…you don’t actually have to think like a fly does, as some would have it. I wouldn’t advise doing so if you could. I don’t advise trying. While animal cognition is a good deal more complex than a good deal of us like to think, I don’t put much stock in trying to think the way a fly does, particularly if your goal is to swat the sucker.
Among other problems with this proposition, I don’t believe your average fly to be particularly good at swatting flies.
If you want to swat a fly, though, what you need to do is think about how the fly sees the world.
Perceives, I should say. I mean, they do see. They have a field of vision like you wouldn’t believe, and couldn’t understand. They have other senses as well, though. Their senses of smell are quite acute. I don’t know that they hear, exactly, in the way that we do, but they can sense vibration and motion in the air. They’re highly attuned to motion in general. Some scientists believe that their ability to process motion visually is equivalent to that of a human, which is an accomplishment given the relative size and simplicity of their nervous systems in relation to ours.
We’ve been trying to swat at flies for as long as our genuses have known each other, which is significant because this means we’ve been helping flies to evolutionarily select themselves for at not being swatted for several million generations. Flies aren’t just good at processing motion, they’re excellent at detecting danger and are always, always calculating possible angles of attack and escape vectors. Peter Parker’s famous spider-sense would make a lot more sense if we were to understand that the spider that bit him had just finished feasting on a radioactive housefly.
So if you want to swat a fly, you have to understand that you’re dealing with a creature that has evolved specifically to not be swatted by you. Every instinct in its tiny little head is screaming out warnings from the moment it detects your scent. Every instinct in its head is plotting against every instinct in yours, and evolutionarily speaking, it’s no contest. If you rely on your instincts, you’ve lost.
So if you want to swat a fly, you can’t rely on instincts. You have to take what you know about it, and extrapolate from there. Its field of vision. Its sensitivity to air currents. Its knowledge of aerodynamics. Its endless internal catastrophizing and wargaming.
When I was a child, I always took a fly swatter and swung it like a lightweight hammer, like you see in cartoons. Line it up and swing for the fences. Swing for all you’re worth. That’s what we all do, isn’t it? And sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes it works. Usually, though? You might catch a mosquito or a moth that way, but a fly is nature’s perfect swat-evader.
But it doesn’t take that much force to kill a fly. You can do it with your hand, without the extra leverage afforded by the length of the swatter, if only you can catch it. The advantage of the long handle isn’t that it lets you swing hard. It’s that it lets you move in to an optimal position and come at the fly from a different angle.
A fly will always see a threat coming, always. It has a 360 degree field of vision. And from the moment it sees the threat, it’s working to counter it at lightning speed. It needs far less than a tenth of a second to detect an incoming threat and respond.
If you Google for scientific tips to kill a fly, you’ll learn that there’s a science to the fly’s initial reactions, how it adjusts its posture and jumps and takes off in response to a threat from certain angles, and if you’re coordinated enough, you can use that information to improve your odds of actually hitting the fly, by “leading” your swat to take into account its initial counter.
Of course, if you fail, it’ll be on the wing and in its element, and good luck hitting it out of the air. Oh, I know some people can do that, and I applaud them for their prowess. I can’t. I have real difficulty tracking rapidly moving objects. It’s a mitochondrial thing.
If you can’t reliably swat a fly out of the air, then your best bet isn’t to guess the fly’s initial move and try to lead your shot, it’s to hit the fly before it knows anything is happening, before it takes off, before it even tenses to jump.
It’s going to see a swat coming, but it’s not necessarily going to care about a swatter being moved near it. Do it slowly. Take care that neither your shadow nor that of the swatter falls onto the fly. Inch it into a position where a simple flick of your wrist will be enough to hit the fly, and then… do that. You might want to practice the motion a few times before you actually try it in the field. You might also have to practice the slipping into position a few times.
A caveat: while this method is really good for killing flies, they’re almost certain to evolve past it if it catches on. So, you know, enjoy it while you can. Your descendants might not be so lucky.
As for why I’m writing this post?
Well, it’s useful knowledge to have, and I’d like to share it. I do have another purpose, though.
Every once in a while someone stumbles across one of my parodies like “Infidelity Will Be The Death of My Marriage” or the Sad Puppy Book Reviews or my definitive takedown of Vox Day’s inexplicably commercialized grudgewank and says something to the effect that they don’t envy me for the time I spend getting into the heads of such malcontents and miscreants. I got some indirect feedback on my red pill horror story “The Numbers Game” that ran in that direction, too.
I just wanted to reassure all those concerned for my mental well-being that, while it I have spent a lot of effort in researching and understanding the mindsets that I riff on, critique, or otherwise write on, it’s not actually that hard on me in the sense that you might think.
Because if I want to swat a fly, I do not bother with trying to think like the fly does myself.
It is sufficient—necessary, even—to understand how the fly thinks.
All else follows naturally from that point.