By: Jim Virkler
In recent years the arrival of six grandchildren was helpful in keeping their grandfather young in body, heart, and mind. The grands arrived in two cycles. Two older grands are currently becoming ensconced in athletics on their home turf as competitive high school sports commands their attention. This is a normal and desirable progression. We only hope their explorations and experiences during early visits to their grandparents’ “Driftless Area” home in extreme northwest Illinois may remain pleasant, instructional memories as soccer and swimming replace some of their earlier interests. Included in the former were observations of little black ants, digger wasps, and detailed experiences with monarch butterfly life cycles—all four stages from egg to adult. We fondly recall a few astronomical experiences such as meteor watching, observing Planet Venus set while positioned just above the crescent moon, and later identifying the stars of Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) in a dark sky to name just a few.
Our second cycle grandchildren are all less than age 7. We must now devise additional science experiences to strengthen their awareness of the Designer and Creator of all things. Our 9/7/18 post described how the orb-weaving barn spider on our back deck provided affirmation of remarkable arachnid intelligence: http://jasscience.blogspot.com/2018/09/wonders-of-orb-weavers.html
The challenge was how to communicate the lesson of our back deck orb-weaving spider to our grandchildren who live two hours away. No orb-weavers have yet demonstrated their engineering skills at their house. Absent the opportunity to observe a real, living barn spider, on our next visit to their home we settled for the next best thing—YouTube videos on the computer screen. On virtually any science topic many animal behavior videos are available using ordinary search criteria. For example, a search of “orb-weaver videos” yields a wealth of resources. After watching a number of YouTube videos on spiders, our grandson, age 5, announced he planned to search his neighborhood for spiders in the future. The YouTube sessions generated meaningful discussions.
Included in our spider discussions with three grandchildren were questions such as, “What is the spider thinking? Where does his knowledge come from? And how does he accomplish his precision web-building feats?” Grandpa recalls pointing to the children’s foreheads in several past discussions with the news that their tough cranium protects an important body organ—the brain. We announced, “The brain is where you think!” We have discovered that such discussions with young children are more fruitful than we might expect. Information on arachnid anatomy, especially the nervous system, is potentially more than a mere esoteric diversion. Spiders have the same basic bodily systems as humans, but they don’t work the same way, and they are arranged differently in their bodies. Their body systems—nervous, muscular, circulatory, excretory, and digestive—are wonder-provoking miracles of design and function.
The tiny poppy-seed-size spider brain is less elaborate than the human brain. But it is capable of processing considerable information from reception of the mechanical stimuli of sound, light, touch, pressure, and body part location sent to its brain from the spider’s sensory organs. These signals, in reality minute electrical spikes known as action potentials, pulse through the spider’s body through neural passageways at exceedingly rapid speeds. Finally the tiny spider brain “integrates” the information and the animal responds. There is evidence that the spider possesses some ability to learn and remember. Complex skills such as species-specific web building are intrinsically locked away in the miniature spider brain as are many other behavioral traits. Species-specific web building may be considered a manifestation of the mysterious trait of consciousness.
Spiders, many other arthropods, and animals in other phyla manifest the phenomenon of consciousness. (Check the reference to consciousness in the 9/7/18 post linked above.) Scientists are baffled by consciousness phenomena in living creatures. There is no adequate reductionist explanation. We should not substitute elaborate descriptions for true explanations. Consciousness is one of the most overwhelming mysteries of science. Well known consciousness guru David Chalmers describes consciousness as “the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe.”
Explanations for wonderful conscious abilities of humans and many lesser creatures including spiders is a secret only known fully to the God of Creation. He implants unique abilities, characteristics, and functions in living creatures. For these gifts we bow in worship of the Creator.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.