmare in the mind of one traveling along the narrow path. Yet the persistence of these reminders are like watches melting because decay will run its course. Someday them on the narrow path will be covered in ants, rigor mortis will be accelerated by the intensity of the Sun’s heat, the smell of decay will be yet another landmark long forgotten by them in a state of perpetual forgetfulness. Them who sleep must wake.
The price for some may be too steep. To forgo rejuvenation, to refuse the silencing of awareness, to close the door on a portal to imagination, the Freudian unconscious, and fantasy, and to remain in a dimension where dreams no longer materialize and in where a nightmare turns another page to draft a new chapter might prove too heavy a cross to bear. But bear it we must! The god isn’t above, the savior is not lost to history, the genius isn’t awaiting her advent. They are all alive right here, right now, and they walk among you. You look at them in the mirror, have intimate access to their thoughts and emotions, and actively seek to suppress their voices. To he that has an ear, let him hear what the spirit has to say. The spirit speaks unto you, reminds you, calls to you, tugs at you, and tells you to walk the narrow path.
The voices crying in the wilderness have cried before. They too are now forgotten. I too will be forgotten. One day I may take the easy way out, the path of least resistance, enter the state of perpetual forgetfulness, remember that the portal of dreams lies slightly ajar. I might decide to silence the reverberating echoes of the endless night along the narrow path. I’ve fled Omelas, but the dreamer I drag along soiled in dirt and bloodied. The dreamer wants the control he lost. He continuously yearns to steer off the narrow path and rejoin the masses on the broad. But I remember and I remember perpetually. Do not now forget what the spirit has spoken.