Monday, December 12, 2011

Smart Squid

If there is intelligent life on our planet, perhaps we'd best look in the sea deep enough to find the "charismatic, enigmatic, and curious" cephalopods, including the mammoth squid, speedy octopus, and clever cuttlefish.  Wendy Williams has put together enough evidence to prove the truth of the title of her recent book, "Kraken:  The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid."  The author  first became fascinated by squid when marine biologists told her that "the squid deserved the Nobel Prize for their contributions to human medicine."  In scientific fact, "squid have even helped us understand the workings of our own brains.  Without squid, neurosurgeons would be a little less well trained, obstetricians a little less well informed, and geriatricians much less knowledgeable about the aging process.  In the near future, squid may help us cure Alzheimer's disease, improve camouflage for soldiers on the battlefield, and boost the health of babies born by cesarean section."
      While learning about the impressive talents of cephalopods, the author was attracted just because of their "uniqueness."  As she put it, "When the animals stare so intently into our human eyes, they are seductive.  With eight or more dangling arms and tentacles encircling their mouths, with the ability to change color and shape in milliseconds, with suckers as dexterous as our fingers and thumbs, and with eyes that are better than ours in some ways, they are enticingly, bewitchingly, exotically alien."
      Although human creatures have the hubris to believe in the superiority of human intelligence over anything else, the cephalopods have already survived five major mass extinctions over the past half billion years.  To learn that "we share a surprisingly large number of features with the squid" should be a humbling thought.  Did you know that each individual octopus has not only a personality, but also a quick intelligence that gets bored easily if  the scientist presents too easy a puzzle to solve?  And that they can be gentle and playful with humans?  Or that cuttlefish communicate with each other?
      This book is filled with personal anecdotes of the scientists studying these animals -- with awe and respect, I might add.   There were indeed jaw dropping revelations for those who have only envisioned the giant squid and octopus as vicious enemies on the attack.  Hollywood has done its share of portraying these monsters as diabolical and in need of being killed.
As I read of the amazing, much maligned, and little-thought-about cephalopods, I began to wonder what these intelligent creatures might think of humans.   Are the creatures being studied also studying us?  Do they find us boring, overbearing, arrogant, and cruel?  Do they question why human society creates so many problems for itself?  Are they mystified why humans fight so much and constantly agonize  over how to lose weight, find self-confidence, and become happy fulfilled individuals?
      Or, perhaps, like one space scientist replied when asked why we have never been contacted by intelligent life in outer space, we earthly humans aren't worth knowing.   We are too boring, too underdeveloped, too immature.  And given our track record of offending Mother Nature, we most likely won't be around to think about for too much longer either.
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Suellen Zima


  1. Wow! Amazing facts! Never in my life would I have picked up a book about Kraken....