Friday, April 7, 2017

The Great Debate

Writing at Quanta, Jennifer Ouellette explores some scientific research that suggests life moved from the sea to dry land in order to take advantage of the better visual information available to un-submerged eyes.

The research, conducted by a scientist at the beacon of truth, hope and kindness to small kittens (Northwestern University, for you new readers), suggests that animals which operated above or out of the water could see food much better than could those which stayed under water. The expanded information menu might also have driven the development of brains and thinking -- just like with a computer, a larger information pipeline requires a larger processor or it shuts down. And gets eaten, but that usually doesn't happen with computers.

The NU scientist, Malcolm MacIver -- who with that homophone name pretty much had to be an engineer -- began following his idea when studying a critter called the black ghost knifefish, which is probably one of the cooler animal names around. The flounder, trout and lung fluke would like a word with management forthwith.

The knifefish generates electricity to sense its environment and seems to do so with about the same perceptive capability of a sighted fish, even though it required a ton more energy to do check out its surroundings. MacIver figured out that was because light doesn't travel very far underwater and so fish don't devote a lot of brain space to processing images. A study of fossil records showed eye size increasing when animals were in either very shallow water or actually out of it, suggesting they received more information the drier it got.

According to the article headline, life left water because the view is better. In opposition, we present Horatio Thelonius Ignatius Crustaceus Sebastian, who offers his argument in musical form:

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