Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Prof. Robert Pickard - The Honeybee Brain

Prof. Robert Pickard's bee brain talk - transcription

& recording of this talk - timings in transcript are approximate as 4 mins edited out:

This talk was given at the April 2012 BBKA Convention, Harper Adams College, Shropshire

:20 Thank you chairman, and thank you very much ladies and gentlemen for getting up so early in the morning to come along and indulge me in my favourite pastime, of talking about honeybees

:36 we take our lives for granted and we spend all our time worrying about money and income tax, and where the next crumb is coming from,
:50 yet here we are with a state of consciousness, sitting in a body that took 2500m years to evolve. An incredible machine. Most of us are able to walk, see, breathe, sense our environment, think about the universe, right the way up to 80
1:20 without losing more than 5% of our intellectual capability. You start to lose your ability to recall memory from about 35 onwards. The important thing there is to rehearse the memories that you want to retain. One thing we learn from the study of the bee brain is that if you rehearse the memories that you want to retain, then they will be the last to go. And that’s very interesting, because
2:00 the nerve cells respond to their usage. If they store information that you don’t use, they will eventually let it go. But if you use it, and coming to BBKA lectures like this is one of the best ways of keeping your brain at optimum performance, because if you don’t use it, you lose it.
2:14 So the interesting thing about our lives is that having taken our body for granted, and our senses, and our consciousness – I like Oscar Wilde’s idea that we’re ‘all living in the gutter, but some of us looking at the stars’. I think that’s a really nice line. Because what really matters is health and happiness, and the two are intimately related. Everything else is a very very minor concern at the end of the day. The highest achievement of the whole evolutionary process is love. Without love life isn’t worth living, and love is free.

2:56 We spend our lives worrying about all sorts of things that we shouldn’t be doing. When you look over your existence over 80 years, you remember very little. 3:11 You just actually mark out the memories of special moments. The births, the deaths, the marriages, the BBKA Conventions, and you string these together in the necklace of your life. So I would say to you, remember those special moments, and rehearse them, because they are what life is all about at the end of the day. Don’t try to remember everything, keep your brain cells working on exactly what you want to remember. People often say to me ‘ you’ve got a very good memory. That’s not what my wife tells me because I don’t even know where the coffee and tea are kept! But that’s because I spend all my time thinking about science, so I keep all the cells in my brain concentrating on that, so that it’s the last thing that I’ll forget as my brain gradually deteriorates.
4:20 a little reminder of the human time line before we dive into the properties of brains – film. The moral of this story is: life is very unexpected. When you enter a restaurant it’s always important to order pudding first!
5:17 Honeybee’s brain. When I first started working in neurophysiology I looked for a brain that was small enough to study in a lifetime, but had all those amazing capabilities that we associate with brains and the complex brain of the human being. I first started out working on ants. But I found that when I drilled through the head to get to the brain, there wasn’t much brain left! So I had to go up, so I went up to the honeybee. And in the honeybee you find everything. The only thing I’ve not been able to demonstrate in honeybees is a sense of its own mortality,

6:00 but in every other respect: short term memory, long term memory, social communication, all sorts of emotional states which I’m not embarrassed to talk about, because words like frustration can be applied to some of the behaviours of honeybees without being anthropomorphic. Take for example the Nasanov centre. If you rotate the entrance of a beehive 90 degrees, the bees come back, the entrance isn’t where it should be, and I’ve no hesitation to say that what you then observe is frustrated behaviour. The bee backs off, bonks its head into the wall – it knows that’s where the entrance was, and then it flies around the hive and when it finds the entrance, it Nasenov scents. So here’s the Nasenov gland, and it’s releasing the scent, 7:00 which has the colonial or social effect of guiding the bees to the new entrance position, and this is a mechanism for the bees to cope with bad weather when they’re blown off course. Instead of rushing into the hive, it’s a piece of altruistic behaviour, because they’re home and dry but the other bees in the colony won’t be. So they stop - they don’t rush in, they release the Nasenov scent. But it’s quite interesting: if you give them degrees of obstacle, for example if you slightly block the entrance, they’ll remove the blockage and go in. if you make the blockage more difficult, you’ll see them shoving and pushing. Then you start to trigger the Nasenov response. And if you make it very difficult for them, not only do you trigger the Nasenov response but it goes on for longer. It goes on, and the length of time of the Nasenov response has a relationship to the length of time the bee is frustrated in getting on with what it wants to do.

8:00 I’ve looked up in psychology journals the definitions of human emotion, and there are an awful lot of human emotions that meet the criteria in psychology books, so it is not anthropomorphic to say that bees can get frustrated. Because you can meet all the measurements that are required by psychologists to illustrate frustration in human beings. So this is a very, very complicated creature. I must say that when I first started to work on the honeybee I wanted to use the honeybee’s brain to get a better understanding of the human brain, but over the years have come to appreciate that the honeybee is far less robotic than I thought she was in the 1960’s when I started my biological work. The corollary is I’ve come to believe that human brain is an awful lot more robotic than I previously thought it was.
9:10 pass the buck joke golfer and caddy
9:36 Here’s just a little experiment I did on testing out the bees’ ability to sense that we can’t sense, for example the earth’s magnetic field. So here, I set up 50 boxes on the roof of the University in Cardiff. I was always very grateful for the local authority changing the flowers on a regular basis, which worked very well. What I’ve done is put swarms into boxes, with a card just underneath the lid, and I’ve blocked out any access to light, so there’s a light trap on the entrance. So these bees are going in, and they’ve got to build comb in a coordinated way. And if you’ve ever watched bees build comb, the bee that’s fashioning the cell doesn’t move. There’s nobody walking up and down with a thumb or a builder’s line to get the comb straight. Yet they build these combs down in parallel. It’s an incredible piece of engineering. You can’t do that unless you have a common reference value. So my question was: if you deprive them of an obvious reference such as wind blowing in through the entrance, or light, can they use the earth’s magnetic field as a reference, which we know that they can respond to? Because all the hairs on a bee’s body are sensitive to electric charge, and when they move they activate nerve cells underneath the cuticle. Now you can see that even in the absence of all obvious cues, they can still build, without individually moving, comb which is completely parallel and meets all their requirements.

11:29 And then I came to one box where the light trap had fallen off. And look what the bees did. They were building perfectly happily here – started comb, and I suspect aligned with the earth’s magnetic field, and then suddenly the entrance trap dropped off, and a beam of light came in, and this other group of bees started building at 90º, because they were using the light beam coming in as a reference value. So that’s just one very simple illustration of the

12;05 Complex capability of the honeybee brain. It’s only 860,000 cells; to be able to do in essence everything that we can do is spectacular. When bees memorise, they memorise not only the information like the opening of a flower, they memorise the time of day that the flower is opening, and if you teach bees to come to a particular flower, like rosebay willowherb, at 3 in the afternoon, if you anaesthetise them with CO2 for 15 mins, they’ll all arrive at quarter past 3. You can actually offset their memory, just by anaesthetising them. It is a clockwork system, but it’s an amazing system. People sometimes, when I say that the human brain is a machine, just like the honeybee brain – they feel quite offended, but they’re really feeling offended because the machines that human beings make are very simple. But if you brought 2500m yrs of research & development to build a machine, then you can build something which is incredibly sophisticated. So the human brain, like the honeybee brain, is a machine, built to do a job, but an incredible machine. Now if you don’t believe me, you must never put yourself in the hands of a neurosurgeon, because he does believe it is a machine. If he doesn’t, what’s his rationale for changing the axles and putting in new cogwheels, and cutting bits out here and there? It’s entirely based on the fact that it’s a machine, and the whole of neurosurgery would have no purpose if you didn’t believe that you were dealing with a machine when something has gone wrong, and something can be put right.

14:00 Another important thing I need to say here is there’s no such thing as a distinction between physical and mental disease. All disease is a consequence of physics and chemistry. There’s nothing metaphysical or ethereal about a brain that is malforming. If a brain is performing badly, it is because there is a chemical or physical imbalance, and the electrical fields, or the chemical signals that the cells are sending to one another, eventually can be corrected when we know enough about the detail.

14:40 Here’s another example of the honeybee’s amazing sensory system: I recognise these hairs immediately. I spent weeks and weeks working over the honeybee body, looking at every hair, then dissecting it out, seeing where the nerves in the hair went in different parts of the brain and the nervous system.

15:00 So these hairs sit on the shoulders there, and when the honeybee comes out of her hive to fly, she checks the temperature, just like a WW1 pilot: – 10º Centigrade, tick! She checks the wind velocity, the steadiness of the wind and the turbulence - tick! She looks for a patch of blue sky so that she can locate the sun through polarised light, so she can now navigate – tick! Just before she takes off and arms her flight motor, just before she switches the flight motor on, she wants to know where gravity is, because when she’s flying she’s going to be blown from side to side, so she needs to calibrate her gravitational sense. So she waves her head back on these shoulder hairs, and these hairs send signals to the brain saying you are now the right way up with respect to gravity. If you want to watch this get your head down on the ground, get very close to the entrance and watch the bees coming out. They’ll do all these little ticks and checks, and right at the end they go like this, then they go brrrrm as the flight motor builds up for the take off
16;19 Well I got this phone call, I was eating cornflakes at the time, in my pyjamas, and I picked up the phone and it said ‘Is that the Bee Man in Cardiff?’ (I’m always the Bee Man, never the A Man!), and I said ‘well I might be, who are you?’ and he said ‘you are now live on radio New Hampshire’. I was still eating cornflakes at the time. So this is live on the radio network of Eastern USA, and they said ‘the shuttle’s going into space tomorrow and they’re taking bees, and we want you to tell us how they’ll fly in zero gravity. And I thought to myself, I bet NASA doesn’t know about these little hairs, because a bee wont switch her flight motor on unless she knows where gravity is, and there is some weight on these hairs from her head. So right instantaneously, mid mouthful, I said, ‘I don’t think the bees will fly, in this multi-million dollar experiment. And then I put the phone down and thought, hmmm, I’ve got a lot of pals in the states, like Roger Morse, he’ll be laughing his hat off if I’ve just said that and got it wrong. So I was very interested a few days later, to watch the report from the space shuttle. The astronaut had the bees inside a glass cylinder, and the bees were refusing to fly. They were clinging to the outside surface, and the astronaut got frustrated, so he shook them, and the bees floated off into space, like this! If they’d just rung me beforehand, I could have told them to stick these hairs down with a little bit of pvc tape, and that would have released the lock, and the bees would have tried to fly in zero gravity

18:18 Look at this experiment by Von Frisch.

It shows a bee’s ability to perceive its environment. It’s not working like a robot, it’s changing its ways of thinking. Don’t forget a bee’s dance language can be used to communicate a source of pollen, nectar, a new home, a source of water. Even the dance language is not the dance of a robot, it involves perception. Here, Von Frisch, a very clever Austrian scientist, puts the food reward on the opposite side of a mountain.

Here’s the beehive and out come the bees. The mountain’s too high to fly over, so they fly west, north and east to find the food. While they’re feeding they’re painted with little blue dots so they can be recognised.

When they come back to the hive, the students were asked to look at the blue dotted bees and draw what dance they did, and to see how they managed to communicate this. And when they looked at it this is the dance they did – they communicated the true bearing of the food from the hive. They didn’t try to do 3 separate dances for the 3 different directions. They calculated the true bearing, and when some of the recruits came out, they flew the other way round the mountain. That shows an incredible perceptual ability of up to 7 miles. It’s about a 7 mile radius, a bee’s perception of its immediate environment. And that experiment shows categorically that they can make calculations, and then they communicate what they want to communicate, they don’t just communicate the obvious. One of the interesting things about that, is when they looked at the distance that was communicated, they communicated the true flight distance; they calculated the true bearing, but they communicated the true flight distance, so the recruits going out, in a ‘sense’, knew how far they had to go, before they started to fall, and look for a smell that they’d been given to search for.

20:40 So, Axel Michelsen at University of Odense in Denmark, built a robot bee to demonstrate how subtle this language was. Showing a video of that now. Different races of bees have different dialects just as we have around the world in genetic speciation. I always like the Italian bee because she’s so much more expressive than the English bee. She has a round dance when the food is very local. She has a waggle dance if the food is beyond 500m, then she has a sickle shaped dance which runs across this, so it makes a sickle, and the direction of travel the bees have to follow is through the centre of the sickle. That shows an intermediate position between near food and far food. When they’re introduced to Welsh bees, the Welsh bees don’t understand the sickle dance, and they’re very confused. So many interesting things; you don’t think of bees having different dialects. When you read about the dance language you see them as robotic, but honeybees are so far from being robotic. They have the dance language, the antennal tip-tapping communication, sound communication – bees can hear airborne sound contrary to what you often read in textbooks. Escov demonstrated that bees have hairs on the back of their shoulders that respond to airborne sound waves.

22:30 The whole communication between bees is fantastically personal and individual.

So Axel built this robot bee with razorblade wings. When he first ran it, the bees tried to sting it, because he hadn’t realised, because he’s an engineer a professor of engineering, that you have to give the recruits a reward for attending the dance, because all this is taking place in total darkness. The bees are perceptualising everything in total darkness, not in the bright glare of sunshine that we are looking at. And it’s very important for the forager to give the recruits a sample of the nectar, because it contains the fragrance of the flower. The bees use the dance like a WW1 rocket, they use it to get to the right position, and then they fall, and then they need the smell to search out the immediate flower as quickly as possible. So as soon as they put in a little dropper at the front, to deliver a droplet after the dance, then the bees accepted it. Pretty certain they know it’s not a bee, but they’re happy that they’re getting some communication from it, and I suspect they’re saying to one another, ‘ a bit of a funny bee this one, but ‘he’ seems to know what ‘he’s’ dancing about!’

As you know in dance language, moving vertically indicates the position of the sun, so in this case he’s set the computer to indicate 90º to the right of the sun, for the navigational heart. You’ll hear Axel’s voice in this video, then Jim Gould, from the University of Princeton.

24:30 You can number the recruits, and you can send them out to any bearing on the compass – red ones to the left, blue ones to the right…. So by colouring the different recruits and resetting the computer, and putting the students in a ring around the university a mile out, Axel was able to show that the language was so precise, you could send the bees out to particular landing platforms. So if you were a gadget driven beekeeper, you could start sending scouts out to a particular point – if you knew a rape field was over there, you could send the scouts out, and once they’d found the rape field they’d come back and tell all the others, so you’d lead the entire colony to go to that rape field. So it’s not as esoteric and eccentric as you might think.

25:44 As explained in my talk yesterday on evolution, the basic embryological plan for humans and bees is to build a metamerically segmented worm. It’s not just men who are worms, men and women are evolved from a wormy ancestor,

and each metamerical segment can generate two legs, and genetically they are modified then for each species that you’re associated with that has any complexity at all. And in the honeybee the first 6 segments go into forming the head. The first pair of legs become the antennae by genetic modification, and occasionally you’ll see a bee with two legs hanging out in front of its head, where there’s been a mutation back to produce the legs. And then you’ve got pairs of legs converted into the mandibles or the mouth parts, all packed together. And then you go into the thorax with its three basic segments and pairs of legs.

26:49 In the case of the human brain, more than 22 embryological segments are use to build our head, and that’s why we have a much more complicated brain. Every metameric segment can produce a pair of legs, it can produce a bit of nerve tissue centrally, and it can produce peripheral nerves coming out, and in the human brain of course because you’ve got 22 embryological segments crushed together, the nerves that come out, now called the cranial nerves, are really segmental nerves that have just been pushed together, and they’re all coming out in a bunch. It’s a wonderful thing, embryology, it’s the nearest thing to miraculous magic that you could ever observe – to watch the cells organising themselves is stunning.

27:38 In the human embryo you can still see the worm-like segments that are used to build our bodies, and these are the somites here, in a young embryo and it’s just rounding up its nerve cord here. This is where lack of folic acid will reduce DNA synthesis, and prevent the tube from rolling up properly, so you get spina bifida at the back end and hydrocephalcy at the front end, if the pregnant mother is short of folic acid at that time, because folic acid is essential for the synthesis of DNA.

28:10 Before the turn of this century, I made the first magnetic resonance images of the honeybee brain. As you know, water has a magnetic moment, so it will rotate in a magnetic field. So MRI scans work by putting a human brain or a bee brain in a magnetic field which you can oscillate, so then the water molecules spin. You can then beam in a radio wave, which will be deflected by the spinning water molecules. So what you’re looking at when you’re looking at an MRI scan is a distribution of water. And because the different tissues of the brain have different concentrations of water, you get a genuine anatomical representation. Of course we had to build a miniature MRI scanner in the medical physics department at Cardiff to do this. I’ve never published these, so you only see them when you come to one of my talks. I will publish them, one day when I have a chance to think about it.

29:24 We can cut the honeybee’s brain using a computer into 50 slices. Here you come to the back of the brain, and this is the most spectacular thing: here’s the oesophagus, travelling through the middle of the brain, because the ancestor had little bits of nervous tissue dotted around, and in the evolutionary process they were selected to become more and more condensed together, but they couldn’t get the gut out of the way, whereas if you were designing a brain, you would never run the stomach or the gut through the middle of the brain, because every time you had a bulky object you would distort the brain and generate spurious nerve impulses. So it just shows that this is an evolutionary process and every species is designed to make the best use of whatever has been bequeathed to it by its ancestors.

30:15 We often get to talk at cross purposes about brains – the story about the Welsh farmer leaning over the gate, along comes a Texan rancher on holiday. Looks at the sheep on the hillside, says ‘Are these all your sheep?’ and the farmer says oh yes, it takes me 2 hours to round up these sheep. Texan rancher says ‘when I get up as the sun rises in Texas, I go out in my big Jeep and travel all day, and the sun is setting when I get back at night after I’ve rounded up my cattle. Welsh farmer says ‘I had a car like that once’

31:19 My first job was to be able to operate on the brain so I designed a set of stocks like split collets. So as not to get stung all the time I cooled the bees in a refrigerator, put them into a plunger, and pushed the plunger through so as the bee comes forward, she sticks her head through the stocks, and then the stocks close behind. This means I could operate on the brain without damaging it because of the hardness of the head, so we taped down the antennae. The next job was to find a way of shaving the bee’s head so that I could implant micro-electronic chips into the brain, because the object of my research was to teach the bee tricks, for example sticking her tongue out. You can teach a bee to stick her tongue out for a particular molecule, a fragrance, and she’ll do that very reliably, and I wanted the micro-electronic circuit in the brain so that I could see which nerve cells were picking up the fragrance, and how the nerve cells were changing to store the memory.

32:20 I got a Swiss watch-maker’s drill with a tip of 1/40,000 mm. here’s the bees head before the operation, and here’s the patient afterwards – you can see the 3 ocelli now, the ocellus here and the two lateral occeli.

With the Swiss watch maker’s drill I could cut a tiny hole to insert the electronic circuit, and then teach the bees to do tricks. The advantage of this over working on cats or dogs or human volunteers, is that the whole brain is laid out like a beautiful plan of what every brain has to have. The nerve cells work in exactly the same way as our nerve cells. They have the same chemistry, and they conduct the same impulses. If I collected impulses from a honeybee brain, and fed it into your brain, your brain cells would recognise it perfectly, but what you perceive would depend on where I introduced the signals. If I introduced them into your visual cortex, you would see meaningful colours and shapes. If I introduced those bee brain signals into your auditory cortex, you’d hear meaningful sounds. So they wouldn’t be bizarre, but the nerve cells wouldn’t reject because they’d been put together by a bee brain, because all these brains are working on the same electronic principle. Here I’ve made a big hole in the bee’s head so you can see the brain. It has the same volume of brain to body ratio that we have and dolphins have. This is an incredibly complicated Formula 1 structure. I must say when I started on bees, I gradually came to appreciate all the other things like the production of honey, but in my case I definitely fell in love with the bee for her mind rather than her body.

34:11 Here’s where the key cells are that do the really intelligent work. The Kenyon Cells, discovered in 1896 by an American FC Kenyon. You can see the cell bodies there at the top, then those commands are coming down the wires or axons as we call them, running down towards the lower part of the brain and the thorax.

34:40 This is how it works – so it’s a beautiful model. The sensory information comes in from the eyes, the hearing system, the propriary receptors, the hairs on the body. It comes into this region that we call the calyx. This is like the managing director’s office, and the Kenyon cells are like a board of directors. If you put an electrode in here, you find all the information coming in, like information from a big corporate institution, all the information’s feeding in, and these 84,000 cells in each cup integrate all this information. They then make a decision. They make a decision individually. They produce an output frequency – brrrrrr! – like that, the nerve impulses feed out, because all the information is coded in frequency. It took us years to develop fm modulation of radio waves to prevent distortion, but of course nature had done it long before us. Because if you deliver information in frequency, it doesn’t get damaged by having to pass through phases of resistance, whereas if you produce your information in amplitude, every time you hit some resistance, the amplitude goes down, so your information gets damaged. 36:00 So the information is in the frequency –brrrr! – might mean a bright light, ‘de-de-de-de-‘ might mean a low light, that sort of thing – frequency modulated information. So, as each individual director makes its decision, and then it sends its decision down here, and in this region there is a 5 way exchange of information between the cells. And then what flows down here is a complete wave form, which is the chosen behaviour. In other words something has happened, you’ve decided to fly, the command comes down to fly. But it’s exactly copied into this region, the alpha lobe, which has a very complicated striated pattern. The information is fed back by sensory feedback to the eyes in particular. And other sense organs, so that what happens then is the new information is attached to this file, and fed back to the Kenyon cells. So they see the consequence of the behaviour that they’ve just commanded. It is a beautiful, elegant system. To show this in a human brain is like looking in a tangle of wool, trying to actually find where to put your electrodes to show this system. But in a honeybee brain it’s laid out beautifully for us.

37:23 If we put the micro electronic circuit here, and we inject electrical current, we can change the bees thinking process, but we can’t predict what the outcome will be, because we’re just adding information to its sentry system, and we don’t know what other information it’s getting. If we stimulate at this point, we can interfere with the coordination of the response, but we still can’t predict the output. But if we stimulate here, if we use just a very tiny current, the bee will either fly, or walk, or if it’s a drone attempt to copulate. In other words we can switch on the behaviour. But if you use too much current, when you stimulate the beta lobe, the bee will try and walk, fly and copulate simultaneously, because when you’ve switched on all the motor commands to the shop floor simultaneously. So this is a wonderful model for studying how to build electronic circuits that you can put into a human body, to replace lost nerve function: someone who’s been paralysed because some cells have been damaged in a car accident for example.

38:32 You could develop that circuitry working on a bee brain, and you can transfer that circuit and in fact I registered an American patent and two European patents using these chips that we developed on bee brains, and they’re now being used for all sorts of applications by different companies, some for medical applications, but some actually for agricultural ones, where they want to interrogate the environment between soil particles, because as you can imagine, the chips that I designed are very very small.

39:05 Here is the honeybee brain cut through, and there you can see the mushroom bodies, two, one on each side. And here, just for interest, I cut through the braula brain.

Now you remember the braula, the bee louse, is a little fly that’s lived with the bee for millions of years, given up its eyes, given up its wings. It just lives entirely with the bee, cleans up the bee’s mouth parts, and causes a nuisance when it’s present in high density. So it has a very simple life, and I wanted to know what its mushroom body looked like. And there’s its mushroom body – not! It’s given up its mushroom body completely! If you look at the fly that this braula is related to, like the common house fly, it has a well developed mushroom body, but it’s not as complicated as the bee’s mushroom body. The bee’s mushroom body can handle far more information in a more complex way. But here you see, we get the evidential support that the braula has very, very simple behaviour. It has no need to fly or navigate, no need to deal with a complex environment – and its mushroom body is virtually non existent. It’s a wonderful demonstration of that.

40:20 Here’s one of the microchips – the terminals go down to 2000ths of a millimetre across, and we made smaller ones than that. Just to give you a sense of size, here’s the microchip, and there’s the hole it left in this bee’s brain after the experiment. That’s the profile where this has been pulled out afterwards.

40:45 So what you do is put the electrode in, run an experiment recording or stimulating, then when you’re finished you can pass the current to deposit some metal ions from the ends of these terminals, which you can stain in the tissue, so afterwards you can cut a bee’s brain into 320 slices, using a piece of very sharp glass, shaving off, then you can finally leave little deposits, so you see exactly which nerve cells are sitting next to your micro electronic chip. So you can identify the cells that are doing the job. So using that we’ve been able to establish an atlas of the honeybee brain. There you can see one of the terminals in position, and I’m now going to show you the real thing – I hope this is going to work – I always have problems when I have to access programmes. What I’m going to do is access a simple graphical copy without too much detail, of the atlas of the honeybee brain that we’ve been able to put together. It’s a bit like what the butler saw – we’ll have a journey through he bee’s brain from front to back. What I believe is that in the future this will be used as a test model to develop all sorts of circuitry that can be used in alleviating brain conditions in humans in particular.

42:25 I was heartened in that, because I was asked to give a lecture to the Guided Missiles Weapon Establishment at Filton. They found the bee’s brain so suitable for devising mathematical models for guiding electronic missiles, in particular the drone brain, because the drone chases the female, locks on, copulates and then dies. It’s almost an exact model for the guided missile!

42:47 So lets see if we can find this now…sometimes if I hit the keys too quickly I will mess things up in my nervousness. Now – you can see this atlas we can access from any position. We can cut the atlas in any direction. When I first started doing this I built my model in polystyrene. I went to Caerphilly market, and I bought a second hand bacon slicer. I built several polystyrene models, and I fed them through the bacon slicer in different directions, so I could understand the 3 dimensional geometry. But now with modern computers, I don’t need to do that. I can extract sections from what I want, I can insert sections, I can do metrics for populations of cells. This will be a wonderful thing for an electronic scientist in the future. And I can animate it, so if I take some slices at 10 thousandths of a millimetre for each slice, we can then run an animation.

44:20 So now you’re travelling through the honeybee brain from front to back.

You’re seeing all the different major areas, and you have a blank tapestry, on which a micro electronic engineer can start to build circuitry. I’ll stop it in a couple of places… So I’ve stopped it at the front of the brain, you can see the antennal lobes. Here’s the median ocellos which is like a light meter measuring the amplitude of the available light, whereas the eyes on the side here are measuring images of course.

Here’s the alpha lobe set up like a lovely little filing cabinet, where the cells from here are being copied here. This stratification here is exactly matched to the concentric circles you get in the cup. It’s a filing cabinet.

45:26 there you can see the Kenyon Cell axons coming down. The cell bodies are up here, and these little elipses are the branching points coming forward to the alpha lobe.

Here’s a little telephone exchange for relating the conscious to the subconscious. Just like us, most of their brain is subconscious. In human beings, we think we are in charge of our brains but we’re not. Our subconscious works out the answers to problems, and then informs the conscious. So you’re told secondarily what your view is on a particular subject. You don’t actually work it out and tell the rest of your body. That’s why people don’t respond very well to logical argument. Sometimes the image that the brain is responding to is created in the subconscious, but then the conscious is informed of what it’s going to do. That’s why it’s such a myth to think that if you think hard enough and long enough, you’ll understand yourself and your own character; it’s extremely difficult for the conscious brain to access the subconscious brain, and the honeybee has the same problem.

46:44 Look a little bit further… here now we’re coming into the subopothageal ganglion below the oesophagus, and there you see a match up with the MRI scan that I showed you before.

There’s the oesophagus travelling through the middle of the brain, a place you would definitely not put it if you were designing the brain from scratch. Ok, lets come out of that now… I don’t like worshiping at the altar of technology but it’s been a triumph of science, so far.

47:20 Feedback is the key thing that maintains sanity in the human brain and bee brains. So when you create abnormal situations for a bee, the feedback is totally changed and the sanity goes out of the window. For example, putting a bee in a house where it flies against a window. The window is cutting out all ultraviolet light, which is one of the bees main contributors to its visual analysis. So when you bring a bee indoors and you wonder why it’s crashing against the window all the time, and doesn’t behave rationally in looking for a way out, it’s because you’ve put it in a feedback situation that is totally alien to the way it’s evolved over millions of years, and it’s not seeing naturally. If you put it in the presence of a light like this [fluorescent] , flickering 60 times a second. Now our flickerfusion frequency allows us to see it as a constant light, but the bee’s flickerfusion frequency is so acute, it can detect a light flickering at 100 times a second. So when you bring a bee into a room like this it’s in a discotheque. Everything’s flashing, so the poor old bee panics and just crashes against the window trying to get out of this hell that you’ve introduced it to.

48:50 So feedback is the key thing. If you have any depression in your life, any real problem that you have to cope with, you have to put yourself into the ancestral environment in which your brain evolved. That means going for long walks through forests, so that you can recalibrate your nervous system by giving it the correct feedback. Sitting in an office all day at an air conditioned level, sitting up, standing up, sitting down, behaving like a robot, stopping when the light is red, going when the light is green, not spitting, not copulating when you want to – leading a life that is so robotic is so unnatural to our brains that no wonder that when you produce such unnatural feedback, you get distortions in the physics and chemistry of your brain. So feedback is absolutely critical

49:40 Here’s the unborn baby getting its first feedback as it sorts out its motor programme.

It’s sucking its thumb. Initially it’s done this, then it’s gone like that, then it hits the mouth, then the signal goes to the brain saying ‘whatever you just did, that’s a useful programme, because it results in this’. And then it tries its legs. This is why heavy smoking pregnant women do such a disservice to their children, because the child is so anaesthetised with nicotine in the uterus, it can’t develop its basic motor programmes. When a child is born to a heavy smoking mother, the child comes out like this- it hasn’t developed any of its basic programmes.

50:25 This process continues and you watch your child trying to drink – my son Matthew has never forgiven me for doing little things with him such as, he tried a motor programme to pick up a cup like this. Of course initially it would be like that, then it would be like this, then suddenly, because the brain doesn’t know what’s required, it’s just trying different programming until it gets a feedback. As soon as it gets a feedback it locks on to ‘whatever it is that you just did to the cerebellum, remember that, that’s programme number 22, and it results in ‘I can pick up a cup and I can now drink’. And of course as soon as Matthew did that I put a piece of plasticine underneath the cup, to change the weight of the cup, and he went woah! And then within a few more tries he got it back in his mouth, and then I took the plasticine off, and he went woah! Anyway he did forgive me eventually, and he’s now a computer programmer for the … bank in London, and if I talk to him, all I get back is ?!... But he’s a wonderful kid

51:40 Here’s what these individual cells look like of course, and the impulses are travelling down the membranes here, receiving information, then integrating it, and then distributing it. What feedback does is allows the nerve cells to be plastered(?) So if you’re just receiving information, whether it’s a bee brain or a human brain, initially the junctions between the cells, what we call synapses, will pass the information. If the information is passed a lot, then the connections between the cells multiply, so they’re reinforcing the connection. And if the information is used even more, they will recruit other cells nearby, to join that particular programme.

52:30 So you can see this is how obsessions build up. The human brain is designed to be obsessive, because of this flexible plasticity created by the feedback. If you did nothing else but go to football matches, your entire brain will eventually be recruited to deal with football matches. So if you have an obsession, whether it’s eating or whatever, that’s causing you all sorts of trouble, the way to get out of it is to create another obsession, that doesn’t cause you any trouble, but will recruit these cells to take them away.

53.11 So when someone has an eating disorder, it’s like something flowing down a country lane. But if it’s a woman, say an unmarried mum living in a tower block, never having any proper conversation, just struggling with a newborn infant, no input of information, no exercising of the brain, large numbers of cells with nothing to do, they all get recruited for the obsession, because there’s one thing all brains do whether it’s a bee brain or a human brain, the cells respond to the information they’re carrying, which is totally different to a computer. Computers don’t change their circuitry in response to the information they’re carrying, but brains do. So if you want to become good at something, you rehearse that information. If you’ve got any spare cells around that are not fully occupied, they’ll be recruited to the information relationships that you’re working with.

54:06 Here in human brain, this is a slice through my own brain, I can’t understand anyone who doesn’t want to open the bonnet to see what’s in the engine – it’s like owning the car and not lifting the bonnet isn’t it?
 Here you can see my own brain, here’s the corpus colossus switching information from left to right brain. And here’s the key bit, the hypothalamus.
 You can take a cubic centimetre out of this big brain, the cerebral cortex here, which is responsible for a lot of our sophisticated behaviour. You can cut a cubic centimetre out of most places here and you’d hardly notice the difference. If you cut a cubic centimetre out of the hypothalamus here, you’d kill the person. Because this is the brain that we inherited from the synaptosaurian reptiles. They inherited it from the labyrinthodont amphibia. They inherited it from the crossopterygian fishes. It’s the true brain of the vertebrate, and all we’ve done over the evolutionary history of the vertebrate, is we’ve added this huge complexity on top of it, which is necessary to give us the level of consciousness that we humans enjoy at the moment: the ability to contemplate our own existence, the ability to contemplate the nature of everything.

55:27 So here’s the hypothalamus, sitting on top of the pituitary gland. It’s responsible for all our emotional conditions. It has a pleasure centre at the front and a pain centre at the back here, and there’s a satiety centre that switches off our appetite, right next to the pleasure centre here.
 So if you’ve got any spare neurons with nothing to do, they’ll lock on, and then your only pleasure in life is eating, because the pleasure centre is the value judgement centre, which determines whether or not the behaviour you’re doing should be prosecuted. So if by accident eating nuts and bolts sent signals to the anterior hypothalamus, you’d sit in the corner eating nuts and bolts all day and you’d be as happy as a mudlark. That’s how mechanical this system is. It’s amazing. 56:22 There’s the pituitary gland.
56: 32These are some of the wonderful aspects of the way in which we think, that create disorders now in modern human brains.
 Anorexics in yellow, abstaining, lack of confidence, obsession, peer pressure, unhappiness, bulimic, bingeing, depression, distorted self image, low self esteem, purging by making themselves sick, or by over exercising- the same aspect of bulimia -, simple overeating, where you’ve got indiscipline and indulgence, and then all these other factors coming in. A huge level of complexity, determining whether you have an eating disorder or not.

57:10 And just to show you how the decisions are made in brains, I’ve chosen food choice. It works exactly the same in bees as it does in humans. Imagine here now this is the human cortex, a synaptic field receiving sensory information,
and a perceptual field of the conscious here, which … the subconscious just below your choice perception, so at this point you don’t know what you’re going to choose, but at this point in a few seconds this will be tracked further over here, and you’ll perceive your choice. So let’s see what happens when you’re choosing between an apple and an orange: your sensory system picks up the smell, the shape and the colour for example, and the choice begins, lets say for apple. So in comes the smell – brrrr! – in comes the shape – de de de de! – it’s a round shape. If it’s a rectangle you might get drrrr! It’s got a greeny colour here so you get br br br br! coming in as the signal. All those frequencies are integrated, and then they pass down, and if the signals arrive at these particular positions of the subconscious, you are going to choose apple, whether you like it or not. Now the interesting thing about this is, you’ll notice that your memory of liking apples is not stapled to the record of the information coming in from the senses, (58:47) and put in a pigeon hole for you to find. Like red rag and bull. There used to be a psychology test where you said to a prospective employee, ‘here’s a red rag, what do you think of?’ and you recorded what they said. In one case the chap who got the job said ‘sex’. Afterwards the psychologist explained that this was a very good candidate for this particular aggressive salesman’s position. The managing director said to the guy when he was appointed ‘why did you say sex when you were shown a red rag?’ And he said ‘to be honest I don’t think of anything else!’ When you talk about a one track mind, it really is one track!

59:35 Let’s look at the orange. Here’s the person’s subconscious trigger for orange: smell, shape, colour feeding through slightly different pathways arriving in a slightly different position. If we compare them you’ll see we’re getting the same signal on shape, which is round, but we’re getting a different signal for smell and colour, which is as you’d expect. So now we just have to ask, ‘what would this look like if this person was developing an obsession for apples?’ Rehearse eating the apple, stimulating the pleasure centre. A rehearsal that goes on really rapidly, thousands of times in a minute that will go on. And as it goes on, if there are any cells around that are not busy, they’ll be recruited to the pathway. So after a few weeks, this is what the apple pathway looks like. It’s got thicker and thicker, in terms of the number of cells involved, and even additional short cutting pathways have been added, because this is stimulating the pleasure centre in the hypothalamus, and the hypothalamus is continually saying ‘that was great, do it again’. And so, this person has no choice now. Whenever they’re faced with the choice of an orange or an apple, the system will deliver ‘apple’ to the conscious. And that’s how obsessions are built up in bees and humans.

1:01:02 And just to give you my last example, in language:  All social creatures at the moment on the planet earth are controlled by the female. It’s only the males that control animals that are basically herding animals. and you’ve only got to go to football match to see that human beings are herding animals, and that’s why the male’s domination is still having an effect. But we’re going to gradually swap that the female behaviour has the dominating effect in politics, and as that happens we’ll become more social.

But it’s quite interesting, when we came out of the trees, we had two areas of brain that were totally devoted to three dimensional visual analysis. Huge numbers of cells, because if you leapt and you missed a branch, you’d die. You were caught by predators. You were injured. So we devoted huge numbers of brain cells on both sides of the brain. But when we came down out of the trees, and we started to form primitive societies and language was important, we didn’t actually have time to evolve a new brain lobe, so we redeployed the cells in our previous evolution that we used for three dimensional visual analysis. But there’s a sexual difference. One population is female, and one population is male, in this representation. And you’ll see that they’ve been given a language problem. In one group, the left hand side is lighting up, but in the other group, both sides are lighting up. They’ve modified three quarters of their three dimensional visual analysis capability for linguistic analysis. And I’m asking you now, which of them are the males, and which are the females?

So whose brain is this? Male. That is, the one track, single sided, one focussed, ‘I’ve got to be a goalie or a striker’ – male brain. Here’s the multi-tasking female brain – ‘you can be a striker today and I’ll be a striker tomorrow’, sharing, coordinating, multi-tasking, and it explains of course why females have difficulty in reading maps. Because they’ve switched it to something that’s far more important, because if you’re evolving a society, communication is the key thing that holds a society together. What the honeybee has, that so many other creatures don’t have, is an incredibly sophisticated communication system. Whoever communicates effectively will eventually control the politics of a society. So we’re in that transition now, between being a herding animal, and becoming truly social.

And here I am sitting on the headland of the Bay of Naples, looking out over the Isle of Capri, and I’m thinking to myself, what a wonderful world we live in, that we take for granted. And I’m also concluding, that it’s not the path that you choose in life that determines your health and happiness, it’s the way that you walk it. Thank you

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