Rorschach Lady bug

This digital painting was chosen for inclusion in the 2011 Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles (SILA) juried Illustration West 47 show.

 

illustration of ladybug Rorschach Lady bug

 

The Strange Case of the Rorschach Ladybug

ONE OF THE LESSER-KNOWN MYSTERIES OF SCIENCE is <i>Cocinella psychoanalytica</i>, order Coleoptera, family Coccinellidae, commonly called the rorschach ladybug. Why would such a common insect be absent from the entomo­log­ical liter­a­ture until recently. It is impos­sible that no one had noticed it before now since it is actually quite common in it’s range–all of temperate North America east of the Mississippi River. This attrac­tive beetle seems to have appeared out of nowhere on the evolu­tionary tree of life. At first consid­ered an isolated mutation, C. psycho­an­a­lytica has recently been desig­nated a distinct species, amid much schol­arly specu­la­tion about which natural selec­tors caused such rapid adaptive radia­tion, and creating intense disputes among evolu­tionary biolo­gists between propo­nents of punctu­ated equilib­rium, quantum evolu­tion, salta­tionism, and pre-Lyellian catastrophism.

First described in the early 1970s by entomology graduate student Stanley Wojciechowski at Yale University from speci­mens collected on the lawn outside the Peabody Museum, C. psycho­an­a­lytica soon became the single-minded focus of his research. Working day and night, he collected and cataloged over 145,000 speci­mens. Each one had to be carefully scruti­nized, because the pattern on the elytra of each individual beetle is different.

After months of work alone in his lab, Wojciechowski began to notice effects in his personal life that, at first, he attrib­uted to simple overwork. As he explained later, after staring at those beetles all day, he began to recall his dreams in great detail. He also spent hours of waking time ruminating on his life, starting from his earliest memories, staring into space, unaware of his surroundings.

He began to be plagued by doubts, even about his research, calling into question every­thing he knew. Ultimately his colleagues found him in the insect collec­tion having what they described as “some kind of break with reality.” “No one really knew him very well. He was a polite, quiet guy, usually kept to himself back then, sleeping a lot during the day,” they reported.

After his release from the hospital, Wojciechowski never returned to academic research. “I realized that it would be impos­sible to prove whether the material world has any objec­tive existence in itself, or if it is simply a reflec­tion of conscious­ness, like a dream, a rainbow, or an infinitely detailed mirage.” he said in an inter­view soon after­ward. “You can see what I mean if you just watch Star Trek, episodes 11 and 12,” he added.

He started to date, hang around at bars, make friends, and got invited to parties. He even learned how to dance. After his return from India, Stanley took a job as a gardener, let his hair and beard grow, wore a wreath of flowers, and eventu­ally became quite popular as a yoga teacher. You could say he accumu­lated a small following, but he paid no atten­tion to his rising fame. People from all over the country sought him out for advice and answers to questions about life. He never said anything, but he listened to everyone who came to him. His payment was always simple, some flowers, some food, or a painting.

The existence of the Rorschach ladybug has never been confirmed by other scien­tists. Stanley had not taken any photographs of it.

Stanley Wojciechowski is now the well-known author of 43 self-help books, among them the inter­na­tional best-seller, co-authored with the Dalai Lama, “Make Me One With Everything”.

And if you believe in the Rorschach ladybug, well, then it exists for you too.

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