Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. And the results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Or not.
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost aliens raised in Pluto for we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we even apply it to everything, and yes, to us, there is something wrong with that. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy trading their tusk for the ivory, or simply eating them, to pay any attention.

ADÉLIES JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was ‘depravity,’ and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad ‘science’ journalism have ensued, of course. But the biggest recent news about the Adélie had nothing to do with sex. In February, it was reported that 150,000 penguins died, after being landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But it was a hoax, better researched stories have confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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Read Also:
* Beneath the Waves
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song
Continue reading

Booking the Summer

Six Reads to Befriend
in the Next Four Weeks

Hard as you may, you won’t find many book reviews on this site. Hardly any. Ok, one or two; at this point, we’re not too sure. Nevertheless (a word people often invoke in the presence of books, for some reason), authors are kind enough to keep sending us some for our consideration.
This being summer’s last month in the North, and summer being a season when even those with idle minds, get themselves a book or so to read, for some reason, it may be as good a time as any to offer you, avid reader, six more items to pack along with your beach gear.
None too soon, to be sure, as August is also known to suffuse with angst some of us who can’t even afford taking vacations, let alone having unrequited thoughts about Labor Day, fall, end of the year, whatever. That, of course, and the year’s biggest Supermoon, mad dogs, and werewolves.
We insist, though, these are no reviews, and if they may, for a sentence or two, resemble one, you’re allowed to call it quits and deny under oath that you’ve read it first here. Regardless (another word that people, etc.), you may take with you the basic info that’ll be provided free of charge.
That, by the way, is exactly our terms for accepting books to write about. Thus, feel free to take your pick among the themes permeating our list. Mystery, adventure, science, personal miseries, and thoughts about the awareness of animals may sound just like what one may seek to dwell on, in these last dog days of heat and sweat.
Finally, you ought to know that we haven’t finished reading some of them. But before you curse at us, let us offer you the tenor of our off-key intent: you won’t be biased neither by our personal take on them nor by commercial pursuit, so you’ll be freer to browse them at your own volition, as you would at a bookstore.
We won’t tell you our favorites either, or which order we’re following reading them. For we’ll be reading each one of them, as you read this. Thus, it’s just like we’ve preceded you at that bookstore by just a few hours, and already grabbed a half dozen tomes, so you don’t have to take time away from that cocktail of yours. Enjoy the reading.

NEW MEXICO ADVENTURE
Jack Purcell, editor of the popular So Far From Heavens blog, puts his THE LOST ADAMS DIGGINGS, Myth, Mystery and Madness, as ‘a study of a legend and the men who believed in it at a time when men were still inclined to believe in such things.’ He spent decades following a century-old trail of a gold and silver treasure, which eluded many an explorer before.
It’s a fascinating account that combines successive searches for the diggings, that preceded him, with his own tenacious path uncovering clues and old maps. What Purcell’s discovered is now up to you to find out, having him as your trustworthy guide. NineLives Press, 2003.
A SPACE ODYSSEY
Edgar Mitchell is a member of one of the world’s rarest communities: he’s one of the 12 men who’s walked on the Moon. His EARTHRISE, My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut, is an earnest account by the pilot of the 1971 mission’s lunar module, curiously narrated with his Boy Scout sedated voice, not that of a Navy fighter with an Ph.D. degree from MIT.
There are, however, thrilling passages, as during the struggle to bring the plagued Apollo 13 back to Earth, or when he talks about a long-distance Extrasensorial Perception Continue reading