Posts Tagged ‘Fishes’


February 10, 2015

Biological evolution creates capabilities that, in turn, add dimensions to the universe in which life blossoms. That makes life more mathematically complex than (known) High Energy Physics (which does not evolve in higher dimensions as time flows).

No, I am not trying to contradict Darwin’s natural selection, nor Lamarck’s various selective evolutionary mechanisms. I suggest to complement them with new evolutionary mechanisms: ecological and social evolution, and FUNCTIONAL evolution. No, I am not day dreaming: I have explicit examples: flight, brain, consciousness.

I have thought of this for years, but the discussion with Brian Key, a neurobiologist, brought it to the fore.

Professor Key argued fishes could not experience pain (or suffering), because they were not conscious. Brian ascertained the latter point from his inability to distinguish structures in fish brains similar to those found associated to consciousness and pain in human.

Similarly, the drunk searching for his keys, below the closest lamp post.

Some Academics Climb the Tree of Academia, Showing their Bottoms Ever More

Some Academics Climb the Tree of Academia, Showing their Bottoms Ever More

Einstein used a higher level reasoning. I used a higher level reasoning.

What is the brain for? Figuring things out. How does that work? Well, in humans, consciousness helps. Ergo, consciousness appeared at some point in animal evolution.

At which point?

That’s an ethological question. A question of behavior.

In the past, I used to think fishes were dumb machines of the sea. Then, as a fisher, I discovered older trouts to be really smart. Recent studies have shown (some) fishes to be incredibly smart. On some tests, some fishes are found to be chimpanzee smart.

Brian Key: “Patrice raises the idea that “common sense” tells us that animal brains have the same general purpose as humans. I challenge readers to go beyond their everyday experiences because sometimes “common sense” can be misleading.”

If animal brains don’t have the same general purpose as ours, what could their purpose be? And how come we developed a different purpose?

What is the purpose of a human brain? Surviving. If animal brains are not for surviving, what are they for?

All and any animal brain is there to do exactly what the human brain is doing.

A case of the function defining the tool.

Conventional evolution theory looks at the evolution of organisms.

But there is a higher level of evolution than the one of organisms: ecological evolution. And an even higher one: the evolution of functions. For example, the function of flying was evolved by insects, pterosaurs, birds and bats.

Once flying had been invented by insects, it created its own ecological niche, its own universe in which at least birds and bats could evolve. Because at least birds and bats could eat insects, if they learned to fly.

The apparition of brain created its own ecological niche, its own evolutionary force.

This is why the brain capabilities of the brainiest species have been on an ascending trajectory.

The octopus’ eyes do what ours do. And they look very similar. Even though they evolved in completely separate fashion, and are inverted.

Vision defines the eye. Specifics follow.

Same for brains: one needs a reward and punishment (pain) system, and consciousness is useful. A question arises naturally, which philosophers have not answered: what is consciousness for?

The case of birds is clear: although their brains are completely different, they fulfill all functions found in humans.

Homo Floresiensis is perhaps even more telling: these 1.1 meter tall hobbits had completely different, much simpler brains. However, they developed sophisticated weapons.

There too the basic functions were satisfied from completely different neuroanatomy.

I am not claiming neuroanatomy plays no role, and that all animal brains can have as many functions as human ones: supposedly cockroaches keep on drinking, even when their throats are cut. Some insects seem perfectly dumb. However, wasps are smart. And they seem to experience pain. (I have experimented with wasps; my anti-wasp method is to hit them. Once hit, or even after a near-miss, they deduct that they better get somewhere else; conversely, wasp will makes it dangerous to approach a wasp nest!)

Socratic Gadfly claimed that wolves do not discuss hunting. Pendantry rightly asked him how he knew. We know little about animal languages.

It was just discovered that “… chimpanzee referential food calls are not fixed in their structure and that, when exposed to a new social group, chimpanzees can change their calls to sound more like their group mates.”

Drawing massive conclusions, when one knows so little? Is that “scientific”? Is that prudent? Is that wise? Should it be called that intellectual fascism?

Science is not getting animal brains yet.

If it were, it would get ours.

However, from this we got a conclusion: biology does not just evolve, it evolves its environment. The invention of flight by insects incited other species to “invent” flight. The invention of brains made the evolution of consciousness in (some) other species more likely.

Biology is an engineer, a scientist, a thinker.

Systems of thought, and systems of moods, have lives of their own. So does life itself. Life has a life of its own (to speak like Lacan). Life, as it evolves, adds not just complexity, but, outright, new dimensions. The Multiverse may not happen in physics, but, with life, it does, with a vengeance.

A very speculative question in physics (raised by no less than Paul Dirac) has been the permanence of physical laws. Tests have actually been made to test whether physical laws changed (they have been found not too, so far).

However, with life, the laws do change. Biological evolution evolves its own universe (and do not forget that the devil in the details is Quantum mechanical).

Patrice Ayme’




Pain Is Relative, But Fishes Feel It

February 5, 2015

Armchair philosophers and ethologists are much to be feared. In Scientia Salon, Brian Key, a Professor of Developmental Neurobiology in the School of Biomedical Sciences, Head of the Brain Growth and Regeneration Lab, University of Queensland, argued “Why fish (likely) don’t feel pain”.

I will retort that Brian’s thoughts flow from fishy philosophy.

The author uses neuro-anatomy to over-rule ethology. Instead I will start from ethology, starring some actors of the wilderness:

Very Long Horns, And Very Smart Brain

Very Long Horns, And Very Smart Brain

He starts poorly, by demonstrating wolves are not (likely) smart. Says he:

“Resisting anthropomorphic tendencies:

Grey wolves hunt as a pack. They carefully select their prey, and then perform a series of highly coordinated maneuvers as a team, in order to corral their target. Initially, each wolf maintains a safe working distance from other members of the pack as well as from their prey. They are relentless and seemingly strategic with an overall goal of driving the agitated prey towards one wolf. A cohesive group mentality emerges that portrays logic, intelligence and a willingness to achieve a common goal. Eventually one wolf comes close enough to lock its jaws on a rear leg of the prey, before wrestling it to the ground. The rest of the pack converges to share in the kill. There appears a purpose to their collective behavior that ensures a successful outcome.

But is everything as it seems? A team of international scientists from Spain and the U.S.A. has simulated the behavior of a hunting pack of wolves using very simple rules

Their computer models do not rely on high-level cognitive skills or sophisticated intra-pack social communication. The complex spatial dynamics of the hunting group emerges by having the computer-generated wolves obey simple inter-wolf and wolf-prey attractive/repulsive rules.”

This is, simply said, dumb.

Assuming animals are computer programs may work for humans, but it does not resist careful examination in the wild. I have seen snakes being smart.

Once, by accident, I prevented a very large wolf to kill his prey (long story). The wolf could have jumped on me. He was three meters away. It was sunset, high above timberline in the Alps, kilometers from the first road, hours away walking (I was running, of course).

We looked at each other. I could read the yellow eyes of the wolf, he looked as intelligent as a monkey (not at all dull and agitated like a dog would have been in such circumstances). His eyes were saying: ‘What is a human being doing up here at this hour? What the hell! What is this world coming to? And now what?’

His purported dinner, a chamois, had passed at a high clip, within centimeters of me, going the other way.

It was a magnificent animal, all red, long hair all standing up, with face at least twice wider than a large dog. He was neither panicked nor upset, once the initial surprise was passed. He did not threaten me, and went his way (now the opposite of his initial way).

Anybody who has interacted with fishes know that they behave as if they experienced pain. Another objection: (some) fishes can act in a very clever way. Pain is a big help for intelligence. It’s a more economical hypothesis. Consider:

Anti-anthropomorphism sounds scientific, but it is actually a contrived hypothesis, insisting, with the Bible, that man is special. Instead of just an animal.

Once I was in an African National Park. I saw a large antelope (Hypotragus Equinuus), obviously in a panic, dash down a twenty foot embankment, on the other side of a wide river. He landed on the 200 foot wide beach, separated from the river itself by dunes… A large lioness followed down the embankment. Then the lioness took a hard left, from my perspective, instead of following her prey, she went ninety degrees! She went full speed for 400 meters or so, and then angled through the field of dunes, along the river, which was much wider there. Meanwhile the antelope, seeing the lioness was not in hot pursuit, had slowed down. But he was confronted to a new problem: a wide river, full of crocodiles.

From my vantage point, I could see at least a hundred trunks floating in the river, each one a croc. The antelope trotted upstream, knowing full well that to swim across meant certain death. Soon it saw the solution in the distance: shallow rapids. He accelerated. By then the lioness was in ambush near the top of the large last dune dominating the narrows.

The antelope arrived at a very brisk pace, scanning ahead to figure out the optimal point. He was obviously doing some fast thinking on the hoof. The lioness was crouched, observing just saw within the grass hidden by the very top of the dune, which she had craftily put between herself and the direction she knew her prey would come from.

I screamed.

The two beasts sprang into action. The antelope understood that there was an ambush, and bounded in an enormous effort, taking a dangerous short-cut. At the same time, realizing apes were foiling her plan, as apes tend to do, the lioness also charged.

She missed.

The antelope climbed on our side of the river, still pursued by the lioness, who took the time to throw us a very dirty look.

This was not my only encounter with very clever wild animals.

I have encountered lions many times. Lions in good standing resist hunting instinct and pangs of hunger, and don’t attack human beings.

Once I was diving as a child in Africa, spear in hand. I caught a lobster. However the critter screamed in such a heart breaking fashion, I did not renew the experience. Another time, I had caught an octopus, and, although mostly dead and hopeless, it made a point to bite me in protest. Yes, it was clearly a protest, because the creature looked dead, and I was inflicting pain at it, at that particular point. (Meanwhile experiences with octopuses have shown that they are extremely clever, and perfectly capable of the sort of reasoning I imputed them; as a species they are limited with very short lifespans and no possibility to transmit culture.)

So animals have feelings and emotions. If we directly interact with them, it’s blatant.

Brian Key uses poor ethology: he claims fishes fight when hooked in a way that show they don’t feel pain. Whereas trapped bears do (because they stop fighting after a while, when trapped). Actually fishes stop fighting after a while.

Then Brian proceeds to say that sometimes human beings don’t feel pain. Once again, anybody who has lived in the wild knows this is true.

Once a famous solo sailor got his foot torn off. He kept doing what he needed to do to stabilize the situation on his boat that had caused him to lose his foot. He stopped the blood loss. He called for rescue. He secured his boat. Once rescue arrived, he felt the pain.

Anybody who has been outside, broke ribs, arms, lost lots of skin, got injected a lot of painful venom, got burned third degree (all of those personal experiences) knows well that pain is felt only when it is advantageous, or safe, to do so. Bleeding experienced rock climbers will calmly exert maximal pressure on the rock, even when they have no more skin, just where they have no more skin… And barely feel it.

Pain is a relative thing, and evolution has gifted us with strong overrides (for example endorphins).

A fortiori so it is, with fishes.

Patrice Ayme’


July 27, 2014

What’s truth? Many a philosopher sat at his desk, pondering “truth”. Can experience with a desk bring truth? No. Only action demonstrates truth: truth is what works.

Tilt over like an otter on her back, big gulp of air, lift the fins sky high, and the blue of the sky turns into the deep blue sea, a universe wilder than outer space, yet through which the human mammal can dive masterfully. The blue yonder is pierced by the silver and gold flashes of sunlight violently reflecting on fishes’ scaly skins amidst undulating algae. Who wants to fly? Everybody. Forget artificial wings. Flying is practiced best with fins and goggles.

A school of 200 depths’ yellowish, dinner plates sized denizens groups up, and rotates to intimidate the suspicious predator in their midst. Another fish with red stripes let me approach, simply happy to extend his impressive spiky dorsal fin. A message well received: don’t touch me there, or anywhere.

Trans-Species Cooperative Intelligence At Sea

Trans-Species Cooperative Intelligence At Sea

It has never been so easy to approach so many fishes. Either the fishes of the area are less hunted, or they learned what a spear gun looks like.

Solo deep sea diving is about the most dangerous sport imaginable. Death can happen at any moment by losing consciousness, and falling to the bottom of the sea (there is no buoyancy below 13 meters down or so, even if one started with full lungs, so one sinks).

Losing consciousness? Try to spend 56 minutes out of 60 below water. Solo deep sea diving, being the most dangerous sport, is best to test one’s philosophical ability and control. Indeed, it requires a perfect theory of truth.

A perfect dive is a perfect truth.

A logical system has two elements:

  1. The basic rules of the subjacent logic L. (“The logic”.)
  2. The semantic truth S in the engulfing universe U. (“the semantics”.)

Basically, a) says how to make well-formed propositions, and b) which ones are true.

L contains axioms, so does the semantics. Where is “TRUTH” in all this? It’s both in L and S.

Truth = L Union S

The main axis of thinking ever since civilization has prospered has been to reduce S and augment L. Why? Because S embodies factual truth, it can be enormous.

For example in animism, S is enormous: every tree, forest, spring, animal, and even cloud shape is endowed with a soul of its own. Modern science has reduced this to zero (inasmuch as it impacts their behavior).

In Elementary Particle Physics, S is disturbingly large: the so called “Standard Model is full of free parameters and mysterious symmetries (sometimes on, sometimes off, for no known reasons).

For a while in physics, it looked as if S was reducing to a few principles (such as the conservation of energy). But then the on-going main interpretation of Quantum Physics blew up the Logic to hell. Semantics became everything.

How? By claiming that even what seemed impossible has a non-zero probability of occurring. In today’s Quantum Physics, camels go through needles, it’s just a matter of time.

Nietzsche tried to reduce S, the Semantics, to the Will To Power.

That’s, of course, stupid.

The Will To Power mostly rises in social animals. Such animals defend themselves as one, mind, the mind of the leader, so determining the “best” leader (namely the meanest) is of the essence.

A better reduction of meaningful motivation in human beings, and, more generally, animals is the much more general Will To Survival. All the power most animals have, is to insure their survival.

All these fishes I was gliding by, had a theory of mine, a theory of my mind, more exactly. You could see it in their eyes, how they wobbled, and fixated, until, reassured, they went back to considering other tasks, They had deduced, from their experience (S above) and the logic L of the situation (my non-threatening behavior), that their survival was not compromised.

What dominates species out there, in the jungle or the sea, is survival. The Will To Survival. Survival is determined by what is true.

Human beings are truth machines. And so are all brainy animals.

Fishes are very brainy.

Those doubting this should see a grouper inciting a moray eel (muraena) to hunt. The grouper is good at catching fishes in the open, moray eels are supreme in cracks and holes. The grouper goes to the muraena, whose head full of large sharp teeth observes him. Then he shakes his head right and left, in a gesture simulating the motions both eels and groupers make when swimming.

It may require several attempts, but then they go hunt together, the eels below the rocks, the grouper above. Suddenly, in flash of activity, many fishes meet their demise. Both fishes are five times more efficient when hunting together.

If a fish escapes from a grouper and hides into a crack, the grouper often goes to the closest moray eel he can find. Then he entices the eel to go fishing. Then the grouper repeats the head shaking dance, more slowly, where the fish went to hide. Then the eel dives into the hole. (Groupers, who are known to be very clever fishes, also cooperate with other fishes.)

Grouper and eel eat, because they have discovered a few basic truths.

Truth is what works.

Notice that the nature of the work Moray Eels and Groupers can do is limited. Thus, so is the notion of truth they can reach. Octopuses are very intelligent, they can unscrew bottles. However they live only a few years, and have no means of cultural transmission. The drama of the Octopus is that every single individual has to reinvent everything.

Advanced life has made intelligence ubiquitous, but finding truth has been highly constrained by the nature of the work species can do. The genus Homo, though, could work in the forests, in the savannah, in the trees, on the cliffs, across streams, and even arms of the sea, or under water. Even before it became super-brainy. And that’s why it became super-brainy.

Our ape like ancestors developed vast notions of truth, because they could do all sorts of work. In turn that created an ecological niche, the superiority niche, which made intelligence a greater advantage. (Until the recent reign of vegetarians, the politically correct, and other gallant promoters of weakness and retardation at the cost of brutal logical efficiency… Or simply the crutches of advancing technology: the present Homo seems to have significantly smaller brains than late model Neanderthals.)

How does that fit the [Truth = Logic + Semantic] equation above? It’s simple: Semantics is true, when it works, and Well Formed Formulas in logic are also what works. As science progresses, Semantic Truth’s empire shrinks, while that of Logic expands. How? Ever more logic shows how, and why, the Semantic Truth is actually the work of logic.

From the physics perspective, “action”, “work” and “truth” are all the same, as the Principle of Least Action ties them up together: the truth of the trajectory, the truth of the evolution of a process, is what minimizes “work” (of/in the physical action). Wherever we look, we see it:

Truth is what works.

Patrice Ayme’

Note 1: Science Is What Works, INSTINCT IS FAST LEARNING, and TRUTH AS ENERGY contain elements of the preceding, while developing further other perspectives.

Note 2:  So what is the difference between humans and animals? The greater capability in humans to do all works, so construct all truths, including the work, and truth, of cultural transmission.