Self Replication in Alien Life Forms: Alien Sex?

Fungi reproduction

Image via Wikipedia

By R. A. Freitas

Of all the important things life forms do, self-reproduction seems quite unique. Deprive an animal of its food or drink, draw off its blood, or cut away its skeleton, and it dies. But prevent an animal from reproducing and, usually, nothing happens. The species may eventually become extinct, but the individual organism lives out its lifespan. Reproduction of self is an important asset but is not absolutely essential for life – even on Earth.

This is true despite protests that self-replication is somehow the entire point of biological activity. The vast majority of social insects never engage in personal self-reproduction, yet these species are extremely successful. The anatomy of domesticated turkeys has been altered by breeding for plumpness so that these animals can no longer mate in the natural way and must be artificially inseminated with human help. A number of higher Earth species such as the mule are quite sterile, yet do not become extinct.

Indeed, an intelligent extraterrestrial race might lack the capability of individual direct self-replication. We might imagine two closely allied nonsentient alien species among whom, when a successful interspecies mating occurs (or in a special way or in a special environment), sterile but intelligent “mule” offspring are the result of the union. Clearly there is no bar to the rise of intelligence in such a situation – the hybrid’s brain mass. neural complexity, or level of organization may be qualitatively greater than those of its non-sentient parents. Our intelligent but sterile race would maintain their numbers by corraling and manipulating the “dumb” mixed parental population much as stockmen raise choice cattle and stablemen breed champion thoroughbreds.

It is entirely possible that some very complex extraterrestrial living creatures may have no need to reproduce themselves at all, either personally or at the species level. One class of such beings might be self-creating but non-replicating organisms, analogous to very advanced robots capable of making continual repairs and of upgrading their own mechanisms periodically. Other nonreproductive lifeforms might increase their numbers simply by physically expanding and then dividing into pieces of various sizes – biomass increases as easily by growing to larger volumes as by replicating a large number of small originals.

There could even exist a race which evolves by means of acquired characteristics. Such lifeforms would neither die nor reproduce, but would instead modify their parts to survive in a changing environment. Selection would act internally on their constitutions, rather than on a succession of descendent organisms. The closest analogies, according to Dr. P.H.A. Sneath, are terrestrial soils, which don’t reproduce in the usual sense but are complexly organized systems nevertheless. Soils respond to environmental changes, arise where there is rock and wind to erode it, and are virtually immortal. If ever they tried to “compete” with their neighbors, such soil-like organisms would blend together with a total loss of individuality.

Finally, reproduction is not a prerequisite for sex. Two dissimilar growth systems could trade genetic information about their expansion patterns, then each continue growing in a slightly different way. This would be an example of “sexual growth” without replication. Of course, self-reproduction does have many advantages. Whole-body duplication allows rapid dispersion into new niches and produces abundant biological alternatives upon which natural selection may operate. It is a telling observation that most complex terrestrial creatures are capable of self-replication. Assuming Earth is a typically exotic planet, we should expect that many, though certainly not all. extraterrestrials will be reproducers.

Is Sex Necessary?

If reproduction is a useful convenience for a species, sex seems almost pure luxury. Certainly there is no fundamental reason why evolution and diversity cannot thrive in its absence. There is no universal law prohibiting asexuality.

In fact, asexuals can be vastly more prolific in the short run. Microorganisms chum out literally billions of copies in the space of a few hours, relying almost exclusively on such simple techniques as binary fission and budding. No “opposite sex” is customarily required. While it is true that many sexual species are also quite fecund, as a general rule fewer offspring are produced than among the asexuals.

Furthermore, asexual reproduction is good economics from the personal point of view. An organism which copies itself without sex passes undiluted its entire genetic heritage to its young. Offspring are exact duplicates of the originals. A bisexual parent, on the other hand, normally contributes only half of its own genes towards the construction of an offspring. The other half must be donated by the second parent. From the standpoint of the selfish gene, sex entails a rather poor profit margin in comparison to no-sex.

Except …

A completely asexual species produces a population of virtual duplicates, save an occasional mutation. Since variation is the raw material of evolution, and the lack of sex decreases the breadth of this variation, such creatures are a distinct disadvantage when competing with their sexual brethren. New genetic combinations in asexual species can accumulate only by a sequence of fortuitous mutations in the same family lineage. Asexuals must “stand in line” to wait for a series of rare mutations.” Change spreads only slowly through the gene pool.

Sex allows the accumulation of variation in parallel, rather than in series. In a sexual species many new genes can spread rapidly throughout the population because gene-jumbling produces a novel combination (possibly of several new genes at once) with each act of reproduction. Rare mutations become more widely distributed. So great are the advantages of sex that even many normally asexual organisms have occasional sexual encounters to beef up the waning gene pool. This is especially true in particularly harsh or rapidly changing environments.

For example, both the freshwater hydra and the aphid reproduce asexually for most of the year. As winter approaches. with hard times ahead, these animals switch over to sexual reproduction. This ensures genetic diversity when the colonies disband and disperse with the arrival of cold weather.

In the billion years or so since its invention, sex has proven remarkably successful – if we are to judge from the fossil record of life on this planet. Sexual species dominate the animal world, and the most widespread and important groups are all but exclusively sexual in their mode of reproduction. What of the creatures of other worlds? We don’t know whether all alien species must have chromosomes, genes, or some other information-carrying molecules – perhaps some extraterrestrials reproduce by a process akin to xerography. But two things are clear: Variability is the key to biological complexity and survival, and sex reshuffles the biological data deck nonpareil.

 

How Many Sexes?

Not all Earth creatures are bisexual. Terrestrial biology offers several examples of multisexual reproduction. One interesting case is the lowly paramecium, which has between five and ten sexes depending on how you count. These are distinct mating forms which arise at different times under definite conditions, and which can only mate in certain specific combinations. Another example is certain quadrisexual fungi, notably Basidiomycetes, in which there are four distinct sexual groupings. Among the higher animals, greylag geese display an evolved sociobiological “behavioral trisexuality.” One goose “marries” and mates with two male ganders. Multisexuality is clearly a viable alternative.

Why, then, are the vast majority of terrestrial sexual lifeforms bisexual?

The answer seems to be that one sexual partner is just enough to properly shuffle the genetic deck. Each healthy individual has a reasonable chance of mating with a member of the opposite sex. Apparently, two are both necessary and sufficient. ^More than this may seriously impair the chances for species continuity. The more sexes required for successful reproduction, the more difficult it is to bring them all together properly at just the right time. The greater the number of links in the mating chain, the greater is the chance that the species may become vulnerable to certain predators or other environmental severities, thus jeopardizing the future of the entire race. And it is not clear how, say, three sexes could generate variability very much more effectively than two.

So while extraterrestrial multi-sexuality cannot be ruled out, requiring more than two sexes for reproductive activity seems an unnecessarily complicated solution to a problem elegantly resolved using only two. It’s a safe bet that bisexuality is the overwhelmingly dominant mode of sexual reproduction among the alien lifeforms in our Galaxy.

 

The Bisexual Universe

Assuming that most sexually-reproducing ETs will have just two sexes, bisexuality does not necessarily demand the existence of distinct male and female forms. A case in point is the black mold Rhizopus nigricans, which displays an unusual form of reproduction known as “heterethallism.” This species of fungus is bisexual, inasmuch as two organisms are required for fertilization and replication to take place. However, the two sexes are physically indistinguishable. There are no constant differences between members of opposite mating groups other than their reciprocal behavior when crossed. Thus, it is impossible to designate one form of the black mold as male and the other as female. Customarily the complementary groups are labeled merely “+” and “-” for convenience during experiments.

One can imagine a race of intelligent extraterrestrials apparently unisexual to our undisceming eyes but which actually practice heterothallic sex. Such beings would most certainly lack secondary sexual characteristics, those hormone-induced physical landmarks such as beards and breasts to which we humans are so pleasantly accustomed. They might even lack distinctive primary sexual characteristics such as internal or external gonads. Norms of marriage, inheritance, language, religion and social behavior would be profoundly affected by this state of affairs. The usual social tensions caused by sexual competition in human cultures would be more diffuse in a society in which every member was a potential mate and in which all could become pregnant. though sexual undercurrents might arise in all interpersonal relationships. The disparate male/female roles in human social roles and courtship rituals would defy their understanding, and to heterothallic ETs, human males – who participate in reproductive acts for pleasure but cannot become pregnant as a consequence – might be judged especially pitiful, handicapped, even perverted creatures.

Assuming maleness and femaleness exist among most bisexual alien species, there are again major variations in Earthly biology. It is quite possible to have an organism which is neither strictly female nor strictly male, but rather exhibits some alternating or intermediate condition. For example, simultaneous hermaphrodites possess at once both female and male sex organs. Ovaries and testes are present together in the same individual. Matings occur in pairs, with each partner serving both sexual roles at the same time. Planarians, earthworms, sponges and snails fall into this category, and a few simultaneous hermaphrodites among the more highly evolved vertebrates are known, such as the banded flamefish Serranus subltgarius.

Such intersexual animals can be sex-mosaics in time as well. Many creatures start life as one sex and finish it as another. These sequential hermaphrodites come in many varieties. For instance, in protoandry an animal is first male and later female; proterogyny is the converse, with young females metamorphosing into functional males as they age. Or the process can be cyclical. Oysters are bom as males, then spend the rest of their lives switching back and forth between male and female in irregular cycles a few months long.

What would a society of sequential hermaphroditic aliens be like? We can take a few clues from the life history of the freshwater shrimp Gammarus pulex. Each of these individual crustaceans is both male and female, but not at the same time. Newborn animals spend early life in a neuter stage, after which they pass through puberty and enter the first sexually active phase as functioning males. After a while, the maleness is exhausted. Latent ovaries ripen into maturity, and the organism spends the remainder of its life as a full-fledged female. Eggs are shed by middle-aged mothers and are fertilized by energetic youthful males still in the middle of their first cycle.

It is a magnificent bisexual system, one which works quite well on Earth. No individual is excluded from any phase of the reproductive process. Still more significant, each member of the colony plays both male and female roles during his/her life. Drawing an analogy to the human life cycle, zoologist Norman J. Berrill of McGill University in Montreal imagines that all halfgrown individuals, about ten years old and weighing about 34 kilograms, would be males – the only males – ready to act as such both sexually and “probably in other wayward ways.” Like their truly human counterparts, as troublemakers they would be kept in line by a closed society of matriarchs, roughly equal in number to the males but each twice the size and much older and wiser. This wisdom would be not merely of a general character, as among human parents, but also in the special sense of each having been a male herself, as understanding as a mother with a child and as little likely to put up with any nonsense, perhaps wistfully looking back to her youthful manhood. Womanhood would bud as usual when masculinity had faded, with growth continuing and full female maturity yet to come.

The institution of monogamous marriage as we know it would be quite impossible in such a society. Husbands would be forever changing into wives and males would be too immature psychologically to be treated as other than “child-lovers.” Such pedophilia is viewed as a sexual perversion in many human societies, but for our intelligent shrimps it would seem quite normal. Incest prohibitions might be inordinately complex, since all fertile middle-aged females in the family in theory could mate with any or all male children. To offset the negative effects of inbreeding, exchanges of matriarchs could occur between families, doubtless accompanied by the same pomp and ceremony as upon “giving the bride away” in our society. Love in the traditional human sense probably would not exist – females could have strong affective and familial non-sexual ties with other females, whereas relations between females and males would be characterized more as controlling playfulness than by affectionate cooperation. Our usual concepts of male/female love might seem quite alien to them.

 

Xenogamy

Given these tremendous potential cultural and biological differences, one wonders if meaningful interspecies social-sexual relations would be possible at all between humans and extraterrestrials. Many science fiction authors have tried to deal sensibly with this touchy question, such as Philip Jose Farmer in The Lovers, in Flesh, and in Strange Relations, Walter Tevis in his The Man Who Fell to Earth, and a host of others. There have been “reports” of sexual molestations of humans by the occupants of UFOs. And Star Trek’s own Mr. Spock is a prime example of xenogamy, the product of a marriage between a human female alid a male alien from the fictional planet Vulcan.

It is not at all implausible that interspecies copulation can occur. Given the prevalence of the complementary male and female organs throughout the animal kingdom on this planet, such activity may indeed be possible even between creatures of “gross morphologic disparity.”[4] Alfred Kinsey’s researchers turned up accounts of attempted couplings between a female eland and an ostrich, a male dog and a chicken, a female chimpanzee and a tomcat, and a stallion and a human female. Obviously, relations between humans and other beings even roughly humanoid in shape can happen.

If such activity is possible, is it likely? Could humankind and an alien race derive sexual pleasure from mutual physical encounters? These are very difficult questions, mainly because the ET is such an unknown quantity. Extraterrestrials may have organs, appearances, sensitivities, and responses wholly incompatible with any conceivable human style of lovemaking.

And yet – in 1948 Kinsey reported that some 17 of all rural farmboys had experienced sexual congress with various barnyard animals, and had achieved orgasmic satisfaction in this way. (Less than a tenth of a percent of all females interviewed admitted such coition, although 1.5 of the sample reported some form of sexual contact with animals.) If bestiality occurs so regularly among human populations, can we state with any assurance that “xeniality” will not also occur when humans mingle socially with alien races? The evidence, scanty though it may be,suggests that interspecies sexual contacts are not only possible but probable.

One last question remains. When humans and aliens sexually join. will anything result from the union? Again, this is a difficult question because an unknown alien physiology is involved. Different species on Earth have been mated successfully from time to time – for instance, the hybrid offspring of a mallard and a pintail duck is fertile.

In 1975 a chance mating of two very different species of ape in the Grant Park Zoo produced the first reported ape hybrid. The offspring, dubbed a “siabon,” was the result of a mating between a male gibbon and a female siamang confined in a single cage. “Obviously,” remarked one researcher, “they had been sexually involved for some time.” Gibbon cells have 44 chromosomes, whereas siamang cells have 50, and thus are farther apart genetically than human beings and the great apes. The “siabon” offspring, believed sterile, has a mixed bag of 47 chromosomes – 22 from the father and 25 from the mother. Still, in the first analysis, xenobiologists recognize that interspecies fertilization, and especially hybrid fertility, is a rather rare phenomenon.

In the context of extraterrestrial matings, natural interspecies fertility should be even rarer. (Of course, with advanced technology almost anything may be possible – the first interkingdom clones combining plants and animals were achieved during the late 1970s.) We know that slight changes in the environment can cause enormous variations in planetary biochemistry. Nucleic acids, genes and codons may not be needed by ETs, or these may be essential but in different forms than are found on Earth. Many complicated and highly unlikely coincidences must occur for an alien/human mating to produce viable results. The two species must have identical amino acid sequences for proteins (assuming they even have proteins), the same optical rotation in their biomolecules, closely matched chromosomes with similar size and shape, the same kinds of genes located on the same chromosomes at the same locations, and so forth – all of which is highly improbable. It has not even been shown that humans can produce interspecies offspring with their own closest biological relatives – apes and other primates who share most of man’s biological heritage.

So interspecies matings involving humans aren’t likely to result in pregnancy. If pregnancy somehow does occur, the hybrid offspring probably won’t be viable. (It has been estimated that up to 50% of all normal human pregnancies may end in spontaneous abortion.) Finally, if somehow viable and carried to term, the interspecies hybrid will most likely be sterile or maladapted for natural survival, much like the mule or the liger. Hybrid vigor is unlikely in the offspring of parents of such widely varying genetic constitution.

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Mental Time Travel in Animals?

By Thomas Suddendorf and Janie Busby

Are humans alone in their ability to reminisce about thepast and imagine the future? Recent evidence suggests that food-storing birds (scrub jays) have access to information about what they have stored where and when. This has raised the possibility of mental time travel (MTT) in animals and sparked similar research with other species. Here we caution that such data do not provide convincing evidence for MTT. Examination of characteristics of human MTT (e.g. non-verbal declaration, generativity, developmental prerequisites) points to other avenues as to how a case for animal MTT could be made. In light of the current lack of evidence, however,we maintain that MTT is a uniquely human characteristic.

Do animals reminisce about the good old days and ponder what the future might hold for them? Humans frequently engage in such mental time travel (MTT), reliving pastevents and entertaining possible future scenarios(Box 1). It has been argued that MTT is unique to humans, and that its emergence was a prime mover inhominid evolution. Recently, a series of innovative studies on food-storing scrub jays has raised doubt about this claim. In recovering stored food, these birds appear toact in ways that depend on what they stored where andwhen in the past, and on what they might expect to happen in the future. This has sparked interest in similar capacities in other species. Although we applaud these efforts, we argue here that current evidencedoes not yet warrant crediting other species with MTT. By examining other characteristics of MTT we point todifferent ways in which evidence could be obtained if thecompetence were to exist in animals.

Episodic memory and the scrub jay challenge

Travelling mentally into one’s past requires memory. Animals clearly have memory. But some memory researchers argue that there are distinct memory systems, raising the possibility that one of them is uniquely human.Tulving proposed that remembering an episode – what happened to me where and when – is processed in a different memory system from other types of information. Episodic memory is thought to be part of the larger explicit system (i.e. comprising the memories thatwe can declare)  rather than the implicit system. Semantic memory – memory for facts about the world, not personal experiences – is the other explicit component. Episodic memory can be dissociated from semantic memory in that each can be selectively impaired andeach is associated with distinct cortical activity patterns. Tulving claims that only humans have episodic memory. Although the term is widely used, there has been some confusion about what episodic memory means, partly because Tulving modified his definition from the type of information stored (what, where and when) to anemphasis on what he terms ‘autonoetic’ (self-knowing) consciousness. He did this because it became clear that one can know (semantic memory) something about what happened where and when, without remembering that past episode.

Autonoetic consciousness is the subjective (recollective) experience associated with travelling back to a point in time and re-experiencing a pastevent. This requires concepts of self (the traveller)and subjective time (the dimension along which to travel). So whereas the earlier definition describes episodic memory in terms of the information encoded, the later emphasizes a specific type of recall; that is, MTT into the past.

We know that animals, from bees to monkeys, can learn from single events. But do they revisit the events that shaped their past? Innovative work by Clayton, Dickinson and their colleagues has produced perhaps the strongest case yet for episodic memory in animals. Their studies on the caching and retrieval behaviour of scrub jays (Fig. 1) have shown that these animals can form integrated memories of what was cached where and when. Scrub jays appropriately adjust recovery attempts of differentially perishable food caches depending on howlong ago they stored the food items. The authors concluded that the birds show all the behavioural criteria of episodic memory. But Clayton and colleagues cautiously refer to ‘episodic-like’ memory because the phenomenological experience defined by Tulving – autonoetic consciousness– could not readily be shown to exist. Is episodic-like memory anything like episodic memory? Clayton, Griffiths and Dickinson  offer the following choice:

Option 1: Insist that autonoetic consciousness is crucial to episodic memory, which, they submit, probably makes it impossible to refute the claim of human uniqueness (because in the absence of language in animals there areno obvious behavioural manifestations).

Option 2: Characterize episodic memory in terms of the information encoded (i.e. Tulving’s earlier definition) and accept that scrub jays have it because they have beenshown to encode the what, where and when informationinto an integrated memory.

At first sight these seem to be the only options and, asscientists, it would seem clear which option we should adopt. Hypotheses need to be falsifiable. But let us be clear what is and what is not implied if we take Option 2  andsay that jays (and possibly other species) have episodic memory. It is implied that jays use what, where, when information; it is not implied that their memory retrieval is anything like remembering past episodes. In fact, the cognitive processes involved need not be about the past at all.

Box 1. Time in the human mind

More than half of adult conversation refers to past or future events. Who did what to whom and what happened next? What will happen, where and when?Many human actions are based on remotfuture goals. Although there is a growing literature on differences infuture time orientation, the basic capacity to entertain eventsremoved in time seems universal. Past events can be reconsidered, evaluated (e.g. regretted) and extrapolated to assess their consequences. Many aspects of human volition make sense only in thelight of MTT, including apparent biological paradoxes such assuicide (when the future outlook is particularly bleak), celibacy and hunger strikes. Humans construct personal and community histories and plans. Strategies (for individuals or even entire countries) can be coordinated, progress reviewed and adjustments made if necessary.Temporal concepts, time keepers and calendars have been developed to aid our orientation and plans. In short, it is safe to say that MTT is a significant human attribute, important to our dominance of the planet.

As Dretske noted: event A might cause cognitive change B that effects behaviour C at a later point in time, but this need not imply that B carries any information about A itself – the mediator B might be causal ratherthan informational. Thus, although jays perform actions C (recovery) that make sense only in the light of A (caching what, where and when) it need not imply that B represents the past event A. B might instead be a separate system(some implicit feed-forward algorithm) that causes certaincaching and recovery behaviour. In fact, even if one canshow that an animal has explicit access to the information,this need not imply MTT. There is a double dissociation here. One can know what happened where and when without being able to remember the event (e.g. yourbirth) and, conversely, one can travel back in time without access to accurate when and where information. I (TS) can vividly re-experience meeting a fascinating character once in the Philippines (or was that Indonesia?) sometime in the early nineties (or was that the late eighties?). Jays might know what food is hidden where and whether it is still good to eat, without knowing how or why they know it. If  we take Option 2, then, there should be no implication(although it remains a possibility) that jays recollect the past episode and reason about the present state from there. Perhaps what–where–when or ‘www-memory’ would be a more neutral, descriptive term than episodic memory.

Although it is interesting that jays can encode, store and use such information, we suspect that many people are fascinated by this line of work largely because it raises the possibility of human-like episodic recall (Tulving’s later definition) in animals. According to Option 1, however, this might be impossible to show, in which case the human uniqueness claim would merely be a presumption. We argue, instead, that animals could provide evidence for MTT (even if we can not establish ‘the feel’, i.e. autonoetic consciousness). We might call this Option 1b .We take as aworking hypothesis that MTT is uniquely human because, although there could be evidence for MTT in animals, there has as yet been none forthcoming. So what could such evidence look like?

Avenues towards evidence for MTT in animals (if theyhad it)

Let us first see whether we can agree what phenomenonwe are in fact talking about. Although there are clearly problems studying MTT in others, we can observe it inourselves. Please recall the last conference presentationyou gave. Where and when was it? What were you talking about? Who was in the audience? Can you picture yourself  back there? Now let’s travel forward to your next scheduled talk or lecture. Where and when will it be? What are you going to talk about? Who will be the audience? Can you picture yourself there? Now don’t get carried away…

Language and other ways of declaring MTT

Although the phenomenological experience of  MTT isprivate and cannot be directly assessed (even in fellow humans), we do not, of course, always keep our travels asecret.We can declare it – that is what makes it part of the explicit system. Using language, we take mutual tripsdown memory lane and communicate our plans andvisions. Some certainly argue that language is the keydifference between humans and animals, and that episodicmemory can only emerge in an organism that possesses language. However, there have been efforts to teachlanguage to animals (chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, parrots, dolphins, seals), so evidence for MTT could comefrom there. But could MTT not also be declared without language? It is sometimes easier to express mental travels non-linguistically,for example, through pantomime, where onere-enacts events. Humans also practice their behavioural responses to foreseen, but not yet experienced,events. We can disinhibit the motor execution of mental simulations and overtly rehearse for the upcoming performance,or re-enact a fabulous goal-scoring move fromlast Sunday.

If animals engage in MTT, they might also express it to themselves or to others in such ways. Cleverexperimentation may be required to establish such evidence.Some ingenious research has already made progressat creating means for animals to declare their minds:showing that monkeys can report whether or not they remember. Non-verbal paradigms could be explored with children and compared with verbal tasks to validatethe measure. In summary, then, we argue that the claim that MTT is uniquely human is based on the current lack ofevidence from animals, not on the a priori impossibility of obtaining evidence. Memory for whatever, wherever and wheneverLet us briefly go back to that last talk you gave. What was the audience’s reaction? You might have some snapshots of what the scene looked like. But this imagery does not tend to unfold in an orderly fashion from start to finish. Instead,the chronology of our past ‘depends on a process of active, repeated reconstruction’.

A brief schematic depiction of memory.

Image via Wikipedia

Although we can describe (or re-enact) some aspects of the events, we fallshort on others (what did you wear that day…?). Extensive research on episodic retrieval clearly shows that we do not simply press the rewind button and replay all the actions and perceptions from beginning to end. We actively reconstructpast events from the gist or from visual snapshots,but draw heavily on our general semantic knowledge. Accuracy is not imperative. We are vulnerable to incorporating more recently acquired information and tend toreconstruct in ways that help justify our current attitudes. Our retrieval is often flawed, subject to interference,misinformation and updating. We argue that MTT isgenerative. That is, given a limited number of objects and actions, we can assemble and reassemble these elements into virtually unlimited constellations. MTT reflects ourability to imagine whatever, wherever and whenever, rather than our ability to faithfully record what, where and when information. Can you not go back to your lastlecture and insert the idea that your Mum was sitting inthe front row?

Why would humans, or any animal for that matter, haveevolved a system that is at times quite unreliable? Theanswer is that there is no selective advantage to reconstructingthe past per se, unless it matters for the presentor future. We propose that episodic reconstruction is justan adaptive design feature of the future planning system. Surprisingly, episodic future thinking has attracted farless research attention than episodic memory, but it has recently become in vogue. We know that patients like K.C. or D.B., who have lost their ability to mentally travel into the past, are equally impaired in their travels into thefuture. When you mentally travel forward to your upcoming talk, you can generate a variety of scenarios. Some of the elements are extrapolations from past events (is it going to be in the same lecture theatre?) and others draw on more general semantic knowledge. You can playthrough different possibilities just as you can play through‘what if ’ versions of past events (like inserting Mum inyour last lecture). Anticipating future scenarios clearlyhas selective advantages because you can prepare now (e.g. practice) for anticipated contingencies. One would think that such flexible foresight would become quiteobvious if animals had it (Box 2). So far there is little evidence for this for reviews).

Box 2. Limited foresightedness

One proposal, the Bischof-Ko¨ hler hypothesis, suggests that animals’ forethought is restricted because, unlike humans, they cannotanticipate future drives. Roberts recounts a revealing observation by D’Amato, which can be used to illustrate this hypothesis. His cebus monkeys were fed biscuits once a day andthe monkeys would hungrily eat to satiation. Then they indulged inan apparently irrational behaviour: they would throw the remaining food out of the cage, only to find themselves hungry again somehours later. Why not guard the food to satisfy future hunger? If one isnot hungry and can’t imagine being hungry again, then biscuits’utilitymay lie in their quality as projectiles. There is no point in acting now to secure a future need one can not conceive of. One reason forsuch a limit could be that travelling forward to the experiences and needs of a future selfmayrequire much the same processes as theory of mind. As Hazlitt noted 200 years ago:

‘The imagination by means of which alone I can anticipatefuture objects, or be interested in them, must carry me out ofmyself into the feelings of others by one and the same processby which I am thrown forward as it were into my future being,and interested in it.’

Neither future ‘self’ nor present (or future) ‘other’ can be experienceddirectly and are accessible only through an act of imagination(or mental simulation). A recent meta-analysis of theory ofmindresearch has shown that young children have as much difficultyimagining another’s false belief as they have recalling their own, suggesting a developmental synchrony between simulating one’sown past and another’s present. This has been supported by otherstudies reporting associations between theory of mind and behavioursthat appear to rely on MTT. So perhaps specific individual anticipations in animals are limited for the same reasons thattheir theory of mind seems limited. Humans clearly act towardssatisfaction of a multitude of future needs (from shopping for theweekend’s dinner to saving for retirement).

Prerequisite capacities for MTT

MTT draws on more general capacities. Open-endedgenerativity is achieved by use of recursive rules thatallow us to combine and recombine a finite set of elements. But we do not just jumble elements together. We can represent our representations as representations of the past, distinguish them from random hallucinations or dreams, and attempt to reconstruct the event flow as faithfully as possible. We can evaluate different scenarios as more- or less-likely future events. We think about thought. We might never know whether animals have flashbacks of previous perceptions and actions, like the snapshots we can conjure up spontaneously, but that is notthe question here. Could they think about these snapshots (if they had them) as past events and actively reconstruct,and reassemble them into future anticipations? Recursion in general, and meta-representation in particular, manifest in a host of other human capabilities (e.g. language,music, mathematics, theory of mind). Suddendorf and Corballis argued that MTT is uniquely humanlargely on the basis that these prerequisite abilities havenot yet been established in animals.

One also needs a sense of time if planning is to be effective, and a sense of self to project and relate to the present. Of the many species tested, only the great apes seem capable of recognizing themselves in mirrors, which is a controversial non-verbal test of self . Otherwise there is little to suggest animals have a self concept that they could project along a time dimension. Animals are by no means insensitive to matters temporal, however. Various timing abilities have been demonstrated,including tracking time of day, interval timing and recall oftemporal sequences. Yet Roberts’ review concluded that the capacity of animals to act on temporal information is very limited. What competence there is, he suggested, can be attributed to basic mechanisms, such as associations with states of the circadian cycle or other relatively primitive timing mechanisms, rather than a concept of time.

Conclusion, with a view to the future

The current evidence suggests that scrub jays have‘www-memory’ – they can encode, store and use informationabout what they cached where and when. This neednot imply that they travel mentally back to the originalcaching event or forward to the recovery. The hypothesis that MTT is uniquely human seems only worth upholding if it can – potentially – be refuted (hence Option 1b above). We identified avenues through which a case could be made.Given at least some indication of competence at prerequisites,our closest relatives, the great apes, might be themost likely candidates.

But it is certainly worth finding out more about scrub jays’ competence, and about their limits. For example, Clayton and colleagues recently provided some evidence for flexible memory us. However, can jays use their skill outside of the domain of caching and recovery? Can they, for instance, learn different decay functions (e.g. use differently coloured soil with preservatives or mould to change decay time) and use them as predictors of significant non-food related events? One could present jays with choice paradigms contrasting one caching tray now versus two trays later, with differentially perishable foods toinvestigate delay of gratification and contrast present with future needs. The paradigm could also be used to investigate MTT prerequisites. Emery and Clayton found that jays that had pilfered others’ caches would re-cache food in new sites if their own original caching had been observedby another jay. One could investigate jays’: (i) understandingof seeing (do they cache differentially in anarea not visible to a potential pilferer); (ii) self-recognition(does their own mirror image result in similar re-caching behaviour – if not, does a mirror image of another observerdo so?); and (iii) theory of mind (do they reduce re-cachingwhen the observer holds a false-belief, for example whenthe observer is not privy to a change in the hiding constellation)?

When evaluating new evidence for MTT, however, were mind scholars of Tinbergen’s four levels of explanation: function, causation, development and evolution. In terms of function, for example, MTT is clearly not unique in providing means for acting to enhance future survivaland reproduction. All animals that have memory and a capacity to learn possess a mechanism that is future oriented. Even the function implied by the Bischof-Ko¨hler hypothesis – to act before the adaptive problem or need is encountered – is clearly not unique to humans. Building a nest, preparing for hibernation and food caching make sense only in the light of the future needs. If we consider causation, however, we need to be alert that the same functional ends could be produced by different means. Hibernation, for example, is a species-specific universal that is displayed even if the animal has not yet experienced winter. The developmentally uniform emergence of this behavioural pattern suggests an innate, instinctual mechanism; a causal process that does not display the individual generativity evident in MTT. Scrubjays would benefit from having very accurate records of their caches, an objective that would perhaps not be served best by a generative reconstructive mechanism. Althoughfood storing evolved independently in several species, mechanisms homologous to those involved in human MTTare more likely to be found in our primate relatives. However, humans might have evolved MTT quite recently.The earliest potential evidence could be bifacial hand axes some 1.6 million years ago, which appear to have been made and kept for repeated future use. The only sure evidence of MTT, however, comes from writing.

In the earliest writings, the ancient Greeks describe the myth of Prometheus. Prometheus created humanity. He stole fire from heaven to give humans powers of thegods that distinguished them from other animals. He brought culture and technology. Prometheus literally means foresight.

[Source/credit: Mental Time Travel in Animals(download pdf)]

Key Enzyme in Microbial Immune System Discovered

Imagine a war in which you are vastly outnumbered by an enemy that is utterly relentless – attacking you is all it does. The intro to another Terminator movie? No, just another day for microbes such as bacteria and archaea, which face a never-ending onslaught from viruses and invading strands of nucleic acid known as plasmids. To survive this onslaught, microbes deploy a variety of defense mechanisms, including an adaptive-type nucleic acid-based immune system that revolves around a genetic element known as CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

The crystal structure of the Csy4 enzyme (blue) bound to a crRNA molecule (orange). The crRNA contains nucletotide sequences that match those of foreign DNA from a virus or plasmid, enabling it to target and silence the invaders. (Image courtesy of the Doudna group)

Through the combination of CRISPR and squads of CRISPR-associated – “Cas” – proteins, microbes are able to utilize small customized RNA molecules to silence critical portions of an invader’s genetic message and acquire immunity from similar invasions in the future. To better understand how this microbial immune system works, scientists have needed to know more about how CRISPR’s customized small RNA molecules get produced. Answers have now been provided by a team of researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley.

In a study led by biochemist Jennifer Doudna, the  research team used protein crystallography beamlines at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source to produce an atomic-scale crystal structure model of an endoribonuclease called “Csy4.” Doudna and her colleagues have identified Csy4 as the enzyme in prokaryotes that initiates the production of CRISPR-derived RNAs (crRNAs), the small RNA molecules that target and silence invading viruses and plasmids. Doudna says:

Our model reveals that Csy4 and related endoribonucleases from the same CRISPR/Cas subfamily utilize an exquisite recognition mechanism to discriminate crRNAs from other cellular RNAs to ensure the selective production of crRNA for acquired immunity in bacteria. We also found functional similarities between the RNA recognition mechanisms in Cys4 and Dicer, the enzyme that plays a critical role in eukaryotic RNA interference.

Doudna is a leading authority on RNA molecular structures who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Chemistry. She is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The results of this latest research on CRISPR are reported in the journal Science in a paper titled “Sequence- and structure-specific RNA processing by a CRISPR endonuclease.” Co-authoring the paper with Doudna were Rachel Haurwitz, Martin Jinek, Blake Wiedenheft and Kaihong Zhou.

microRNA biogenesis and action.

Image via Wikipedia

CRISPR is a unit of DNA, usually on a microbe’s chromosome, made up of “repeat” elements, base-pair sequences ranging from 30 to 60 nucleotides in length, separated by “spacer” elements, variable sequences that are also from 30 to 60 nucleotides in length. CRISPR units are found in about 40-percent of all bacteria whose genomes have been sequenced, and about 90-percent of archaea. A microbe might have several CRISPR loci within its genome and each locus might contain between four and 100 CRISPR repeat-spacer units. Doudna and her colleagues studied CRISPR in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common bacterium that is ubiquitous in the environment.

Rachel Haurwitz, a graduate student in Doudna’s research group and the first author on the Science paper, explains how the CRISPR/Cas immunity system works.

When a bacterium recognizes that it has been invaded by a virus or a plasmid, it incorporates a small piece of the foreign DNA into one of its CRISPR units as a new spacer sequence. The CRISPR unit is then transcribed as a long RNA segment called the pre-crRNA. The Csy4 enzyme cleaves this pre-crRNA within each repeat element to create crRNAs about 60 nucleotides long that will contain sequences which match portions of the foreign DNA. Cas proteins will use these matching sequences to bind the crRNA to the invading virus or plasmid and silence it.

Haurwitz says the CRISPR/cas system for silencing foreign DNA in prokaryotes is analogous to the way in which short interfering or siRNAs correct genetic problems in eukaryotes. Over time, the CRISPR/cas system will build up inheritable DNA-encoded immunity from future invasions by the same types of viruses and plasmids.

With their crystal structure model of the Csy4 enzyme bound to its cognate RNA, which features a resolution of 1.8 Angstroms, the Berkeley CRISPR research team has shown that Csy4 makes sequence-specific interactions in the major groove of the CRISPR RNA repeat stem-loop. Together with electrostatic contacts to the phosphate backbone, these interactions enable Csy4 to selectively bind to and cleave pre-crRNAs using phylogenetically conserved residues of the amino acids serine and histidine in the active site. Doudna says:

Our model explains sequence- and structure-specific processing by a large family of CRISPR-specific endoribonucleases.

Doudna and her colleagues produced their 1.8 Angstrom resolution crystallographic structure using the experimental end stations of Beamlines 8.2.1 and 8.3.1 at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS). Both beamlines are powered by superconducting bending magnets – “superbends” – and both feature state-of-the-art multiple-wavelength anomalous diffraction (MAD) and macromolecular crystallography (MX) capabilities. Beamline 8.2.1 is part of the suite of protein crystallography beamlines that comprise the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology.

The ALS and its protein crystallography beamlines continue to be a critical resource for our research.

The crRNAs used by the CRISPR/cas system for the targeted interference of foreign DNA join the growing ranks of small RNA molecules that mediate a variety of processes in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Understanding how these small RNA molecules work can improve our basic understanding of cell biology and provide important clues to the fundamental role of RNA in the evolution of life.

Says Doudna, “By investigating how bacteria produce and use small RNAs for selective gene targeting, we hope to gain insight into the fundamental features of the pathways that have proven evolutionarily useful for genetic control, both in the bacterial world and in the world of eukaryotes. Right now it looks like bacteria and eukaryotes have evolved entirely distinct pathways by which RNAs are used for gene regulation and that is pretty amazing!”

[Source: Berkley Lab]

Prehistoric Shark Found Alive..?

A while back, I have peer reviewed the possibility of  lake monster’s existence. In my article ‘The Mystery of Lake Monsters: Survived Reptiles or Illusion?‘ ,I have reviewed the whole case and questioned over the searching tactics of cryptozoologists. A quote from my previous article:

I think it is very difficult to take high quality and detailed photograph when such unknown and mysterious creature ,about which we have never listen nor seen, is before us. There are previously such creatures are present between us which were thought to be rumor till they were found, like gorilla which was reported as big meat eating monkey like creature, untill it was found alive in 1847. The another example is komodo found alive in 1912 in some islands of indonesia. It was first reported as big ,fierce, meat eating lizard and scientists were discarding its witnesses. The another third is Coelacanth found alive in in 1938. Now it is known as “living fossil”. Then how we can discard all witnesses of such monsters including Loch Ness monster? It is quite possible these creatures may still alive in deep sea and we have no access to them technically. How much we know about deep see?  There are critters which have been found about 600 feet below ice, clearly suggesting we have to know  more than we know till now. Why to confine yourself  just to search for known creatures. Without exploring the real phenomenon, directly depicting such creatures as myth is idiocy.

As you can see in the quote I have pointed out out that we have already found creatures which were considered as myth and folklores by mainstream scientists. Here is news news from National Geographic Website which clearly strengthens my points. For the first time a sixgill shark has been filmed by team’s camera. Taking the scientists’ bait, a sixgill shark’s attack 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) below the surface of the Coral Sea off Australia is captured in a new video image.

Reaching roughly 13 feet (4 meters) long, the sixgill shark is among deep-sea species never before filmed at such depths, according to the the Queensland Brain Institute, which released the first images from new high-tech remote-control cameras this week.

Often referred to as prehistoric or a “living fossil” because of its resemblance to sharks that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, sixgills are being studied as part of the Deep Australia Project, an ongoing effort to discover the the evolutionary origins of human sight—making the sixgill’s night vision of particular interest to researchers. [Related: Hundreds of New Reef Creatures Found in Australia.]

A Loris, a beautiful creature with fur, which was thought to be extinct until recently it was found alive and photographed though it is not a prehistoric creature but compelling my points. Long thought to be extinct, one of the world’s rarest primates has been caught on camera for the first time, scientists announced Monday. [Related: ‘Extinct’ Bird Seen, Eaten. ]

Discovered in 1937 but “missing” for 60 years, Sri Lanka’s Horton Plains slender loris was presumed to have died out. In 2002 a fleeting nighttime sighting of something looking like the elusive tree-dweller, however, gave conservationists hope. Follow-up surveys led by the Zoological Society of London finally confirmed the lorises are alive—if not exactly well—in 2009, when two individuals were photographed and examined. Initial estimates after the rediscovery put the total world population at fewer than a hundred, said the society’s conservation biologist Craig Turner. And in this case, the world is limited to high cloud forests in the Horton Plains area (map)of central Sri Lanka—the animal’s only known habitat.

“Potentially this is the rarest primate we’re aware of today,” Turner said.

Lonely Lorises

About 8 inches (20 centimeters) long and weighing just 11 ounces (310 grams), the slow-moving loris has been doomed as forests have been felled for firewood and to make way for tea plantations and other farms, Turner said.

There’s no means for these lorises to move between the [remaining] forest patches. In terms of breeding and finding mates, it is very difficult for them. The real focus now has to be on the remaining forest areas and looking at how we can enhance and protect them, and also reconnect them to one another. [See: ‘Extinct’ Booby Exposed—Found ‘Masked,’ Using Alias.]

“New” Loris Also New Species?

The Horton Plains slender loris is generally classified as a subspecies of Sri Lanka’s red slender loris. But, thanks in part to the first ever pictures, researchers now believe the “extinct” loris could be a whole new species. Turner says:

It’s clearly very different physically. Compared to lowland lorises, the Horton Plains loris is “stockier, shorter limbed—and it’s got a much longer fur coat. Ongoing tests on DNA samples taken from the few individuals recorded to date should help to settle the issue.

Doesn’t it support my preamble?

Plants Are Really, Really Intelligent!

A while back, I wrote a a article in which I considered that ‘Intelligent Plant May Constitute Alien Civilization‘ based on two research papers. That was not a detailed, full of analysis article, but suggested some speculations. Now it seems that my speculations were correct about plant intelligence. Plants are able to “remember” and “react” to information contained in light, according to researchers.

Plants, scientists say, transmit information about light intensity and quality from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems. These “electro-chemical signals” are carried by cells that act as “nerves” of the plants.

Fluorescence image of Arabidopsis plant

[The researchers used fluorescence imaging to watch the plants respond]

In their experiment, the scientists showed that light shone on to one leaf caused the whole plant to respond.

And the response, which took the form of light-induced chemical reactions in the leaves, continued in the dark.

This showed, they said, that the plant “remembered” the information encoded in light.

“We shone the light only on the bottom of the plant and we observed changes in the upper part,” explained Professor Stanislaw Karpinski from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland, who led this research.

He presented the findings at the Society for Experimental Biology’s annual meeting in Prague, Czech Republic.

“And the changes proceeded when the light was off… This was a complete surprise.”

In previous work, Professor Karpinski found that chemical signals could be passed throughout whole plants – allowing them to respond to and survive changes and stresses in their environment.

But in this new study, he and his colleagues discovered that when light stimulated a chemical reaction in one leaf cell, this caused a “cascade” of events and that this was immediately signalled to the rest of the plant by via specific type of cell called a “bundle sheath cell”.

The scientists measured the electrical signals from these cells, which are present in every leaf. They likened the discovery to finding the plants’ “nervous system”.

Thinking plants

What was even more peculiar, Professor Karpinski said, was that the plants’ responses changed depending on the colour of the light that was being shone on them. There were characteristic [changes] for red, blue and white light,” he explained. He suspected that the plants might use the information encoded in the light to stimulate protective chemical reactions. He and his colleagues examined this more closely by looking at the effect of different colours of light on the plants’ immunity to disease.

[The images showed chemical reactions in leaves that were not exposed to light]

“When we shone the light for on the plant for one hour and then infected it [with a virus or with bacteria] 24 hours after that light exposure, it resisted the infection,” he explained.

“But when we infected the plant before shining the light, it could not build up resistance.

“[So the plant] has a specific memory for the light which builds its immunity against pathogens, and it can adjust to varying light conditions.”

He said that plants used information encrypted in the light to immunise themselves against seasonal pathogens.

“Every day or week of the season has… a characteristic light quality,” Professor Karpinski explained.

“So the plants perform a sort of biological light computation, using information contained in the light to immunise themselves against diseases that are prevalent during that season.”

Professor Christine Foyer, a plant scientist from the University of Leeds, said the study “took our thinking one step forward”.

“Plants have to survive stresses, such as drought or cold, and live through it and keep growing,” she told BBC News.

“This requires an appraisal of the situation and an appropriate response – that’s a form of intelligence.

“What this study has done is link two signalling pathways together… and the electrical signalling pathway is incredibly rapid, so the whole plant could respond immediately to high [levels of] light.”

[Via: BBC]

What Came First, The Chicken or The Egg?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Scientists in Britain think it was probably the chicken, after using new computer technology to try and crack the age-old riddle.

Researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Warwick, in northern and central England, say the secret lies in the eggshell – specifically the vital role played by a chicken protein in forming it.

Scientists already knew that the protein, vocledidin-17 (OC-17), plays a part in eggshell formation, but the new technology allowed the team to demonstrate exactly how the protein makes it happen.

Simulating eggshell crystals

In a computer simulation, the OC-17 protein acted as a catalyst to kickstart the formation of crystals that make up an eggshell by clamping itself on to calcium carbonate particles.

The OC-17 protein then dropped off when the crystal nucleus was large enough to grow on its own, freeing up the protein to start the process again.

Eggshells are created when this happens many times over within a short period of time.

Eggshells point to new technology

“Understanding how chickens make eggshells is fascinating in itself but can also give clues towards designing new materials and processes,” said John Harding from Sheffield University, one of the authors of the research.

“Nature has found innovative solutions that work for all kinds of problems in materials science and technology – we can learn a lot from them,” he added.

[Via: CosmosMagazine]

The Mystery of Lake Monsters: Survived Reptiles Or Illusion?

Mysterious lake monsters, are baffling human mind since our culture adapted to learn about our mother nature. skeptics say there are no lake monsters, these are only mere illusions but are really they? Here I will illustrate the whole case  including sighting details. Lake monsters have been reported through all over the world including China and some other Asian and European countries. Well, below are some famous sightings of lake monsters:

  • Ogopogo

Proponents of the Ogopogo’s existence claim that the first documented sightings of the monster date back to around 1872, and occurred as the area was being colonized by European settlers. Perhaps the earliest mention of the Ogopogo was the story of a man in 1860 leading horses that were swimming across the lake near Rattlesnake Island. Ogopogo was allegedly filmed  in 1989 by a used car salesman, Ken Chaplin, who with his father, Clem Chaplin, claimed to have seen a snake-like animal swimming in the lake, which flicked its tail to create a splash. Some believe that the animal the Chaplins saw was simply a beaver, because the tail splashing is a well-known characteristic of beavers. However, Chaplin alleges the animal he saw was 15 feet (4.6 m) long, far larger than a typical beaver (beavers are approximately 4 feet (1.2 m) long).

  • Cammy Lake Monster

This is another lake monster often seen in lake Vancouver. It is serpentine lake monster as reported by numerous eye witnesses. It is reported about of length 15 to 60feet long with a long neck. In this area the popular lake monster is Caddy.

  • Champ

From the varied description in reports over the years, Champ is chameleon-like and a master of disguise. Reports have compared him to a great snake, a large Newfoundland dog, a yacht, a horse, a manatee, a periscope, a lizard-like four-legged animal, and a whale.

From existing reports, Champ may be endowed with all or some of the following features:

  • Length: Between ten and 187 feet long.
  • Head shape:
    • Flat headed or round headed.
    • Horned or having “moose-like antlers”.
    • Elephant ears
    • A mane (either tan or red).
    • Jaws like an alligator.
  • Body Shape:
    • One to four humps.
    • Up to five arching coils.
    • Fins
    • A snake-like body.
  • Skin-type:
    • Scaly
    • Smooth
  • Color:
    • Either drab or shiny
    • Black
    • Dark head with white body
    • Gray
    • Black and Gray
    • Brown
    • Moss green
    • Reddish bronze
    • Dark-brownish olive.
  • Eyes:
    • Dinner plate eyes
    • Glowing eyes.

Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster is a cryptid that is reputed to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. The most frequent speculation is that the creature represents a line of long-surviving plesiosaurs. It is similar to other supposed lake monsters in Scotland and elsewhere, though its description varies from one account to the next.

Popular interest and belief in the animal has fluctuated since it was brought to the world’s attention in 1933. Evidence of its existence is anecdotal, with minimal and much-disputed photographic material and sonar readings. The scientific community regards the Loch Ness Monster as a modern-day myth, and explains sightings as a mix of hoaxes and wishful thinking However there are various flaws in their detection and searching strategies. Despite this, it remains one of the most famous examples of cryptozoology. The legendary monster has been affectionately referred to by the nickname Nessie.

The above are the description of some popular lake monsters which are been reported for the centuries.

Analyzing the Lake Monster Mystery: Illusion or Reality?

Now what skeptics says that they are mere illusion nothing else. What does that mean? Killing of real science? See, what skeptics say?

Skeptic’s case Here is a report of Joe Nickell of Skeptical inquirer. Actually, I feel that if we erred it was on the side of being too open-minded. Ben’s essay, “Eyewitness (Un)Reliability,” appeared as an appendix and simply demonstrated the fact that eyewitnesses are often mistaken. If further evidence is needed, consider a case that transpired in Rotterdam in 1978. A small panda had escaped from a zoo, whereupon officials had issued a media alert. Soon panda sightings—around one hundred in all—were reported across the Netherlands. However, a single animal could not have been in so many places in so short a time; in fact, no one had seen the panda, because it had been killed by a train when it reached railroad tracks near the zoo. How do we explain the many false sightings? The answer is, people’s anticipations led them to misinterpret what they had actually seen—a dog or some wild creature—as the escaped panda. (The publicity generated by the case may even have sparked some hoax calls [Nickell 1995, 43].) If such misperceptions could happen with pandas, surely they could also occur with aquatic cryptids.

Ogopogo 2

[Image Detail: composite drawing of Ogopogo (top) is compared with otters swimming in a line]

Consider, for example, the experience of a senior wildlife technician with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Jon Kopp. As he explained to me, it had been dark and he was in a duck blind on a lake in Clinton County. Suddenly, he saw, heading toward him, a huge, snake-like monster swimming with a sinuous, undulating motion. As it came closer, however, Kopp realized that he saw not one creature but half a dozen—a group of otters swimming in a line diving and resurfacing to create the effect of a single, serpentine creature. “After seeing this,” Kopp said, “I can understand how people can see a ‘sea serpent’”.

Of course, otters are not responsible for all lake-monster sightings, any more than weather balloons are the only instigators of UFO reports. In fact, in Lake Monster Mysteries, I mentioned many possible culprits, such as sturgeon, gar, and other large fish; swimming animals like beavers; deer; long-necked birds; bobbing logs; clumps of dislodged lake-bottom debris; and additional possibilities, including wind sticks and boat wakes. Hoaxes are also possible, and there have been faked monsters on pulleys as well as phony photographs, like the celebrated Loch Ness monster photo, which was publicly revealed as a hoax in 1994.

In fact I tend to agree with his argument. As shown in above illustration it might be possible to misinterpret  herds of  fish  and such other creatures specially when there is already a folklore in that area. The big issue is that skeptics deny them since There is a folklore in that area. The most vulnerable argument!

The case of Blurry Photographs:

When witnesses are asked to show the evidence of  their sightings of lake monsters, they show their blurry photographs. These reports may be truth although there no solid proof including blurry photographs, but science can’t dismiss all eyewitness as it is quite possible that at the instant equipments were not available to be photographed. I think it is very difficult to take high quality and detailed photograph when such unknown and mysterious creature ,about which we have never listen nor seen, is before us. There are previously such creatures are present between us which were thought to be rumor till they were found, like gorilla which was reported as big meat eating monkey like creature, untill it was found alive in 1847. The another example is komodo found alive in 1912 in some islands of indonesia. It was first reported as big ,fierce, meat eating lizard and scientists were discarding its witnesses. The another third is Coelacanth found alive in in 1938. Now it is known as “living fossil”. Then how we can discard all witnesses of such monsters including Loch Ness monster? It is quite possible these creatures may still alive in deep sea and we have no access to them technically. How much we know about deep see? There are critters which have been found about 600 feet below ice , clearly suggesting we have to know  more than we know till now. Why to confine yourself  just to search for known creatures. Without exploring the real phenomenon, directly depicting such creatures as myth is idiocy.

Searching Tactics

I’ve watched the discovery channel’s show quest for lake monsters in which they have explored the lake Tally. There are various flaws which prohibit the detection of such creatures. Many cryptozoologist like James Kirk search for them with their sonar which is not reliable however. Just see the image attached in the left. The red spot is showing the area covered by sonar. You can see in the image how small it is? There is a lot of volume for the lake monsters to hide themselves. They search for lake monsters just for one month(maximum), expecting that they would see the lake monster. Well, how they could expect that they would definitely encounter the lake monsters? Even local residents find themselves unable to see the creature once a month. Most sightings includes 10 sightings per year or so. Since a  researcher can’t see a lake monster in after one month exploration so lake monsters do not exist, won’t be a pretty good argument. There are more than 10 million people who report sightings including literate persons, all are just haunted by illusion and hallucination and some who are not, they are just hoaxing.  Just a few say that lake monsters do not exist and you should accept without using your own logic since they are prestigious researchers?


Are they survived Reptiles?

It may be possible that lake monsters are survived sea reptiles. Plesiosaurs were sea reptiles which lived in late Jurassic period and  CRETACEOUS PERIOD. They were adapted to live  deep in the sea and have more survival versatility than crocks and perhaps they were more intelligent than crocks since they were possibly warm blooded(between warm blooded and cold blooded). So, it is not hard to accept that some of them have survived from K-T extinction crisis like Coelacanth and crocodiles. Possibly, Homo Sapiens are sighting them and they are not myth at all.

[Ref: Wikipedia, CSICOP AND Paranormal Encyclopedia]

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