project 365

37. Butterflies.

I think an ongoing theme in these posts is going to be, “So, I was listening to Radiolab while walking to work…”

Let me explain. I walk to and from work every day, and it takes between 15-20 minutes each way, depending on how fast I’m walking/whether I’ve had any caffeine.

Radiolab shorts tend to be about that length. In a regular episode, a single segment is also about as long. Hence, why I listen to the podcast in the mornings. (I’ll probably mix it up soon, so if you have any suggestions for what else I should listen to, please let me know!)

On that note, onto today’s post: Butterflies.

The Radiolab episode “Black Box” focuses on the unseen, the part in the process that you just know nothing about. The first segment was about what happens to the brain after we go under anesthesia and the second was about a radio show by a couple who appeared to do telepathy. Both were absolutely fascinating.

But the one story that interested me the most was the last episode segment, which was about the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly.

As we all know, when a caterpillar reaches a certain weight, it encases itself into a chrysalis. Then it undergoes a transformation and becomes a butterfly. The show points out that we don’t know what exactly happens during the pupa stage. It’s nature’s black box — one thing goes in and something else comes out.

The episode reveals that during this time, the insect’s body appears to melt into a gooey mass of cells before reforming into the butterfly. But though it goes through this stunning, dissolving change,  the lessons it learned as a caterpillar (in this case, a Skinner-esque research project shocked caterpillars whenever they encountered a certain smell; later, as butterflies, when they come across the smell, they would try to get away) remain.

As Shakespeare wrote, what’s past is prologue*.

The episode also reminded me of this quote I stumbled upon on Facebook weeks ago. It’s apparently by a guy named Dean Jackson:

When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been.

But she had wings.

*Saw The Tempest tonight, which is probably why that line comes to mind.

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