Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Sphexishness in Perpetual Motionists?

I'm indebted to Murilo, a regular on the besslerwheel forum, for the following link to an article about'sphexishness'.

It got me thinking. If, in response to a familar trigger situation, we follow an internal rule or command, maybe ignoring alternative paths to follow, is this an example of 'sphexishness', if it is then I would argue that we are all, to a small degree, infected with this same set of internal rules.

From the above link, briefly, "scientists have coined a word for a certain type of behaviour named "sphexishness", after the female digger wasp, the 'sphex'. She will sting and paralyze a cricket, stash it in a hole in a tree and lay her eggs on it. When the eggs hatch, the baby wasps have fresh cricket to eat. But sphex also has an internal rule. When she brings a cricket to the opening of the hole, she always goes inside for a look around before she drags it in. If the cricket is moved a few inches away while the sphex is in the hole, she will repeat the process, bringing the cricket back to the opening and going inside for a look. As often as the cricket is moved, the wasp will repeat the behavior. Her internal rule calls for her to look in the hole before she drags the cricket inside, and that is what she will do, ad infinitum, every time the cricket is moved."

It's fun to observe sphexishness in animals. I used to have a labrador dog and it amused me that she always turned around a couple of times before settling in her basket. I was told that this was an instinctive action inherited from her forebears, related to trampling down grass to make a bed. This was an internal rule unconnected with her present circumstances but impossible for her to ignore. Even when she grew old and arthritic and barely able to walk she still managed a turn or two before collapsing into her basket. Instinctive behaviour - or inherited? What's the difference?

"The trick, of course, is to be able to recognize it in ourselves. What behaviors do we humans senselessly repeat over and over because of some unquestioned internal rule? What entirely avoidable loop of stupidity are we stuck in?"

True, we seekers of new ways of producing energy do try to envisage new approaches to the problem at each step along the path to the solution, and yet how many of us, on our individual paths, make assumptions commanded thus by some unquestioned internal rule. This rule could be based on some learned behaviour or 'fact' instilled in us from our earliest experiences - or an inherited instinct. But it's not necessarily one rule, whatever that may be, it's the trait of sphexishmess which lies behind our thought processes. To paraphrase a question from the article, What behaviors do we perpetual motionists repeat over and over because of some unquestioned internal rule? What entirely avoidable loop of stupidity are we stuck in?

We have been told that the secret of Bessler's wheel was simple, right? Right! And we know in our hearts that we cannot realistically expect to discover a new unknown law of physics which will allow Bessler's wheel to operate - well I don't anyway! And lastly we, at least, know that Bessler's wheel did actually work. So if we haven't discovered the secret of such a simple device which complies with the physical laws as we understand them - we must be being steered by sphexishness and being guided (misguided?) by some internal rule. We often use phrases such as, "think outside the box", apply lateral thinking", but these concepts still don't allow us to recognise and ignore certain rules inherent within our makeup. How do we circumvent these cast iron cognitive processes?

I think we have to take each step as if we were ignorant of the outcome of every possible configuration of mechanical parts. We must not assume anything, so all bets are off - the situation has drastically changed. Any guarantees, implications, or assumptions regarding its outcome no longer apply.(Thanks to

Then maybe we will find what Bessler found. In the mean time I continue to struggle to find the time to complete my own version of Bessler's wheel. If I'm right then the other method described in this blog, (also known as trial and error) will not be necessary as I think that Bessler did leave enough information behind him to build his wheel. But it's not so easy as just copying what you see in his drawings, but the clues are there.



  1. That's an interesting article. But I think although the behavior of individuals can be called sphexish (insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results), in the article the writer tries to extend this behavior to democratic societies to make a political statement. I'm pretty sure that sphexishness doesn't apply to entire populations.
    Also the term is a double edged sword when we use it to describe things like perpetual motionists. It's favorable in the sense that one might believe the world around us can be interpreted differently to find a solution to the mystery of Bessler; so one looks for ways around things that seem internal, instinctive; but it's unfavorable in the sense that one might build the same basic wheel design over and over again.
    A lot of scientific discoveries have been made by accident and even more thru trial and error. Did Bessler design a genuine perpetually turning wheel by trial and error, by accident, or by a dream in the night? Or did he realize the sphexishness of his efforts? Did he then design wheels that would convince everyone they were genuine, even though they weren't genuine?

  2. I'll comment on your last three questions, today Doug.



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