I realise that spiders might be a difficult subject, so instead of the actual photo of the tiny spider, I’ve used this beautiful image of a web caught in morning sunlight from Pixabay.
I was spraying wood preserver on our fence. Its a big fence, and every three years it needs a wood preserver spraying on its entire wooden surface. The other side is, of course, in the neighbour’s garden, so I’d asked them to move their car to remove any danger of the projected preservative droplets settling on the paintwork.
I had only ever used a large paintbrush in the past. But this time had invested in a hand-pumped power sprayer… and it worked – beautifully. I’d started with the neighbours’ side and worked my way around. By the time I got to what used to be the canal bed – the lower half of our reclaimed garden – I was a bit tired…
I topped up the sprayer with the last five litres of the wood treatment and pumped the device the requisite 25 times. The pressure release made a quick hiss, then stopped. I was good to go. I picked up the spray head and began a careful, horizontal pattern. Nearing the end of the first panel, I pulled my hand back, quickly and let the spray valve go. Then I looked at what had made me stop. Nestled in the 90 degree corner was a spider. The line of the spray had stopped less than a centimetre from it. As we gazed at each other, the spider made a wise decision and ran off – very much alive.
It was only later that I realised the little story had much to teach about intelligence – the planned subject of this blog.
There are many measures of intelligence. Over the years, I’ve used different models to illustrate it with a spiritual twist. My favourite is that intelligence in humans is best understood with what I’ve come to call the ‘preplay’. What’s a preplay? It’s the ability to look at a developing situation and visualise what different things might happen next. That might be hundred of things, so our minds have developed the ability to use probability to tell us what is the most likely outcome from all the things that might happen.
Once decided on, we can then make a plan to encourage or defend against it. Either way, we are preplaying the outcome. How we adjust it depends on the context. If I were a hunter in a tribal family, I might want to kill the beast in front of me so that my family could eat.
If I were a man spraying a fence, I might want to be careful not to kill spiders, knowing them to be smart creatures who do a good job of eating what I like even less. Apart from that, I might not like killing things at all. Some hunt and kill for fun, but I’m not one of them, and I view those that do as lacking in something essential to us as an evolved species.
The concept of time is a big part of intelligence looked at in this way. I have to understand how the object in question will ‘change its state’ in my immediate future. An arrow coming at me is changing its state very quickly. Its terminal state might be within my body if I don’t do something about it. Even better is to foresee the state of the hunter who doesn’t like my attitude on killing… and wants to kill me.
Not being there when he fires the arrow might be the smartest goal I can achieve. This multi-state prediction requires an extraordinary amount of brain power – and yet we do this kind of thing all the time when we, for example, drive a car. Cars plus drivers have an amazing statistical ability not to collide with each other.
The spider has a simple life compared to us driving a car. It spins a web and extends its hunting sensors into the strong fibres. The smallest disturbance will alert it. Its genetic history is full of instinctive intelligence that allows it to differentiate a breeze from the landing of a fly. But when the edge of a high speed spray comes towards it, spewing chemical death, it doesn’t stand much of a chance.
The simple spider caught in the chemical headlights represents instinctive intelligence, with no ability to do anything but run; and not fast enough in this case.
Then we have the human being who was tired and ready for that cup of tea. On full alert he might have used his predictive intelligence to visually comb the panels ahead, but he didn’t… This story is not about his intelligence.
There is another level of response available to the developing human – one in touch with their own true nature at a deeper level of consciousness. The ancients called it Gnosis. We retain the name to contrast it with ordinary knowing. Gnosis is the act of knowing something as though it were already a part of you and being ‘rediscovered’ in ‘real-time’ – or even faster. It is not adding something new to the mind. It bypasses reason. It is the solution to what is happening outside of time, and it is always optimal.
You don’t have to think about it, because, without this small example of it, I would have sprayed the little spider to its death in the next quarter second. But…my arm moved, safely and away; taking the spray head a short distance from the creature below. When I looked at where the spray should have been, I could see the spider. But only then.
I moved to the next fence panel, returning to the place of the spider’s survival a few minutes later. Happily, it had gone. I did not resist the smile. This happens rarely, but when it does, I know what it is…
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.