Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Full house

with 61 comments

From May 13th at the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, look at all the Euphoria kernii beetles that had crammed themselves into the base of a prickly pear cactus flower, Opuntia engelmannii. The beetles did seem to be in a state of euphoria.


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 Here’s more about consciousness from philosopher Julian Baggini’s The Ego Trick:

So we have these three facts: thoughts and feelings are real, they are not describable in purely physical terms, but the universe has within it only the physical things described by the equations of physicists. It seems the only way to make sense of this is that mental events emerge from physical ones, without being strictly identical with them. As the neurologist Todd E. Feinberg puts it, “your life is not a pack of cells; your life is what your particular pack of cells collectively do, though I cannot observe such a thing as your life, touch it, put it under a microscope, or keep it on a bottle on a shelf.” Thought and feeling are what matter does, when it is arranged in the remarkably complex ways that brains are. Matter is all that is needed for them to exist, but they are not themselves lumps of matter. In this sense, “I” is a verb dressed as a noun.

The idea that the mental emerges from the physical is a tricky one. It looks to me like a partial description masquerading as an explanation. What I mean is, to say consciousness is an emergent property is not to explain consciousness at all. To do that you’d have to explain how it emerges, and although some claim to have done that, most remain unconvinced. But what does seem to be true is that consciousness does indeed emerge from complex physical events in the brain, even if we don’t know how it does so. Whatever the mechanism, we have thoughts and feelings because we have physical brains that work, not because there’s something else in our heads doing the mental work instead. The evidence for this is simple but overwhelming: damage the brain, and you impair consciousness. Change the chemicals in the brain, and you change consciousness. Stimulate certain parts of the brain, and you get a certain kind of experience. To accept this (as surely we must) but insist that brains aren’t the engines of thought is not impossible, but it is perverse.

(Another passage appeared in a post two weeks ago.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman









Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2022 at 4:26 AM

61 Responses

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  1. Wow


    May 24, 2022 at 5:26 AM

    • As dramatic as it is, it’s not an uncommon sight here. (Sorry for the delayed reply. I just found that WordPress put your comment in the spam folder.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 28, 2022 at 4:04 PM

  2. Amazing image, love it! My acquired brain damage resulted in other aspects being released, and even though at times I miss my old brain, I like my present mind much better. I also accept Mystery, not everything needs a rational explanation.


    May 24, 2022 at 5:27 AM

    • Speaking of mystery, I saw your latest comment on Steve Gingold’s blog immediately before I found a comment from you here as well. I’ll grant that might not count as a mystery, given that you’ve commented in both places before. Nevertheless, the coincidence seemed striking.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 24, 2022 at 7:00 AM

  3. Wow – beetle party time! 🙂

    Ann Mackay

    May 24, 2022 at 7:32 AM

  4. They must have had a good reason…


    May 24, 2022 at 7:39 AM

  5. Wow, that is, indeed, a full house. Maybe it’s like catnip to them. 🙂

    Todd Henson

    May 24, 2022 at 9:02 AM

  6. A few years ago, I observed a similar wild party when a great number of butterflies were gorging themselves on a piece of rotten fish at our beach.

    Peter Klopp

    May 24, 2022 at 9:54 AM

    • “Wild party” is a good metaphor. I’ve never heard of butterflies feasting on rotten fish. I hope you got a picture of that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 24, 2022 at 12:22 PM

      • I have a post from a few years ago, which I will republish tomorrow for your elucidation on some very unusual insect behaviour, Steve.

        Peter Klopp

        May 24, 2022 at 5:42 PM

    • I understand if they get around rotting fruit they will get themselves gloriously drunk!

      Ana Daksina

      August 14, 2022 at 11:41 AM

      • That would be something to see.

        Steve Schwartzman

        August 14, 2022 at 2:43 PM

        • Apparently, once, the master lock was tripped on a whole collection of the rarest and most precious ~ heard about it on NPR. They got back all but one.

          The announcers were too funny. For NPR they really came out of their bag.

          “How could they tell they were drunk?” she asked.

          “Oh, well I suppose,” replied the interviewee, “they were lying on their backs, waving their legs and laughing.”

          “I see,” responded the interviewer. “And after that, were they in the mood for ~ mm-hem ~ something more?”

          I can’t even remember the answer to that. Probably never heard it for laughing too hard…

          Ana Daksina

          August 14, 2022 at 3:37 PM

  7. Wild!

    Sherry Felix

    May 24, 2022 at 10:25 AM

  8. Great title for this one!


    May 24, 2022 at 10:41 AM

  9. This is a party of many beetles! One book that has influenced how I think of consciousness and the brain is “The lost self: pathologies of the brain and identity” Finger and Keenan.

    Alessandra Chaves

    May 24, 2022 at 4:43 PM

  10. Oh my, that is one crowded flower! I have seen milkweed beetles making a similar crowd, but not the cactus.


    May 24, 2022 at 7:01 PM

    • When prickly pear cactuses are as common as here in Texas, this is a common sight for anyone who looks at a bunch of these flowers. Sometimes only one or a few beetles are buried out of sight at the very bottom, and their movements cause some of the stamens to sway back and forth as if self-powered. It’s a strange thing to see.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 24, 2022 at 8:16 PM

  11. ¡Wonderful! Great shot, Steve.

  12. I’ve seen plenty of these beetles over the years, but never such a healthy collection of them. I saw your question about similar behavior in other species. As it happens, I came across a different Euphoria species clustered on a skeleton plant on the Willow City loop this month. They were black with white markings, and I think they might have been E. sepulcralis. I just looked at the photos and counted nine beetles on one skeleton plant — quite a collection, given the relative delicacy of the flower.


    May 25, 2022 at 7:14 AM

  13. It’s a feeding frenzy!! they look a little like ladybugs


    May 25, 2022 at 8:01 AM

    • “Feeding frenzy” is just the phrase for it. Ladybugs are actually beetles, so there’s that group resemblance.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2022 at 8:03 AM

  14. I wonder what parts of the beetles’ brains were stimulated by what ingredients in the flower. And how the beetles’ consciousness was changed.


    May 25, 2022 at 5:41 PM

  15. so many bugs


    May 26, 2022 at 10:40 PM

  16. That sure is a lot of beetles!


    May 30, 2022 at 2:30 PM

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