What does the Honeybee See? And how do we Know?

A critique of scientific reason
Authored by:
ISBN (print): 9781921536984
ISBN (online): 9781921536991
Publication date: October 2009
Imprint: ANU Press

This book is the only account of what the bee, as an example of an insect, actually detects with its eyes. Bees detect some visual features such as edges and colours, but there is no sign that they reconstruct patterns or put together features to form objects. Bees detect motion but have no perception of what it is that moves, and certainly they do not recognize “things” by their shapes. Yet they clearly see well enough to fly and find food with a minute brain. Bee vision is therefore relevant to the construction of simple artificial visual systems, for example for mobile robots. The surprising conclusion is that bee vision is adapted to the recognition of places, not things.

In this volume, Adrian Horridge also sets out the curious and contentious history of how bee vision came to be understood, with an account of a century of neglect of old experimental results, errors of interpretation, sharp disagreements, and failures of the scientific method. The design of the experiments and the methods of making inferences from observations are also critically examined, with the conclusion that scientists are often hesitant, imperfect and misleading, ignore the work of others, and fail to consider alternative explanations. The erratic path to understanding makes interesting reading for anyone with an analytical mind who thinks about the methods of science or the engineering of seeing machines.