Episode 14: Faelan Mourmourakis on Bee Cognition
Image: A photograph of workers from a managed hive of Apis mellifera, the European honeybee. (Source: Charles Wallace)
Our new episode is available from our Podcast host here: Episode 14
We’re also listed on:
- Faelan describes his work with bees (including diagrams!) on his website here
- Insects we mention
- Tetragonula spp. (one of two genera of Australian stingless bees)
- “Why These Stingless Bees Build Spiral Hives” (National Geographic, 2018)
- “The bee Tetragonula builds its comb like a crystal” (Journal of the Royal Society, 2020)
- Tetragonula spp. (one of two genera of Australian stingless bees)
- Other animals
- Bee dancing
Charles: This is Assigned Scientist At Bachelor’s, I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.
Tessa: And I’m Tessa and I’m an astrobiologist.
Charles: Today we have another guest, Australian entomologist Faelan Mourmourakis.
Faelan: Hi Everyone.
Charles: Normally what we do to start out is ask people sort of what their interests are in science and how they got started in science.
Faelan: Yeah, absolutely. So I guess I’ve always been interested in animals since I was little, so I knew I definitely wanted to have some sort of career with them, animals. Think when I was about in year three, I’m not sure what the American equivalent is, um, but I was about 13, 12. Uh, I learnt about what zoologists do and how that could be a career where I could both do science and work with animals. Ever since then I was like, that’s what I want to be.
Yeah. I never had a super deep interest in insects growing up. I think a lot of, just from my experience, um, a lot of people in my bachelor’s class, including myself, went in wanting to study animals like birds, things like that. And yeah, that’s what I went in there going, yeah, I want to study some sort of mammals, um, dingoes… things like that. And then we had one class where, um, our resident beekeeper on campus, it was sort of a class about beekeeping. And, uh, we looked at honeybees and in Australia, we have a native stingless bee…
So they make these incredible little spiral shaped hives and we can actually keep them in hive boxes. So we had a look at those and yeah, ever since that, I was just, these are incredible. I want to I’m to study base of, and from that, I just discovered how interesting insects were and speaking with entomologists and yeah, just I’m obsessed with insects now.
So it sort of grew from that. Yeah.
Tessa: It’s interesting, because you mentioned zoologists and I thought they normally studied vertebrates, so I didn’t realize there was a lot of crossover between the two.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. We, uh, we haven’t got a lot of crossover in Australia. Um, I know, uh, education is a little different. Um, so, I did my bachelor’s in zoology, so all my units were just on know, three years worth of zoology unit, most of which were vertebrate based, but we did a lot of cell biology. We did cell biology, we did general biology, we did a bit of chemistry, which I hated, sorry. Sorry chemists.
Charles: We’ve had, I think two chemists on, who were lovely. Yeah. But, um, it’s, you know, it’s not as good as it’s not as good as, entomology.
Faelan: I don’t know. I just know I had a chemistry professor my first year of college who told me, you know, maybe you’re just not cut out for science.
Faelan: Yeah. Well, I sure proved her wrong.
Tessa: Yeah. I’ve had, I’ve had a few professors like that and say, it’s an awful thing to say to someone.
Charles: Yeah. It’s yeah, well I’m, unless we want to get deep into sort of abusive academic culture, which we can, but, well, could you talk more about your specific research history, particularly the cognitive stuff you’ve done?
Tessa: I was about to say, I’m picturing a lot of bee dancing, but I could be wrong.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with, uh, B language, so the be dancing of it’s incredibly hard to study. Apparently you need like an observation hive to a lot of money and it’s a lot of just sitting there and waiting for them to do their thing.
Charles: Um, well, it’s also, yeah, in my very limited experience with sort of behavioral studies and insects is that it’s either… and this is, this is probably uncharitable, but it seems like it’s often either fairly simplified and that you’re watching very discreet, obvious behaviors or, kind of, you got to get in like weirdly intuitively because it reaches a level of complexity where it’s hard to actually discreetly observe and explain.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. You can get really complex or it could be simple as just sitting there and, you know, noting down how many times they eat or we’ll do this. Um, yeah. Animal behavior is a bit tricky like that. Yeah. Um, but yeah, my, my background, yeah, since I wanted to study mammals, um, a lot of my volunteer work in my undergrad, my bachelor’s, I did a lot of stuff on mammals.
So, um, I’ve watched wombats. I’ve worked in a lot of animal behavior stuff to do with foxes and native rodents. We have everything here. So we have, uh, things like red tail gals, which are like little mice with these lung beautiful long tails. Um, so I’ve done a lot of work with that.
After that I would’ve helped with a lot of this emu research. Uh, which was really fun, loved what he, he can use. They’re not insects, but they are very…
Tessa: I mean, they are noble veterans of the emu war.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. Um, which makes it was when you realize how dumb they are. They are sorry. It huts that little extra bit more knowing that we lost that.
Hey, but yeah. Um, after emus, yeah, that’s when I sort of went fully into insects. So I’ve done a bit of research assistant work with, um, uh, native moth species over here. I’ve done a bit of work at the moment. I’m doing a lot of work with, uh, mounting specimens. Uh, whichever very, very, very cool species over here that, uh, sort of wing case pops up and they have this beautiful blue and red display really, really incredible.
So I’m doing work with that with, uh, Dr. K Umbers at the moment, who I’m sort of a full circle moment because in my undergrad degree, she was actually one of my insect professors. Sorry, my invertebrate professor. And yeah. Now I’m doing work in her lab for her. So pretty much from there I’ve started to do all my master’s thesis work with my honeybees.
So my honeybee research is yeah, on cognitive processes, like I mentioned. So that sort of fancy way of saying, I just look at a behavior, they sort of give them a little learning tasks for them to solve. And that tells us a lot about their intelligence, how smart they are, if they can figure out this past that this task that I showed them was usually only showing me in humans, pigeons, and rats.
So this is the first time it was shown in an insect. Very, very cool.
Charles: Cool. Well, could you talk about that more in detail? Like what specific behaviors are we’re looking at and also how, like, how would you actually study that? Like what does your sort of research methodology look like?
Faelan: I have a little research that we’re trying to do is find the limits of a honeybee’s, uh, cognitive ability, uh, which sounds like it would be relatively easy, but honeybees are actually, have been found to be incredibly smart and they are very popular study specimens at the moment to use for these sorts of animal intelligence studies just because they have such a simple brain and they have such a simple cognitive processing system.
So you would expect them to only be able to do really, really simple cognitive tasks, not, not any of the complex stuff that maybe a human or a mammal could do. Um, but they’ve been found time and time again, to be able to do that, which is super incredible. My sort of research was let’s take another cognitive task that’s only been shown in pigeons and rats in the humans. And let’s see if an insect can do it. So that task was, uh, had a very, very big name, uh, it’s called a delayed conditional discrimination task, which sounds really, really complex, but very simply, it was giving bees an option… So three different options of a blue, a green, and a yellow.
In this scenario, the green would always be a very neutral option. So water or something the bees didn’t find rewarding, but they didn’t hate it. And then the blue or the yellow would either be a rewarding choice or would call it a punishing choice, which just means it didn’t taste nice. So, uh, the reward would be sugar water and a punishment, in his case would be quinine. So quinine is like, um, is a solution that’s extremely bitter and you find it in things like soda water and malaria medication. So it can make you really sick if you have too much of it. And the base, it just tastes really gross. So they don’t really want to drink that. Um, yeah, so we have these two options that they had to really pick from, which was the yellow, the blue, and the way that they could figure out if.
Blue was going to have their award or the yellow was going to have their award was they had to look for a contextual clue because between H trial that we did, we switched it. So being mean, and one trial, the blue would be the reward. The next trial, maybe yellow would be the rewards. So they had to sort of look around their surroundings and try to find additional information that they could use to solve this task.
We sort of had this little, uh, we brought this little testing chamber out of a lot of paper and glue. And, um, how about. You put them in, uh, which has what really, really great, uh, we just had to train them factually flying to that book. So that took about an hour to train the bees to go there.
Tessa: Wait a minute, so you can train honeybees to do things?
Faelan: Oh yeah. Yeah. I have very, very fast that learning. Um, so yeah, uh, I set up was sort of, we have them in a massive flight cage, which was essentially like a giant greenhouse, for this experiment. We needed free flying bees. So we would just have a hive set up and we would just let our bees fly everywhere. And then we would set up a little experimental box on the other side, and we had to train the bees from the hive to fly into this little chamber.
Uh, and we did that using Q-tips actually, essentially all we did was soak the, Q-tip the end of the little Q-tip in really really strong, like about 70% sugar solution. So the bees really liked it and you’d just go over to, uh, being near the hive and touch the top of their heads. And they would just sort of climb on and start drinking.
And then we could carry them over to where our little experimental chamber was and slowly show them and train them how to enter and flying and that they would get a reward. And then we’d let them go back to the hive.
Charles: So, um, image of touching a little B. On its little head and I’m letting it just climb on is very cute.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. They just, just loved them. They just, just love sitting in this glass house essentially, and just. Having them more fly around you and land on you. And, um, a lot of them would come to sort of realize that when we went in the flight cage, they were going to get a reward. So they’d come over and sort of always greet us and fly around us and scan us.
So that was really cool. And they sort of hated when we would move around too much because they would actually start to use us as, um, as landmarks. So. They, if we were standing somewhere, they could use us to figure out where to fly, to get to the testing chamber. So if we moved around too much, it would confuse them, which was very cute.
Charles: People don’t give insects enough credit for just being, yeah, so cute.
Faelan: They are, they are. Um, sometimes I bet sometimes I’d get these that would, um, Land on my hand and try to I’d have, like, I might’ve had sugar water or something under my fingernails and they would start trying to put that little tongues under my fingernails to get the sugar out.
Charles: I love those weird little tongues. It’s great. I guess more to the research. So you train the bees and you have them choose between two tasks. Yeah. What are you trying to sort of figure out what this task?
Faelan: So if this task it’s a lot to do with mammalry and. Being able to look around your environment and go, I don’t know how to figure out this task, I need to look for additional information that is going to allow me to solve this, which is what the biggest were able to do. Um, so in this task we had, we did have that additional information, which was at the front of the chamber. We would have either a white door or a black door. So before they actually went into the testing chamber and they could make their selection. They had to mammalrize, okay. That was white or that was black door. So that was the delayed aspect of a task. And then we would let them in and they would have to think back and go, it wasn’t a black or white door. And what does that mean? So some days would have a white door would mean that the blue was the reward and a black door would mean yellow was the reward.
And then. The other half of bees had the opposite. They had to figure that out. And they did it incredibly fast, we were very surprised. They each had about 10 trial and after that, they would stop altogether.
Charles: What is the basis on which you can say definitively, the bees have figured this task out? Like, what does that look like?
Faelan: Just from observing it, the bees would sort of answer the chamber and they would start to have these little colored. Artificial flowers. And they would sort of hover around them in a circle and that’s just them. So scanning, you can almost say them trying to make a decision, you know, when we would first let them in, they would just go to whatever color.
And then they would be like, I hate that. Or I like that. And they would just, yeah, just go to random colors. I had no idea what was going on once they did start to get it, you would say that they would either fly in and have a look at all the flowers and then land on the right one or just go straight to the right one.
So once…, like they just, towards the end, they just knew. Um, and we were getting up to 80% of the time at that point, they were getting it right.
Tessa: So, some species of bees. Are you social? And I guess my question is, the ones you are looking at eusocial, and if so… most of the other eusocial insects that I’m familiar with, tangentially, mostly hanging out with people who study emergent complex phenomena are ants. And I know individual ants are just like really not very bright. So I was wondering if there was a particular reason why individual bees seemed to have a fair amount of intelligence whereas ants, the intelligence is all in the nest as a whole, the individual ants in the ant nest are, are pretty dumb.
Faelan: Not sure how it is with ants. Um, we had some people in the lab also studying at, uh, cognitive stuff with ants. So I I’m sure they would argue that adds up reasonably smart, but I mean, honeybees ensuring to be quite smart in this case. Um, yeah, the spaces I was working with were just European honeybees. So just your standard honeybee, they’re obviously the most famous example.
Uh, very eusocial. We don’t have a ton of solitary bees we can really study in Australia, where we don’t have any native bumblebee species Um, the only bumblebees we have are invasive and they’re in Tasmania and you’re not allowed to work with them… just cause they are invasive and we sort of just want to kind of get rid of them.
Um, in my study it would sort of require keeping them, which we don’t really want to do.
Charles: Well, it’s interesting to me, just as an interjection, because from a certain perspective, honeybees are also invasive. Um, and so that’s just a fun, little philosophical nugget of how we draw the boundaries around pest and invasive when it’s something we like to use versus something we don’t.
Faelan: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Charles: Just for the, just for the philosophy of science nerds in the audience, just something to ponder, something to think about.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. A lot of our species in Australia, are solitary, uh, we actually don’t know a ton about them. I think in Australia we only have four scientists that are looking into the sort of uh, taxonomy side of bees and only one of them at the moment is being paid to do that. So it’s really a massive issue in Australia, um, describing our species and yeah, the only other really eusocial species we could use for this study would be our stingless bees, but they, they don’t really use much in these sort of studies.
So I’d be interested in the future to see… They’d be able to do sort of this study.
Charles: Yeah, I, yeah. I want to interject briefly. Do you think we should maybe talk about what it means, what it means to be eusocial and then be drawing a distinction between eusocial and solitary bees? Because I, I know about this, cause they gave me a master’s in entomology, but I think this is something that might surprise a lot of people, that there is a distinction between sort of eusociality in bees and then other bees.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. Um, so for those of you who aren’t there, eusocial would be sort of, when you think of big that’s a classic example would be a eusocial bee, so you have a colony, or they have a queen, they have worker bees and they have drones, so the male bees. Uh, that don’t really do anything but breed. And then as opposed to a solitary bee, is very different. They don’t really live in hives, uh, which is probably very unusual for a lot of people to know that a lot of bees just don’t live in hives.
They don’t have queens. Uh, they just have the females and the males. So it’s just sort of typical, um, breeding situation in that case. Um, an example over here would be really, really popular blue banded bees are a solitary bee over here.
Charles: You got some nice bees.
Faelan: We do have some nice bees.
Charles: You do, you’ve got a lot of nice insects.
Faelan: Mm. Yeah. Australia is really lucky.
Charles: So, why look at the limits of cognition specifically?
Faelan: It’s a lot easier to sort of, you want to try to find that limit to find that end point and that we can sort of backwards that, that tells us also a lot about the evolution of intelligence and. Why we still don’t really know why mammals, for example, well, humans, especially while we have the huge big brains with a lot of neurons and all these really complex hots, when a honeybee can seemingly do all these really, really smart, intelligent things that humans can, but they have such very, very simple, tiny, tiny brains with, uh, less than a million neurons, which is incredibly small in terms of, um, when we’re talking to neurology.
So, yes, getting that limit, um, would tell us a lot more than what bees can do.
Charles: It reminds me a little bit of… I did my undergraduate degree as a double major in biology and linguistics, and the linguistics part was mostly an accident, but it was very interesting. And in linguistics and sort of structural linguistics, there is syntax, which is looking at how elements can be put together in statements and be grammatical to the human brain.
And so, thinking about the limitations on bee cognition here kind of reminds me of sort of the general theory that undergirds a lot of syntax, which is the idea that there is an infrastructure for language inside the human brain. And a lot of syntactical research is looking at what is the very limit of what parses as grammatical in human statements and in human language.
And that sort of tells you because then you can sort of reflect backwards and say, okay, Well, this is where ungrammatical begins. So this is the thing that is not coded into the human brain. And then all of these other things are variations on what it.
Faelan: yeah, yeah, yeah. Very, yeah. It’s so much easier to work when you have that sort of limit, as opposed to just sort of blindly, like, Oh, they can do this. They can do this. We can do this, you know, having that limit really helps. Yeah.
Charles: And then I think a secondary question is why study bee cognition at all?
Faelan: Very, very good question. Um, I ask myself this all the time.
Charles: Listen, I am in a graduate program for history and philosophy of biological systematics and taxonomy. Nobody who has ever been on or will come on this podcast has more of a constant existential question of why, why am I doing this? So you’re fine.
Tessa: Yep. It happens.
Charles: I think the agricultural pest control people are in pretty firm standing.
Faelan: Oh yeah. Yeah. Maybe you’ll need funding too.
Charles: Yeah. Maybe only that, yeah, I’m not bitter, but I am a little, I am just a little, the crisis of all the taxonomists dying is not wrong. It’s not a hundred percent correct, but it’s not a hundred percent incorrect either.
Faelan: It’s it’s yeah. It’s, uh, it’s an issue. It’s an issue. A lot of being scientists have been discussing that recently. Um, cause this is a pod.
Charles: Yeah. This is a podcast about science and not about the nightmare of academic funding.
No, although it is secretly about the nightmare of academic funding also. Um, so it only secretly. But yeah, you didn’t actually get, you didn’t actually get an opportunity to answer the actual question. Right?
Faelan: Right. So why I study bees and in terms of, uh, cognition and intelligence, being able to study a honeybee and its intelligence reveals a lot about, we still can’t really answer what intelligence is.
It’s still something that’s argued about, but tons of cognitive processes, it tells us a lot about why do mammals have these complex brains compared to a simple insect… are brains of insects as lesser and basic than we’ve thought, or are they actually just as complex as what a mammal would be? We just sort of paint onto something, just tells us a lot about how these complex ex cognitive processes don’t need complex solutions to solve them. They can have a very relatively simple brain, very limited neurons to be able to solve these really complex tasks, which is very interesting.
Charles: Yeah, well, again, for the philosophy of science nerds in the audience, I think it would be interesting to specifically define what we mean when we say simple and complex in this context.
Faelan: Oh, simple cognitive processes of things that pretty much, most animals are able to do things like habituation. So a good example would be like when you’re talking to someone you’re able to sort of block out all the other stimuli that’s happening too. So you can focus and want that person to say, I know not everyone can do that. That would be an example in an animal, as opposed to a company ability would be something like a contextual learning or associative learning, having really good long term memory, understanding directional concepts, like up or down or left or right, the concepts of bigger and lesser than these are all things that bees are, have been able to do.
Charles: So you’re working in a lab in Orthoptera lab right now? What are you trying to do in the future? Like what does sort of ideal next steps for you?
Faelan: Ideally would be a PhD, um, sort of the worst time to sort of the, trying to go for one at the moment.
Charles: I have no idea… no idea what you’re talking about. Nothing going on right now that would make that difficult.
Faelan: Yeah. It’s it’s I don’t know. It’s I don’t know why it’s so hard to get one at the moment. Um, and it’s, it’s, it’s awful. I mean, it was bad before it was, it was really awful before, and it’s just… now.
Charles: Yeah. Well, so do you want to continue studying cognition in bees or is there something else that you would like to move on to?
Faelan: Um, yeah. Yeah. I really, I like to keep going with these, especially with, um, cognition and animal behavior. Um, I. Love to do stuff with native bees. Uh, there’s not a lot that we know about them at the moment.
So I’d love to, I don’t know, even if it’s just animal behavior, just, um, have a look at some native bees, say how they differ with, uh, uh, honeybees would be super interesting. I’m not sure how complicated. Uh, experiments would work with a lot of them since, um, we, we don’t really know how to keep them in a sort of lab setting.
Charles: Well, there’s actually, there was something that I wanted to bring up earlier and then I distracted myself, but. One thing you said was interesting to me is, um, that after 30 trials, the bees would just sort of stop and go back to the hive. And this is interesting to me because I don’t want to dunk on vegans because I know many vegans and I love them and I treasure them and I respect them.
But a common argument against eating honey is the idea that you’re still sort of exploiting and mistreating bees, but this has always been kind of a wild argument to me because unless you are hurting the bees in a way that is against your own self-interest you can’t really… like you can’t coerce bees to do things.
Faelan: Uh, no, I don’t think. People who, who say that or have that opinion to realize that the bees can leave, like, and they do, if you don’t take care of them in the high bucks, if you, um, you know, you don’t give them enough frames, you don’t like they, they just overflow with honey. They’re just gonna leave. They just going to find somewhere better.
Charles: They’re just going to peace out.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. They will literally just peace out and you’ll have to go find them before someone calls an exterminator and gets your bees killed. So yeah, like we can’t make it be, do anything. Yeah. I mean, sometimes I wish we could have in these experiments. Um, some bees were just awful to work with.
But they, they’re animals. They want to do what they want.
Charles: Well, it’s also because like a lot of animal behavior, historically, if not still contemporaneously has been stymied by, um, the reality that a lot of animals just act for lack of a better word unnaturally when they’re held in captivity. Yeah. And so it’s sort of interesting. Is that a criticism that often gets leveled against like bee behavior research or is it because they have such relative freedom of movement that it’s not as much of a concern.
Faelan: Um, I guess what would depend, what sort of experiments you’re doing with us? This learning task is sort of something they’re never gonna naturally encounter, um, which was sort of the point in terms of all, any tasks was that we wanted to give them something they would have never encountered before. I think there have been similar cognitive studies where they’ve looked at the behavior, not, not in the way that I have in a flight cage in a very artificial way, right, lab setting way. They’ve looked at it more like when they forage and yeah, they’re still able to do a lot of these cognitive tasks, which are just very cool. Um, I’m not sure how much peanut a lab versus not would affect them considering the, uh, much domesticated at this point.
Charles: Well, that’s another question is, is there ever a suggestion that bees are like honeybees specifically are relatively unusual cognitively because they have been domesticated in a way that almost no other arthropods?
Faelan: That’s a, really a really good question, because I’ve often been like, well, you know that domesticated, maybe that this is not because of humans, but.
We, um, we don’t do it in Australia and in Sydney, but, uh, we, my lab, a few people in my lab work or the, in the U S so they work in the UK and over there, you’re allowed to obviously just Bumble base in these experiments. So, um, a lot of bumblebees too, I’ve been sharing to do all these. Same, really similar coordinated stuff.
Tessa: Okay. Really dumb question. Are bumblebee solitary or eusocial or communal?
Faelan: I do. I think all of them, uh, use social, but a lot of them are eusocial species, yeah. The ones, um, I, that people can, I’ve worked with, uh, like with, uh, new social spaces, I’m pretty feel, don’t know a ton about. Bumblebees, it gives me a, someone who hasn’t got the same one.
Charles: That’s fascinating, the idea that you wouldn’t have seen a bumblebee. It’s not that exciting. You can kind of, if they’re on a flower, you can like reach out and kind of pet them sometimes. And that’s fun.
Tessa: I mean, I mean, they are fat. And they do tend to pump into things. So the name is very accurate. It’s kind of endearing.
Charles: They do bumble and they are bees. They are indeed bumblebees. Is, is there anything else that you would like to communicate about insects or science or insects and science?
Faelan: Only… when we think about animals, most kids, most people, again, don’t say an insect. Um, despite the fact that majority of the animals on earth are insects, um, so that’s really upsetting to me because we have, sorry, we need amazing spaces. So many. Really interesting, not even insects, just interesting inverts and amphipods that people know nothing about. Um, cause I just started focused on mammals, which I guess makes sense. Cause we all mammals and they’re cute and cuddly, but insects can be cute and cuddly too.
Tessa: Yeah. I was about to say, have you ever seen a jumping spider? They’re adorable. Well, they’re not insects, they’re arachnids, but same principle.
Charles: You also can’t cuddle them cause you would kill them. Well, Yeah, does it like you can try to cuddle a tarantula. It might not go well, but you could do it, but a jumping spider… you’ll crush that little guy.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. Just crushing it at very tiny. Um, yeah, somebody, my, uh, one of the professors in my undergrad, he was one of the researchers that discovered this new little jumping spider is in Australia. Um, so that was very cool.
Charles: One thing that we’ve done unreliably in previous episodes, but I would like to do more, is asking people to weigh in week to week on like one of our common questions. Okay. So if you were, let’s say you’re about to die. Don’t imagine it, I mean, don’t imagine too hard because then you might sink into sort of existential dread, although Australia is doing really well with the pandemic.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. We’re doing pretty well.
Charles: We are not. So let’s imagine you’re about to die and it’s in the future. You’ve lived a nice long life. You’re like a hundred years old, but like a spry hundred. So you still have all your faculties. Your body is about to fail, but you can take your brain. And put it inside of a robot container. Would you do it?
Faelan: I feel like at a hundred, I’m like in my mid-twenties and I’m sort of already over everything. I feel like at a hundred, I’m just going to be like, yeah, kind of ready to go.
Charles: But on the other hand, you’re a robot.
Faelan: Yeah. What sort of, I could have anybody. That’s pretty cool. I could be totally down.
Charles: Yeah. Okay related question. You’re about to die, but you can upload your consciousness, but not your physical brain and have it be a computer system. How does that treat you?
Faelan: Honestly ideal… not to be a trans stereotype, but like having a body? That’s overrated.
Charles: We actually specifically talked about this in an earlier episode. So like if you’re being a stereotype, we’re also stereotypes. It doesn’t tell… Tessa, tell another of our guests, your, um, retirement plan.
Tessa: So this is my wife and I’s long-term retirement plan is that we’re going to upload our consciousness, preferably in a way that preserves continuity of consciousness, because otherwise I feel like it’s just making a Xerox of yourself… anyway, upload our consciousness into a digital format and then install it on an interstellar probe and spend the rest of eternity exploring the universe.
Faelan: That is extremely gay and extremely romantic and I love that.
Charles: I wouldn’t do it. Yeah. I wouldn’t do it though, ‘cause I’m very scared of space.
Faelan: But you’d be dead.
Charles: Well, you’re not wrong. I mean, Tesla’s whole situation is… we had a whole conversation about like, if there’s no continuity of consciousness, are you actually still yourself? And we came down on no, you’re like a weird copy, but it’s not continuous awareness.
But instead of being put in a space probe, I would like to be put into kind of like a weird robot insect body. And just like, hang out, learning about insects more intimately than humans can. Cause we got these big jumbo bodies that are clumsy and weird.
Faelan: Yeah. Yeah. I’d love that. Like a robot bee would be ideal.
Charles: Well, I was thinking more robot mantis, but that’s also valid. Yeah. Um, space spaces is scary.
Faelan: There’s so many movies about how scary spaces. There’s so much stuff out there. Every time I re-watch Alien, I get a bit more scared about space.
Charles: Well, Godspeed to Tessa and her wife’s going into space so that the rest of us don’t have to.
Tessa: Hey, someone’s got to do it.
Charles: Faelan, thank you very much for coming on the pod. Uh, if people want to find you online where should they look?
Faelan: That’s a good question. Preferably don’t look at me at all. Uh, but no if you, if you want to know more about my research and stuff like that, um, I’m on Twitter with just my name, @Faemourmourakis.
Charles: Fantastic. Um, I’m on Twitter @cockroacharles, and Tessa?
Tessa: I’m on Twitter @spacermase.
Tessa: And until next time, keep on science-ing.