Sunday, May 20, 2012



One of my favorite insects (this individual was residing in Japan a few years ago).

And a faux-insect from the other day (right outside my office here in Downey, California).

It should be noted here that I almost stepped on that second object while out walking, and it was only at the last instant I noticed it and turned my foot to avoid smashing it flat.  Only then did I realize it was not a bug, but a piece of plant detritus.  One might say it 'survived' because of its accidental resemblance to a living creature.

Which reminded me of a wonderful bit of satirical speculation from Charles Fort, the American iconoclast who spent decades of his life uncovering strange and odd events that were reported in newspapers, then quickly forgotten because they were 'absurd' and did not fit conventional views of the world.  In regard to the evolution of leaf insects, Fort first presented the conventional evolutionary hypothesis -- that once upon a time some species of insect came into being that accidentally somewhat resembled leaves;  that they were more likely to escape being eaten by birds because of this accidental mimicry, and so surviving disproportionately, they passed on their resemblance to their offspring.  And of those offspring, the ones that resembled leaves still better survived disproportionately to pass on their greater resemblance, and so on.

He then imagined that creatures from some other world who happened to visit Earth after the extinction of humanity, upon seeing paintings in art galleries, might well suppose that once upon a time some canvases that were randomly daubed on with paint appeared.  That, of those canvases, the ones that just happened to resemble real objects were protected, and so on until paintings that exactly resembled people and objects came into being, all without conscious intention by painters.

An intriguing piece of thoughtful humor -- but of course, Fort lived and worked before the flowering of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-20 century.  Abstract paintings do not depend on protective mimicry to survive.

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