Thursday, August 15, 2002
In the Animal kingdom, one of the traits that separates the stuff that separates higher lifeforms from the lower ones is the ability to learn. There's a lot of stuff out there that survives on little more than the ability to reproduce a lot. While the use of sheer numbers is a reasonably effective strategy to ensure the survival of the species, it also tends to be a good way to end up mired in a spot near the bottom of the food chain. For example, let's look at the example of a school of small fish, such as herring. This would appear to illustrate the "Brute force" approach often found in nature to ensure the survival of the species. As an individual fish in this school, chances are that all you care about is swimming around wherever the rest of the school goes (which means pretty much at random, influenced to some extent by the avaialbility of food), eating whatever looks like food, and if you last long enough, dropping a few million eggs on the seabed somewhere. Chances are, getting eaten by whaever happens to be in your general vicinity with a mouth big enough for you to fit inside is probably a way of life. Sure, you might get picked off at some point, but what does it matter? Surely they're not hungry enough to eat all of you at once, right? For the ones that do get eaten, there isn't much opportunity to learn from the experience. And if you happen to escape, you don't really learn anything either. All you know is that they didn't eat you, and they didn't eat most of your school. Then you remember that you're hungry, so you swim around until you find something to eat, eat it, and repeat ad nauseam.
I think I managed to ramble in completely the opposite direction of what I was trying to say, so I'll put this aside and continue it later..