Scientists Should Wake Up and Smell the Fish Farts
May 14, 2013 by
Exposing the Big Game
When studying something which can be tested
in a lab, scientists don't hesitate to employ the tried and true formula: if
it looks like shit, and smells like it, chances are it's actually shit. When
it comes to literal excrement, some scientists are real whizzes. Even
without a DNA test, they can tell you with near-certainty through which
species of animal's anus a particular scat has passed. But when it comes to
animal sentience, some scientists still don't know shit (pardon my
Thanks to his creator, author Arthur Conan Doyle,
the criminologist Sherlock Holmes famously pointed out that, "If you've
eliminated all other possibilities, whatever remains must be the truth."
Well, scientists have spent centuries toying with every other possibility to
avoid the obvious fact that non-human animals are conscious, thinking,
Incredibly, there are some who're still grappling
with the question: "Are animals aware?" What the fuck--of course they're
aware! Most animals are far more aware of their surroundings than the
average human, for that matter.
The science of animal behavior has come a long
ways from the dark days of Rene Descartes, thanks to the likes of Donald
Griffin, Marc Bekoff and other pioneers in the study of cognitive ethology.
Just last summer, an international group of prominent neuroscientists
meeting at the University of Cambridge issued "The Cambridge Declaration on
Consciousness in Non-Human Animals," The document stated that "humans are
not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate
consciousness," and concludes that numerous documented animal behaviors must
be considered "consistent with experienced feeling states."
witnessed remarkably intelligent actions on the part of individuals
throughout the animal kingdom--from the family dog leaping to his feet at the
whispered mention of a "walk" or "car ride," to a herd of wild bison
mourning over the remains of their dead--my response to the Cambridge
Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals is, "Well duh, tell us
something we don't know."
Speciously, the Cambridge Declaration drew
an arbitrary line and left the world of fishes out in the cold when it comes
to animal consciousness. Far too many of today's "behaviorists" still
ascribe to the long outdated notion of fish the way science had long thought
of all non-human animals--as automatons: mindless machines going through life
without any more than random responses to stimuli.
Now I'm in no way
anti-science--far from it, in fact--I just think that sometimes a scientist
will spend an exorbitant amount of time chasing his or her tail when the
answer they're looking for is as plain as the nose on their face.
Take the question of animal communication, for example. We all know whales
and dolphins are able (when they can find a quiet stretch of ocean--devoid of
the deafening drone of ships or navy sonar) to communicate with one another
through songs or clicks, respectively. But lately observers have learned
that even fish have devised clever ways to keep in touch. According to an
article entitled "Fish
Farts: Herring Use Flatulence To Communicate" in the Huffington Post,
apparently some types of herring pass gas to "speak" to each other without
alerting other fish.
Researchers Bob Batty, Ben Wilson and Larry Dill
made that Nobel Prize-worthy discovery after studying Pacific and Atlantic
herring in Canada and Scotland, noting (importantly) that the gas is not
caused by the digestive process. Instead, the fish swallow air from the
surface and emit it through a small opening near their bung holes. Thus,
profound as they may be, the bubbles aren't really farts in the stinky,
So, it seems to me a bit arrogant to write an entire
class of animal life out of a "Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human
Animals." Granted, herring may not be flatulent enough to recite the
Preamble to the Constitution, but then, as Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote, "Only a man
can draw a self-portrait, but only a man wants to."
skeptical scientists to wake up and smell the sentience when it comes to