Friday, September 11, 2009

The Epic Conclusion to Ocean Week

You may or may not have noticed, there was a decided nautical theme to this week. There's a reason for that.

See, the last few times I deliberately did theme weeks, they kinda fell short at the end, or I otherwise had to scrape bits together and had difficulties. So I figured, hey, this time I just won't announce it, and maybe it'll turn out I can figure out something else to finish the week if I can't quite follow through.

It worked, I guess; after all, my first theme week, "unofficial robot week," didn't have any pressure on it until the last two or three days of it, and I had no trouble with it.

But now I can't think of a thing! Oh, no!

Leave me alone!


Wait a minute. There we go, something to blog about.

If ever some disaster strikes, and wipes out that mass of ugly thin-haired monkeys we affectionately call "us," well, things wouldn't be looking too good for the future of intelligent life on planet Earth.

See, a lot of the things that might possibly give rise, given time and improvement in intelligence, to what we like to call "civilization," are animals in deep trouble. All the other monkeys? Not likely to last as long as us, much less outlive us. Some kind of whale or dolphin? Well, they're not doing much better. Elephants? While many people have sorely underrated their intelligence, they're not likely to survive without our help, so they're out.

More likely as I see it would be ravens, probably followed by raccoons. Both are smart scavengers who can adapt to a huge range of environments (the raven's mobility is what gives it an edge of sorts over the raccoon).

Somewhere behind them are a number of far less clever animals, such as cats, dogs, and possibly bears. By no means stupid animals, these strike me as rather likely candidates for, way down the line, succeeding an extinct humanity, and they're likelier to live through the cataclysm that would kill us because of their diversity, range, and sheer numbers. And of course, the line continues down in this wise all the way to the fishes, if you split enough times.

But what if all the vertebrates were gone? All the vertebrates of consequence, anyway. Then, the likeliest candidates, as a broad family, to grope their way out of the primitive impulses of Wild and become a Kind of thinking being are certainly the cephalopods.

The cephalopods are probably far closer to monkeys than any other creature living in the ocean, even whales. Whales are something like giant birds by the standards of the marine ecosystem, while the lifestyle of many cephalopods parallels that of monkeys on land-they're tricky, thieving little devils who sneak around getting into other people's nests and the like, while avoiding bigger, stronger creatures with their wits and maneuverability. Cuttlefish, squid, and octopodes especially all show signs of considerable smarts (cuttlefish and octopodes moreso than squids).

The fearsome and unsettling hypnotic abilities of one cuttlefish (sadly, the name of the species isn't coming to me and the results of Google searches have been supremely unhelpful-it was on NOVA, though) that it uses to apparently paralyze its prey are incredible. Possibly more incredible are the abilities of the Indonesian Mimic Octopus, well-summarized in this video:

It's kind of remarkable to think that this particular species may be the progenitor of something far more incredible, some distant way down the road.

Of course, octopodes have only limited mobility on land, and will continue to be so unless and until they can develop sturdy internal supports. Some have suggested that, in order to build civilization, one must live on land.

So what would be an alternative invertebrate intelligence to cephalopods if they never made it all the way out of the water?

Come back Monday evening (or Tuesday morning, or if you live in a different time zone your entirely different time period), and I'll have my answer for you. (No accounting for the answers of "experts," after all.) It might surprise you just a smidgen. (Here's a hint: They're little.)

-Signing off.

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