Introductory Anthropology Notes – Bees, Orchids, and Rube Goldberg

Originally published on June 15th, 2016, at
Edited and republished at on March 10th, 2017.

This past Monday, I began listening to the lectures from a 2013 UC-Berkeley introductory anthropology class through iTunes U. The course is taught by Terrence W. Deacon, and the very first lecture was not love, but certainly strong interest, at first listen. I’ve never been much of a note taker, beyond jotting down formulas. I’ve always preferred to actually listen during academic lectures and found that concentrating on writing stuff down took away from my ability to focus on what I was hearing.

But technology changes things. The lectures I’m listening to are audio-only. The class in attendance had the benefit of visual elements in the lectures, while I only get the discussion surrounding those elements. At the same time, though, I can pause Professor Deacon at will, run a search for anything he’s mentioned that I think I might need more information on, and add appropriate links to my Safari reading list.

This series of posts will serve as both an archive and clearing house for those links. As I read their texts, watch their videos, or listen to their audios, they’ll be added to the Anthropology section of this site so that I can remove them from my Safari reading list without actually losing the reference.

Hopefully, these lists will also help to make it up to my wife, who is definitely supportive, but a bit jealous that I’m listening to lectures while she’s at work!

Nat Geo Wild: An Orchid’s Trap – This is not the video that Professor Deacon played while discussing life in comparison to Rube Goldberg machines. But it’s close. It helps to illustrate both interdependency between lifeforms — in this case, between bees and bucket orchids — and how living organisms aren’t organized in a way that we humans would consider efficient design.

(See this link if you don’t know what a Rube Goldberg machine is.)

Bees came up again in this early discussion of evolution, given how most honey bees never directly pass on genetic material. And that article from io9 led to this article on Japanese honey bees and their “hot defensive bee ball”.

Who would have thought that, to learn basic anthropology, I’d need to learn so much about bees?

Not me!

I might have balked, had I known, given my past propensity for getting myself stung!