This article is published in number 11 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until March 16, 2021
I’ll never have the courage to swat a fly again. I will try to ward off mosquitoes by convincing them with rhetoric and I will walk down the street very careful to avoid the ants. I read Thoughts of the fly with a crooked head (Adelphi) by neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara: a fascinating, mysterious book, in which, among other things, it is hypothesized that even insects may feel that they are unique organisms and separate from the outside world, which in essence would mean that they have a conscience .
But not only them: other small brains such as those of chicks and fish may have one.
Professor Vallortigara maintains that bees: «They distinguish concepts such as small / large, right / left, equal / different, they make logical deductions and even numerical evaluations». Then we come and we crush them with The Gazzetta dello Sport!
Okay, a bee has nine hundred and sixty thousand neurons, very few compared to us, we have almost a hundred billion, but it seems to me a question of sensitivity, not quantity. And above all of familiarity. Another very interesting theme of the book is related to memory in insects that undergo metamorphosis. “What about his memory when the insect changes during metamorphosis, transforming from larva to pupa and then from pupa to adult insect? What does an adult ant remember, as it flutters in search of a mate, the hole in the sand it inhabited when it was a larva or the shell it was cocooned in when it was a pupa? ».
Professor Vallortigara, when he was a university, kept in his room some plastic boxes full of sand, resting on a sheet, full of antes, so that the sound of pattering produced by the grains of sand falling on the paper woke him up if he happened to be dozed off during the long hours of observation (these beasts are more active in the evening). «Even today, every now and then, in the summer, I can’t resist the temptation and I take an ant to my office or home. I keep him there to keep me company. I like to hear the crackle of the sand falling on the paper, mine madeleine auditory, and recognize the sound of an old friend ».
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