The bee waggle dance is an empirical phenomenon: when a foraging bee discovers a suppély of food, it returns to the hive and does a waggle dance. The rest of the hive then flies out in a certain direction and distance, locating the food. In some sense, the bee communicates the information of the food supply to the hive.
What’s philosophically interesting about this?
- How do we talk about what the bee is doing?
- Is the bee ‘speaking a language’? Is the bee saying that ‘food is located in this direction’?
- Can’t we explain why a particular bee on one occasion does that by invoking
the pattern that it’s an instance of?
- What would it mean to say of a bee returning from a food source that its turnings and wiggling has occurred because they’re part of a complete dance?
- This is related to distinction of pattern-governed vs rule-obeying behavior.1 Ruth Milliken, Sellars’ student, devotes her career to this, developing the field of teleosemanticsand writing about it in Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories.