Wednesday, September 9, 2015


"You're a naturalist," said a friend of mine the other day, “why are there scorpions?”

Well. I may claim to be a naturalist but that's a very different thing than actually being a naturalist. I'm more an observer and commentator. And I struggle with that. However...
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The question caught me completely flat footed. No one (no grownup, rather) has ever asked me that kind of big, fundamental question before, and I’m afraid I never expected anyone to do so.

I had a hard time making my brain take the question seriously. It’s too big a question for one thing, and for another, it presupposes that the person questioned has the capacity to formulate an answer. I don’t.

Not only do I not possess the answer, it’s impossible for me to possess the answer. It’s impossible for you, too, and for every other human on the planet.

The problem is that that kind of question can only be comprehensively answered by an external observer, an observer who stands outside the system. We’re inside the system, inside nature and nature’s universe. We’re part of the system, part of nature and nature’s universe. We can no more explain why our system contains scorpions than a wheel bearing can explain why the automobile it belongs to has heated seats and a cup holder.
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Now an automotive engineer can explain the seats and cup holder. The engineer stands outside the system of the automobile. His explanation, however, will make no sense to the wheel bearing, because the wheel bearing is part of the automobile system and has no external reference from which to make sense of the answer.
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If the automotive engineer tells the wheel bearing (a little suspension of disbelief here please) that heated seats and cupholders reduce driver fatigue and increase driver alertness, thereby increasing overall automotive safety, the wheel bearing will hear a bunch of gibberish. The bearing has no ability to understand “driver” or “fatigue” or “alertness” or “safety.” Those concepts are valid only outside the system.
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An observer external to our universe may very well know exactly why there are scorpions. “Oh, that’s easy,” the observer might say. “Varnsquash piddelexin to the yamazod kleptorius, neh?” But we don’t know the words, and have no hope of gaining access to the context present outside the system. We’re inside. The observer is outside.
Stole it.
None of this means that we’re as dumb as a wheel bearing, or that an external observer is a zillion times smarter than we are. It just means that we’re part of nature and nature’s universe, and we simply have no way to answer why questions about the system. The closest we can come to an answer is simply, “that’s the way it is.”
This one too...
Now as it turns out, my friend wasn’t really asking the why question, even though those were the words he used. He was after something else entirely.

As it turns out, my friend and his wife have a retirement property in the Southwest. It’s not in a snowbird subdivision, either, but in a modestly remote area, a number of miles away from snowbirdia. As he described it, the house is quite nice and has plumbing and water and electricity and cell reception. There are a couple of outbuildings and the property includes a small desert canyon complete with desert plants and wildlife.

The wildlife includes scorpions, of course. Unfortunately, my friends wife does not find scorpions aesthetically pleasing or intellectually interesting. She finds them frightening.

So one part of my friend’s why question turns out to be a how question. “How do I convince my wife to be okay with the scorpions?”

And I thought the “why” question was hard. SMH, as the kids say.

Flailing about for a helpful answer, I could only think of a couple of things. Scorpions eat bugs. And they have a place in nature’s universe, which, if you think about it, is quite a beautiful thing.

Sure, they’re scary looking, with that honking great hypodermic stinger on a bulbous, segmented tail, and with those big pincers. The sting can be deadly, too, though not to most adults, at least in North America.

The truth is, that just as we can’t know why scorpions exist, neither can we do much about them. There are many of them, they’re small and nocturnal, and while they’re predators, they’re also prey, so they have all the prey instincts of fleeing and hiding which help them survive as a species. We’re big and mostly diurnal and as modern humans in the first world we’re neither predator nor prey. If we set out to eliminate scorpions, we’re overmatched out of the gate.

We humans do have some level of reasoning ability, so in theory my friend and his wife should be able to come up with a scheme to to make their home less attractive to scorpions. They’ll never be able to completely keep them out, no more than we can completely banish insects from our homes.

The other thing they can do is take the time to study and learn about their new arachnid neighbors. Facts have a way of easing fear in these situations, and you never know, they may come to find that they admire and even like scorpions.

Or not.

Did someone say "canyon?"

Worst hiking videos of all time.


  1. Thank you. That is really beautiful country.

  2. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed. It's beautiful indeed.

  3. Your videos are never terrible. That was absolutely riveting. I always enjoy your videos Shaun.

    The lizard was way cool.

    I can see why you love it out there.

    1. Thanks Sarge. Those little horned lizards are pretty neat.

      Really glad to see your comment pop up a little while after reading your blog post. Figured it was a good sign. Made the pit in my stomach start to ease.

  4. The important thing is that we don't have scorpions here in Wisconsin.

    1. We don't have 'em here either, though there's a wikirumor that some of them are alive and well in SE Nebraska. Do you have possums?

    2. Oh, yes, we have possums in droves! I rather like watching them, they walk as if they just finished a long shift on a concrete floor, in ill fitting boots. Not God's handsomest critter, though.