Neurons and Bees.


"Maybe, Maybe Not", 2009 - Jessica Wascak

And so it goes.

Here in Ohio there is a dull hum in the air. April showers bring May snowstorms....wait.

Hard to tell at this point if the barely audible noise is the bees trying to decide if it's safe to go about their business or the buzz of the TV sets drifting out the windows that we've finally started to crack open a bit.

So, I'm not.a beekeeper, not even close. But I do know that bees mostly hibernate in the cold winter months. And I also know that if you are a beekeeper, one question you might ask when you tend your hive come spring is, how many dead bees is okay? What number is acceptable and what number spells trouble for the hive? Too negative of an analogy right now? Okay, a bit harsh. But let's just keep that in the back of our minds as we read on shall we?

Here's another thought. A little more science and grace if you will. It has been said that we human's have what is called, "Hive Mentality". Studies have shown that there is actually a strong parallel between how human brains and swarms of bees come to a decision. Neither a brain or a swarm has a master plan. Both are faced with multiple options yet somehow manage to come to a singular course of action.

When bees go out in search of a new hive site, groups come back to the original site and do a dance to report their findings. If both groups were similar in size and the new hives proposed both "seemingly" safe, there might be a problem making a decision. However, the bees also produce stop signals by vibrating and head butting the opposing group. Whoever has the most force within it's group ( is able to stop the other group's message by physical force) wins out.

Individual bees are like neurons in the human brain. The more neurons there are for a particular decision, the more they inhibit the other options that we might have available to us. Sheer numbers and force at times can determine the outcome, not necessarily a strict moral compass or a well thought out plan.

So how do we build up neurons to support one decision over another? If we repeat the same action over and over again, how do we know when to stop? Both neurons and bees are unaware of their ability to overcome the individual and become the collective. It just happens. And it happens in the human mind in part because of two little chemicals called dopamine and serotonin.

Let's think of dopamine as responsible for the reward and serotonin as responsible for the ability to have patience and perseverance. One set of bees or group of neurons may have more or less serotonin. Serotonin impacts the strength of the group then, right?

When a group with low amounts of serotonin does not receive a dopamine hit ( a reward for their actions) they will not have much patience or perseverance and will most likely give up quickly regardless of the subsequent outcome. While those with more serotonin can withstand less reward up front in hopes of a larger reward at the end.

Let's just use going out of the house and socializing as an example here ( random, yes?). Those of us in the hive that are low on serotonin may not have the patience to stick it out for the long-term results and give up that dopamine high that interacting or "normalizing" can provide. Because of the strong desire for reward, these individuals can bypass unsavory predictions for the future in favor of the here and now.

In addition to individual make up and hive mentality in our decision making process let's add to this the catch-22 of the powers that be. Talk about a dopamine hit, once those dollars are being spent. The rewards will ride high. And the messages to influence our individual decisions, strong. But powerful enough to override the amount of dead bees piling up in front of the hive? Yet to be determined...

Like I said, I am not a beekeeper. Nor am I a scientist. I am not a fortuneteller either. If I had to liken myself to anyone in this post I suppose it would be the bees. Just one of the bees with no ill intent, simply trying to find the safest place to go.

Hoping our collective hive has enough serotonin in stock to ride this one out - and maybe a little honey left over from last season to give us a hit every now and again.

Not the most uplifting post I've ever written here, but maybe just some food for thought. I truly believe there is a silver lining, next time I will pull out my paints and see what I can do to make this picture a little prettier. For now, I will leave you with the neurons and the bees.

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