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The Laws of Biology: Omnivorous Spiders

October 13, 2009

There is an interesting post on the blog Why Evolution in True – interesting because it points to an interesting idea for those of us looking to biology for tools in other realms (such as media in my case aka media ecology).  First here is a quote from the post;

The “laws” of biology aren’t like the laws of physics, because they deal with stuff that’s alive, which doesn’t always obey the mathematical rigour of a “law”. And when we think we’ve found something that’s hard and fast, there’s generally an exception. So, for example, over 40,000 species of spider have been described, and they are all carnivorous (even if some occasionally sip nectar or eat pollen). “Spiders are carnivorous” would seem to be an appropriate generalization. But it isn’t a law. … Today’s issue of Current Biology shows why. It features an amazing discovery – a largely herbivorous jumping spider (Salticid) going by the charming name of Bagheera kiplingi … The spider eats the juicy orange tips (”Beltian bodies”) of the leaves of the acacia tree … Both behavioral observations and chemical analysis show that the spider eats the Beltian bodies. However, it is not strictly herbivorous – it will also nibble the odd ant larva.

Apart from being a very interesting idea – veggy spiders – the author also points to the messy nature of living systems.  This means that in trying to classify things, there will always we aspects to simply don’t fit, exceptions to the rule and other niosy anamaly.  This means we are more often than we are looking for ‘generalizations’ than ‘laws’ and our methods need to reflect this.  In my current research, I need to find out all the p2p torrent client software that existed.  That was not easy – but also the boundaries were fuzzy with mobile clients, web-based clients and also add-on and plugins that added/enchanced torrent clients, that I have to draw some lines somewhere!  I hope to post the first pass results soon and get feedback from yourselves…

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