Outside, over there. That’s where the spider lives.
Silk spigots, ejaculating arms, ballooning babies, sexual cannibalism, rotated and vibrating ground planes, hydraulic propulsion. The path to the spider is strange and scary. It is also filled with subject-object duality, which is equally strange and scary.
Apparently, arachnophobia affects 3% to 6% of the population, which seems low to me. I’m not sure what percentage of the population has a phobia of subject-object duality, I might. It seems however, that I can’t avoid it. The path to the spider has so far offered an excellent dose of exposure therapy.
One challenge of conceptualizing the perceptive system of another being is that I have to encounter some heavy philosophical problems between entities (objects, out there) and observers (subjects, in here).
It seems that at every turn, every magnification of the microscope, I’m confronted with the issue of categorizing things as either subjects or objects … and I’m loathe to say it is my nature. One solution could be to throw the issue out the window all together.
The concept of umwelt offers a way to look at the perceptive experience in terms of subject-object integration (elimination).
“Perceptual and effector worlds form a closed unit, the Umwelt … we meet the operator everywhere, not merely machine parts. For all the cells of the reflex arc are concerned not with the transfer of motion, but with the transfer of the stimulus. And the stimulus must be ‘perceived’ by a subject; it does not occur in objects”
Von Uexküll offers a compelling account of the world of the tick in his introduction to Instinctive Behavior.
“… out of the vast world that surrounds the tick, three stimuli shine forth from the darkness like beacons and serve as guides to lead her unerringly to her goal. The world of the tick shrinks into a framework essentially consisting of three effector cues and three receptor cues. The very poverty of this world guarantees the certainty of her actions, and security is more important than wealth.”
It would seem that the key to understanding the animal’s world lies in the ability to consider behavior in tandem with physiology. The two form a feedback loop of sorts, as peculiar, sophisticated, and diverse as the world that encases their corpses. “All animals from the simplest to the most complex are fitted into their unique worlds with equal completeness.”
So what does this mean for my project?
When studying vision of a spider, I have to look at the complicated behaviors associated with physiology and perception. For instance, many spiders (and insects in general) have poor depth perception but nevertheless are excellent hunters. To get a very accurate sense of depth, spiders may move their head from side to side, using motion parallax to pinpoint their victim, mate, or nest. It isn’t enough to make a helmet with eight eyes, I need to emulate the behaviors associated with spider vision.
As a guide I’ve been using Spider Behaviour, an academic anthology of behavioral ecology on spiders published in 2012. Of particular interest to me are the chapters on biology, cognition, and communication.
Using a combination of photocells, mirrors, accelerometers and gyros I plan on prototyping a spider vision apparatus that mimics the behavioral cues and physiological traits of the arachnid.
Finally, the prompt for Interspecies, ‘What’s in it for the animal?’ Harraway puts it like this:
“…there is a whole world of those who can be killed, because finally they are only something, not somebody, close enough to “being” in order to be a model, substitute, sufficiently self similar and so nourishing food, but not close enough to compel response.”
I think that by combining emerging techniques for expression with the rapidly evolving research from biology, physiology, and behavioral ecology, we might begin to capture glimpses into the world of the Other. Through new insights we might begin to form new relationships with those that we marginalize.