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Fish are stupid
February 13, 2014 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Evolution and adaptive significance of low intelligence in fish
posted by dangerousdan (50 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was fun! I don't think intelligence can actively harm an organism's fitness (except on the individual level, perhaps) but it seems evident that more intelligence of the sort described would not help fish, and that their energies are best directed elsewhere.
posted by Mister_A at 11:19 AM on February 13


hahaha this is hilarious. Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses indeed! That describes my every day.
posted by rebent at 11:24 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Wow now I want to go see the winning preso!
posted by Mister_A at 11:27 AM on February 13


I think this is it, I'm watching it right now. Tomer Ullmann
posted by Mister_A at 11:27 AM on February 13 [8 favorites]


"In conclusion fish are stupid because their lives are terrible and if they were aware of it they would die" was pretty much what I thought before clicking the link, but it was fun nevertheless.


Fish,in my opinion, are also delicious. This all works out very well for me.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:33 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


I think this is it, I'm watching it right now. Tomer Ullmann yt

Oh God, that's hilarious!
posted by yoink at 11:35 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I don't think intelligence can actively harm an organism's fitness

It costs organisms to be intelligent, in energy as well as in time to maturity, and it's easy to be too flexible. Typically, the less your environment is likely to change during your life the less important it is to be intelligent--unless your environment is likely to change so much that learning is counterproductive.

Intelligence is like any trait, adaptive in some situations but not in others.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:36 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


As someone who has caught the same fish on the same hook twice in 10 minutes, I can confirm that fish are stupid.
posted by Knappster at 11:44 AM on February 13 [9 favorites]


This doesn't appear to be based in anything but speculation for the fun of it, but I like speculation for the fun of it.

This is also something to consider in human populations/family strains that have less intelligence. The assumption is this is accidental, harmful or a sign of inferiority when it could in fact be deliberate and adaptive in populations exposed to specific types of circumstances (like high levels of abuse, harmful working conditions) or in situations where the population is actually already well suited to the environment and the extra load of intelligence doesn't actually produce a gain in quality of living. The idea that intelligent people are better doesn't add up when you start examining why that is the assumption. The idea that more knowledge is better is also silly. We could process a lot more sound and sight and energy waves of different kinds potentially but the idea that this would enhance our experience is unlikely unless there's a particular threat we could use that info to defeat.

It is true that complex knowledge of exactly that which enhances quality of life is good to have, more info just for the sake of it is just going to murk the waters and there is a LOT of suffering in the world and even within our own bodies that a healthy brain blocks out. That is not on accident. The heavier the load (or the worse the environment) the more adaptive it will be to lessen the senses and intelligence. We tend to assume helping people with disabilities should include increasing intelligence but most mood stabilizers and mental health drugs on average (with exceptions possibly related to stimulant use or specific individual reactions) more commonly blunt intelligence and awareness. Having more accurate and conscious knowledge of reality can be problematic when that reality is terrible. I don't believe that reality is innately terrible (depressive realism) I believe the lives of people who are depressed were likely not meeting their health needs be it for more social interaction, more sun, better air, more exercise, more rest, less criticism, more goal oriented activities, more suitable diet, less of specific toxic exposures including allergens or molds--

There is a huge spectrum of variables affecting our cellular processes and they affect mood and well being all over the body in various ways- there are also many different kinds of cellular intelligence, emotional experience, and methods to coordinate activities within the body and to think this is limited to "the brain" is faulty thinking. There are nerve cells all over the body and to think that intelligence is only possible in the brain, or even only in nerve cells is something I think should be challenged. Anyways, those are my ramblings on this fishy topic.
posted by xarnop at 12:04 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


If ignorance is bliss... who really is the stupid one?
posted by Debaser626 at 12:04 PM on February 13


I think this is it, I'm watching it right now. Tomer Ullmann yt
posted by Mister_A at 2:27 PM on February 13 [3 favorites +] [!]


Wow that was literally incredible, and also very enjoyable!
posted by rebent at 12:05 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Ha! Ha! Wait 'til they're all dead from over-fishing, acidification, habitat destruction and global warming. Then they'll know for sure how stupid they are. Dumbasses.
posted by No Robots at 12:05 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


Yes, literally incredible!
posted by Mister_A at 12:09 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


In conclusion fish are stupid because their lives are terrible and if they were aware of it they would die

True Detective meets Fish Police
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:14 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


The just haven't had the proper schooling.
posted by islander at 12:18 PM on February 13 [24 favorites]


In conclusion fish are stupid because their lives are terrible and if they were aware of it they would die

This seems a good place to invoke Jack Handey:

"If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason."
posted by chambers at 12:19 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


I don't think intelligence can actively harm an organism's fitness (except on the individual level, perhaps) but it seems evident that more intelligence of the sort described would not help fish, and that their energies are best directed elsewhere.
posted by Mister_A at 1:19 PM on February 13 [+] [!]


You really are a Mister! Women undergo hormonal changes that affect their ligaments in order to painfully push a 5 pin bowling ball sized brain casing through their birth canal. That's pretty active harm. It just isn't net negative overall.
posted by srboisvert at 12:21 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Strange. When I was a kid, Mom always told me that fish was brain food. Must be a Charlie the Tuna type thing.
posted by jonmc at 12:22 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Fish are stupid, but octopi are brilliant. Discuss.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:22 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Dumb Dumb, Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna
Brainless, Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna
Dumb Dumb, Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna
I love a stupid, mindless tuna fish.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:27 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


In a way, aren't we all fish?
posted by gern at 12:30 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


"In conclusion fish are stupid because their lives are terrible and if they were aware of it they would die"

Well, you could substitute just about any group of people for "fish" in that statement and I would probably have to agree with it on a broad level.

"...if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion." -- Douglas Adams
posted by gern at 12:33 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Octopi eat fish. Fish live in the ocean. Cuddle fish live in the ocean and are interesting.

You may now offer your rebuttal.

Also still thinking about the detriments to intelligence, think about listening to a lecture but having so many ideas as you synthesize what you hear with other material and previous knowledge that half the time you miss what's being said. Intelligence can be accepting information as fact without thinking, or it can mean thinking about that information which takes a lot of processing and can be detrimental to survival in the short term all though beneficial in the long term if processed and put to use. And detrimental to doing the input output activities often provided in the school system because instead you're wanting to argue with the book/teacher all class long.

I'm sorry I'm having a hard time staying on the topic of fish intelligence, I object to the premise! I want to talk about the greatness of my oppositional defiance instead!

I still think my lower intelligence peers had it easier because they didn't question ANYTHING! Okay teacher, siddhartha is about blah blah blah whatever you say. What if I object to the spiritual narcissism of the entire premise in which a man goes on a self absorbed "enlightenment" journey purely about his own personal bliss abandoning his own child to be raised entirely by the mother so he can have inner peace by a sparkly river. What if SHE wanted to be sitting by the sparkly river and she could have been is Mr. Self absorbed would do his half of the child care, hmmm?

But noooo it's short answer questions with everything defined by whatever deep meaning the teacher has made up the author wants us to get out of the book as if what the author THINKS we should get out of the book is therefore how we should be influenced by it to begin with, what if the author is an ass and we shouldn't even be accepting their premise in the manner they defined it to us to begin with?

I really like this thread. It's like, what is fish intelligence, what does it really MEAN. How does it affect us in our lives, man....

Deep.
posted by xarnop at 12:39 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Fish are stupid, but octopi are brilliant. Discuss.

The average lifespan of the common octopus is 1-2 years, a brief period which is filled with changing color, wiggling tentacles, getting into improbably small spaces, eating luxurious shellfish, and squirting ink at stuff, ultimately culminating in mating and death. It's a wonderful life buoyed by the knowledge that that could even regrow limbs if needs be.

The average goldfish can live for more than a decade, during which they will float about, largely neglected, in a bowl/tank with some stupid sunken treasure chest prop that opens and closes with bubbles, spending much of their time hiding in their plastic castle in constant fear of the house cat.

In short, being an octopus is awesome, being a goldfish sucks ass.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:40 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -misattributed to Einstein

That... really isn't the best inspirational quote about intelligence, is it?

Please continue the discussion about octopi.
posted by quiet earth at 12:50 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


"In conclusion fish are stupid because their lives are terrible and if they were aware of it they would die"

Stupid, terrible, and aware are all of course relative terms and quite difficult for higher primates to project upon ichthyology. Mythbusters recently performed a rudimentary test on the intelligence of fish and found goldfish to be quite adaptable. So they have the ability to learn.

Terrible is quite relative. First, we humans must remember that our sense of pleasantness is purely a function of our sensory perceptions as is the fish. Are fish ever uncomfortably cold or warm? No, they function just fine in any temperature of water as long as oxygen capacity of that water allows them to keep moving and other higher functions are not affected. Do they care if they can't see so well or hear or have umami receptors on their tongue? It's all good in their world.

See that line running along the side of the goldfish as with most other well-known species? That represents the awareness of the fish just as much as the mass of their tiny brains. The lateral line allows fish to feel the slightest discrepancies within their world. Fish can almost instantaneously detect if something good or bad has entered their world based on chemical receptors running all along their bodies. If we all had a spider-sense would we all feel our lives were terrible?

However, the author of the paper did find truth in the notion that there is no need for most fish to increase brain size from an evolutionary standpoint. Their tiny brains pretty much do all they need to do. Unlike their distant cousins the octopi, fish don't have the means to do much with increased brain power. They've mastered moving around in their environment as best as their body types will allow and they know how to eat and propagate. That's all they want. Life is good.
posted by MinneapolisMike at 12:53 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


In conclusion, the sea is a, uh, land of contrast.
posted by yoHighness at 12:55 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


This entire festival is straight out of shittyaskscience, one of the only worthwhile parts of reddit.
posted by emptythought at 1:34 PM on February 13


Cuddle fish live in the ocean and are interesting.

I think you mean cuttlefish, but whatever floats your boat. I don't judge.
posted by GuyZero at 1:37 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]


jonmc: "Strange. When I was a kid, Mom always told me that fish was brain food. Must be a Charlie the Tuna type thing."

FISH NOT HAVE BRAIN FISH MAKE BRAIN
posted by Mister_A at 1:55 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


MinneapolisMike: "Fish can almost instantaneously detect if something good or bad has entered their world based on chemical receptors running all along their bodies. If we all had a spider-sense would we all feel our lives were terrible?"

I take your point in the large, but in the small the answer to this question is "OMG YES" since our spider-sense would be telling us we're about to get et like all the time.
posted by invitapriore at 2:16 PM on February 13


None of it is true. It's all deceit. Because we have reasons.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:28 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


This also applies to Fish from Marillion.
posted by w0mbat at 2:30 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I don't think intelligence can actively harm an organism's fitness (except on the individual level, perhaps) but it seems evident that more intelligence of the sort described would not help fish, and that their energies are best directed elsewhere.

As a graduate student in evolutionary biology, I'd just like to point out two things. One, the individual level is where we almost always assess fitness in evo bio. The simplest definition of fitness is simply the number of offspring an individual successfully produces in its lifetime. Most other commonly-used definitions are refinements upon that idea.

Two, if directing energy to other ends than intelligence results in higher fitness, then this is indeed an adaptive evolutionary strategy. In ecology we often think of organisms as having a finite and fully-committed resource hudget, such that enhancing any given trait comes at an equivalent cost to other traits. In that way of thinking (which is a simplification but nevertheless useful) an individual's fitness is maximized by distributing its resources in the most efficient manner possible. Since intelligence is costly (brains use a lot of energy, learning requires increased parental investment, and instinctual responses are often quicker and more reliable than learned responses) it's very often better to invest resources in other directions like brood size, secondary sexual characteristics (for males, generally), body size, fast development, etc. So low intelligence can definitely be adaptive, if it frees up resources that can be better employed elsewhere.
posted by Scientist at 2:45 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I wonder if fish are so stupid as we would like to think -- given that we're the ones who lock them up in little tanks. It is possible to train them to swim through a hoop, and get them quite upset if they don't get the expected treat -- check out the fainting fish video by Karen Pryor.
posted by bearwife at 2:59 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


The Q&A for the talk is pretty funny too.
posted by sharpener at 4:25 PM on February 13


Cuddle fish are like cuttlefish only with twice the rainbows and they actually like to cuddle with me.
posted by xarnop at 4:33 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


There's a Q&A too
posted by schwa at 4:38 PM on February 13


Or what Sharpner said.
posted by schwa at 4:38 PM on February 13


The Tomer Ullman one also has a Q&A.
posted by yoink at 4:44 PM on February 13


@xarnop I have bipolar disorder. I have a great life. I do not need to have my intelligence or awareness dimmed. If you or someone you know is on medication that is lowering their intelligence or awareness, they are on the wrong meds. The mentally ill should not expect that their lives will be any -less- than that of a normal-functioning-brained person, and I am quite offended that you think mine should be. My bipolar did not come about because I have not had enough spinach or sunlight, it is a heritable illness and a blessed family trait.

I have had many pet fish, some of which seemed more intelligent than others. I hope they enjoyed their little fishy lives. I tried to make it pleasant for them, though how could I know.
posted by veerat at 5:22 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Fish are stupid, but octopi are brilliant. Discuss.

Octopi are actually reincarnated comedians. I thought everyryone knew that. [/ biologist]
posted by fshgrl at 6:05 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I think we should help all the fishes grow arms so they can have hugs. I can't believe none of the fish can hug! This must be changed!
posted by xarnop at 7:11 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I think we should help all the fishes grow arms so they can have hugs. I can't believe none of the fish can hug! This must be changed!

You've been hanging out with Philippe, haven't you? Good for you. He's a sweet little guy.
posted by chambers at 8:54 PM on February 13


So it's really more like Charlie Kelly the Tuna, eh?
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:25 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Appendix A: Shortest-Memory Player Sets the Rules of the Game.

We call it Catfish Logic in our house; see Deliberate Ignorance.

Favor this.
posted by dragonsi55 at 3:35 AM on February 14


[A couple of comments deleted. Yeah, the mental illness thing got pretty deraily there guys, probably better for email. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 4:24 AM on February 14


Octopi are actually reincarnated comedians. I thought everyryone knew that. [/ biologist]

And they do not like paparazzi.
posted by homunculus at 1:31 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


> What if I object to the spiritual narcissism of the entire premise in which a man goes on a self absorbed "enlightenment" journey [...]
> so he can have inner peace by a sparkly river. [...]
> I really like this thread. It's like, what is fish intelligence, what does it really MEAN. How does it affect us in our lives, man....


Go sit by a river and think about fish intelligence ...?

> Deep.

You'll need a sinker on that line ...
posted by nickzoic at 4:12 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I think we should help all the fishes grow arms so they can have hugs. I can't believe none of the fish can hug! This must be changed!

Mother nature has you covered: Seahorses give hugs.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:10 PM on February 20


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