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Critical Thinking Skills – The Processionary Caterpillars

January 21, 2013

A well known naturalist by the name of Jean Henri Fabre studied a type of caterpillars called the processionary caterpillars. These furry creatures possess the instinct to follow in lock step the caterpillar in front of it. This behavior gives the caterpillar its name, but a deadly characteristic too.

In a simple experiment, Fabre took a flower pot and placed a number of caterpillars in single file around the circumference of the pot’s rim. Each caterpillar’s head touched the caterpillar in front of it. He then placed the caterpillars’ favourite food in the middle of the circle created by the caterpillars’ procession around the rim of the flowerpot. Each caterpillar followed the one ahead thinking that it was heading for the food. Round and round went those silly furry creatures for seven days. Soon after a week of this mindless activity, the caterpillars started to drop dead because of exhaustion and starvation. They could have avoided death by stopping the senseless circling of the flower pot and head directly for the food which was less than six inches away from those ever-circling crawlers. However, the processionary caterpillars were locked into this lifestyle and could not get out of this mindless behavior.

Lesson Learned

Unlike animals, we have the capacity to reason, to plan and to adapt. We are therefore unique among the animals of the world. The tragedy is that we often resemble unthinking, lower forms of life.

Human beings are different from caterpillars. We alone have the ability to change our direction in life. We often confuse motion with meaning and activity with achievement. We can all too readily get into ruts, which cause us to dysfunction at work, school, or home. The ruts can become vicious circles, which don’t get us any further than the processionary caterpillar gets on the flowerpot. Then we find ourselves resembling the processionary caterpillar more than we would first think or want.

Dr. Khoo CK is the Managing Director and Principal Trainer of Kairos Performance Learning which provides the Best In Class Training in the Asia-Pacific Region. He had been certified for Persuasion and Influence, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Coaching and Leadership.

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