Fly of Fear

May 14, 2015

Three_WorldsOff-white sunshine this afternoon on California’s north coast, with no rain appearing on the horizon, just a bit of low, misty fog.
Windy, too, creating a chill-bite to the air, but par for these recent afternoons, not at all unpleasant.

Odd item I saw this morning (in an era of odd items) was a new research-study apparently showing our normal, pesky housefly might have a range of emotions just like us, one being fright.
Supposedly, a fly can get the shit scared out of him just by an appearance of a swatter, maybe even remembers a former encounter with a swat-like device, like a rolled-up newspaper for instance, and flees the area in flustered panic, or stealthily-hides perched under a counter.

The study’s bottom line: ‘“It suggests that the flies’ response to the threat is richer and more complicated than a robotic-like avoidance reflex.”

Illustration: M.C. Escher’s ‘Three Worlds,’ found here).

No wonder the little assholes disappear so quick if that first swat is too slow — I knew the little turds knew!
Today from Discovery News:

“No one will argue with you if you claim that flies have four fundamental drives just as humans do: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and mating,” lead author William Gibson said in a press release about the study published in the Journal Current Biology.
“Taking the question a step further — whether flies that flee a stimulus are actually afraid of that stimulus — is much more difficult,” added Gibson, who is a Caltech postdoctoral fellow.
Such a “stimulus” could be an annoyed person chasing the fly with a swatter, or even a creepy shadow that could mean a threat is imminent.

In other words, when flies flee in response to a shadow, it’s more than a momentary escape.
It’s a lasting physiological state comparable to how we experience fear.
Naysayers could claim that this was all just instinctual behavior with no real underlying depth to it.
But even for humans and other higher-on-the-food chain animals, feelings fall into what the researchers call “emotion primitives.” These have to do with how nerves, biochemistry and other underlying factors work.

The study also referenced three characteristics of fear — persistent, scalable, and of being “trans-situational” (across different contexts) — and found similarities:

Gibson and his colleagues determined that all of these applied to the flies in the study, strongly suggesting that they do indeed feel the emotion fear as we do.
On then might wonder: what other emotions do they experience?
Happiness, sadness, anger?

Even at the expense of being called savage and barbaric, but the only emotion I want a freakin’ fly to feel is pure-primitive fear just prior being crushed with a rolled-up newspaper…

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