Honey Bees Understand The Concept Of Zero

Honey bee on a dandelion (Orangeaurochs/Wikimedia Commons) 

Nothing is an important concept. Metaphysical to mathematical understanding of the nothing resulted in ancient Hindus discovering zero. Mathematician Dr G S Pandey has brought out in detail the relation between zero, infinity, infinitesimal and Vedic conceptions. This statement from a paper on Indian philosophy should make it clear how Indian Darshanas shaped the evolution of the mathematical concept of zero and infinity: "Anything which neither increases nor decreases the value may be either sunya or maya. Bhaskara's zero is not the Stinya of the Buddhists but the mdya of the Advaitins."

Charles Seife in his book 'Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea' remarks: "... So India, as a society that actively explored the void and the infinite accepted zero."

But what is astonishing now is the discovery that the bees have the neural ability to understand such a mathematical concept of empty set or zero. A team of animal cognition researchers from the RMIT University of Melbourne, Monash University in Clayton, Australia and Toulouse University in France, presented honey bees with visual stimuli showing different number of elements.

The bees would be rewarded with sugar solution if it chooses the stimulus with the lowest number of elements. So the bee when presented with stimuli each having three, four and two would have to choose the one with two to get the sugar solution. Soon they found that when presented with a stimulus that has no visual elements along with varied number of visual elements, the bees zeroed in on the stimulus with zero visual elements - clearly indicating their ability to consider the empty set as a lower element in the decreasing order of numbers.

As shown in the above short video released by the RMIT University, this discovery can provide insight for Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers.

In a curiously happy coincidence two years earlier in June Swarajya has reported about the discovery of self-awareness in insects.

According to the discovery self-awareness too emerged along with what is called the Cambrian explosion. It could have involved quantum processes according to one school of biologists. We have then remarked that ‘insect consciousness provides us with many exciting possibilities in varied disciplines from entomology to consciousness study to quantum biology to robotics.’ Now we should be able to see if understanding of such abstract concepts like zero has more to do with such quantum processes than just the number of neurons.

In a lighter vein, if the bees can understand zero can they also understand Advaita - the non-dual unity of all existence and experience Satori and Samadhi? We live in exciting times!