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Was Coelacanth Really “Discovered” in 1938?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 24th, 2009


Guest mini-blogger Jerome F. Hamlin, founder of Dinofish, speaking from outside of cryptozoology, shares his questions, which appear grounded in some culturally-based confusion with Cryptomundo today.

The coelacanth, one of the cornerstones of cryptozoology, falls into the special class of animals that are not rumored to exist and then confirmed by science, such as Nessie or Bigfoot might hopefully be, but that are not even thought about until they suddenly pop into our awareness. The megamouth shark or the new species of bat found in the Comoros, are other examples of this class.

But beyond this, was the coelacanth really even famously discovered in 1938 by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer and JLB Smith? By this question, I’m not referring to possible earlier claims of discovery, but to the fact that the fish was well known by another name (Gombessa) for hundreds of years in the Comoros! Further, the Indonesian coelacanth was also previously known to Indonesian fishermen, supposedly by the name, Rajah Laut-“King of the Sea.”

So the term “discovery” in these cases is being used Eurocentrically to refer to discovery by Westerners or Western science. Only in the cases of the Sodwana, South African coelacanths- discovered by Tri mix SCUBA divers or the recent Tanzanian catches resulting from a shift in fishing techniques, has the coelacanth actually been discovered in places where it did not go by another name. These, indeed, are discoveries.

What say you?

Jerome F Hamlin

I think Hamlin raises pretty much of a red herring, (no pun intended, regarding coelacanths, of course), as the formal definition of cryptozoology acknowledges that cryptids are regularly ethnoknown first, that’s what local and native sightings are all about, and that it is Western science that is verifying a “new species.”

But I thought I would share it here, as others may have some thoughts on this point. ~ Loren

“The coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) is the darling of cryptozoology, a true living fossil. Its story demonstrates that unknown, undiscovered, or at least long-thought-extinct animals can still be found – especially in the oceans.” – – from The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep .


Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

55 Responses to “Was Coelacanth Really “Discovered” in 1938?”

  1. Kronprinz_adam responds:

    Living coelacanths were a great “discovery”…among scientific circles. It is obvious that it was an animal well known to native fishers. So, some animals aren’t just a myth. Native people know very well their environment.

    Scientists are baffled because some reports of native creatures are mixed with legends, symbolism or superstition. Think in terms of the European owls: Greek legends associated them with wisdom, but in reality, they are just nocturnal birds of prey. In Central America, the singing of owls and screech owls are an omen of Death.

    Some other forms of symbolism may appear because the animals are associated with ancient deities (e.g. the owls, again, with the Greek goddess Athena).

    Or they originate in shamanistic visions. Another Central American legend tells about a huge snake called La Gran Sierpe. It lives underground and when it moves, it creates earthquakes. Not so different from the Norse’s Nidhogg Dragon. Nice legend, but such things are in reality impossible.

  2. Fhqwhgads responds:

    To the natives, the coelacanth was basically a large, ugly fish, nothing more. It took Western science to appreciate that this was not just a rock, but a gemstone, because only Western science appreciated the role of its relatives in evolutionary history and knew how rare the species was and how it had disappeared from the fossil record long ago.

    This is like complaining when an actress or a singer is “discovered” that her parents had known her all along. True, but totally irrelevant.

  3. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    Well, I think the fact that they say that the coelacanth was simply “discovered” by Latimer in 1938 gives too much credit to Western science, and far too little to the people who already lived there, and already knew the animal was there. All too often, when I read about it, all the information that is given is that Latimer saw a weird fish that had been caught by somebody, and then the animal was identified. It completely glosses over the fact that natives had been catching this thing for years, and reduces the fisherman that caught the type specimen to a nonentity – I highly doubt anyone could find his name now.

    So, in short, I do think that the simplified story of the coelacanth’s confirmation as a living creature is the result of a Eurocentric worldview. The unfortunate tendency of some to give very little weight to native accounts of cryptids is a product of this very same mindset.

  4. cryptidsrus responds:

    I tend to agree with Loren and Fhqwhads.
    However, one might ask whether that question would apply to creatures of the “magnitude” of Nessie and Bigfoot.

    True, they have been known for centuries by the “lowly natives,” but even they would appreciate that these were NOT something of the caliber of a “rock”—these were extraordinary creatures that were outside the realm of the “normal” or “mundane.” Almost BEINGS, not creatures.

    A Coelecanth is ultimately a Fish. An ancient, prehistoric one, a remarkable one—but ultimately a Fish. There’s no tales in African folklore, as far as I know of, of people having “encounters” with a Coelacanth—or of it interacting ACTIVELY with humans. Or of even it having “magical” powers, like Bigfoot and Nessie supposedly have. I don’t think a Coelacanth is woven into the folklore and mythology of indigenous African people quite the same way that Bigfoot or other creatures are. Coelacanths are unusual and important, but they are not Extraordinary.

    Again, I basically agree with Loren and the previous posters in the context of a Coelacanth itself—
    I just think that it’s a whole different “level” when one is talking about Sasquatch or the like.
    A Coelacanth is a cryptid, absolutely—but not in the same level as others, like Ole Hairy or even Yeti.

    Ultimately the question is—is Bigfoot/Yeti/Et AL JUST an animal/creature, or is it something else???
    I’m willing to say “animal,” but I’m also willing to say it may be a “being.”

    So if these ARE “beings” (On our level or just below, to be precise)—is it really fair to say the “natives” did not APPRECIATE what it is these “beings” were before science got around to formally identifying them?

    Let me put it another way—
    If these are JUST Animals—they’re at least highly sophisticated ones—ten times more than the Coelacanths or Megamouths—I’m confident that even the Natives over the centuries were wise enough to understand that even these creatures were more than just “offbeat animals.” They were “set apart”, so to speak.
    “Super Animals,” to put it more hyperbolically. “A Step Above,” to put it in yet another way.

    If that is case—
    Didn’t Science then would SIMPLY get around to formally classifying and labeling something that had been known/discovered centuries ago???

    I just find it hard to believe that indigenous people do not appreciate the “specialness” of Bigfoot/Nessie or other cryptids of that magnitude as compared to the level of a Coelacanth.
    These are more than just “fish” ot “overgrown bears” they’ve seen over millenia. In THAT context, it would be somewhat “Condescending” to say that Science “discovered”
    Bigfoot. I would say they merely “caught up” to the rest of the Normal World. :)

  5. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    Cryptidsrus – Actually, the name given to the Indonesian Coelacanth – Rajah Laut – is indicative of some level of reverence for the fish on the part of the natives. Also, I don’t think it’s right to place animals like Bigfoot and Nessie – and ourselves as well – on a pedestal above “fish”. If Nessie turned out to be a plesiosaur, what would make it any different from the Coelacanth? It would be a supposedly extinct animal that had been seen for years by natives and incorporated into local folklore – just like the Coelacanth. The fact that it’s in Scotland, or that it’s famous, does not place it on a higher “level” of existence than the Coelacanth. If Bigfoot turns out to be a big hairy ape, how does that make it different from the Mountain Gorilla? It would be an animal that had been seen for years by natives and incorporated into local folklore – just like the Mountain Gorilla.

    In short, I think that it is unscientific – and pointless – to put one cryptid above another, introducing a dichotomy of “animals” vs “beings”.

  6. cryptidsrus responds:

    You make good points there, CryptoInformant 2.0—like you always do. And thanks for the heads up about the Indonesian Coelacanth. I did not know that.

    Ultimately, like I said, it all comes down to what one defines as “animal,” and what one defines as “being.” I have no problem with calling it an animal. But yet, I’m a “believer,” (as most here know) and so I’m not as constrained in the “theorizing” department—and I’m also not afraid to “expand” what is on or what is within the limits of “science.” I’m not a scientist (or even totally scientifically-minded, for that matter). I’m here like everybody else–for knowledge’s sake. And because I love a mystery and the weird, wonderful world that contains those mysteries. And because I enjoy interacting with people of like mind who want to know the “truth.” Just as there are many “rooms” in a Mansion, there are many ways of taking a “journey.” The end is always the same.

    One thing, though—
    I would definitely call Plesiosaurs more “higher-up” in the evolutionary chain than a Coelacanth. It all depends on what you define as a “Fish.”
    Whales are manine animals, but they are also MAMMALS. They are also Warm-Blooded. They are, like some some apes, incredibly intelligent.
    Would you consider them “Fish”???

    Let me put it to you this way—in a way they “are”, in a way they are not.

    Wikipedia defines a “typical” Fish as “ectothermic, has a streamlined body that allows it to swim rapidly, extracts oxygen from the water using gills or an accessory breathing organ to enable it to breathe atmospheric oxygen, has two sets of paired fins, usually one or two (rarely three) dorsal fins, an anal fin, and a tail fin, has jaws, has skin that is usually covered with scales, and lays eggs that are fertilized internally or externally”.
    There are exceptions, of course—tunas and swordfish come to mind as having “some warm-blooded adaptations” (Wikipedia again).

    But whales don’t lay eggs, are not cold-blooded, don’t have scales like most Fish and don’t have Gills. They breathe through their blowholes. They can actually go up to two hours underwater while holding their breath ONE time. They give birth to their young live. Like I stated before, their level of intelligence is extraordinary and they apparantly can “feel” (as in empathy-wise)—that certainly raises it above the level of mere “Fish.” Is a Grouper in the same “level” as a Whale merely because some folks decide to classify them as “Fish?

    Same with a Plesiosaur.
    There is still so much we don’t know about “Aquatic Reptiles”. Just as we still don’t know lmany things about Dinosaurs. Some paleontologists have posited some of them may have been warm-blooded (Tyrannosaurus Rex is one of them) due to their behavior and mode of movement.
    Plesiosaurs are not even Dinosaurs.

    Their COMPLEXITIES were greater than a Coelacanth.
    DO we know how Plesiosaurs breathed?
    Were their social structures on the same level as a Coelacanth???
    Was their intelligence on the same “level” as a Coelacanth???
    Probably more complex. More majestic.
    I’m not trying to diminish the importance of the Coelacanth—but one HAS to admit (complexity-wise) the Plesiosaur is more “important” (as in, on a “higher level”).

    Scientifically (and prehistorically) they may be on the same “level”, but structurally,and behaviorally a Coelacanth is a highly-complex Fish. A Plesiosaur is a highly-complex Creature, not quite in the same “level” as a Fish.
    If people were to find a living Plesiosaur—which “discovery” would be considered more important—the Coelacanth’s or the Plesiosaur??? “Scientifically,” both may be said to be important—in the “REAL” world—the Plesiosaur would be.

    Same with an Ape and Bigfoot. First, we don’t even know whether Sasquatch is DEFINITIVELY an Ape. We have to find that out first before we get around to classifying them accordingly.
    Should we even CALL them Apes in the first place???
    Wikipedia again:
    “Due to its ambiguous nature, the term ‘ape’ is less suitable as a means of describing taxonomic relationships.”
    Do most “Apes” exhibit the level of apparent “intelligence” that has been witnessed in Ole Hairy/Yeti/Skunk Ape?
    The sheer size??? The social bonds???
    What, ultimately, IS a Sasquatch???
    I’m not saying they are not “animals” (at least in the example of a Plesiosaur)—but if they are more “intelligent” than a Gorilla and exhibit more human-like behavior than even the most Koko-like Gorilla (as witnesses since time immemorial have described Bigfoot)—what do we “term” them, then???
    “The Missing Link?” (Finally.) :)
    They appear to be more sentient and intelligent than most Gorillas—but they are NOT quite Human—therefore one can at least confidently say these are on a “higher level” than a Fish or even a Lemur. Common-sense wise.

    Let me put it on yet another way—

    Which has more “rights?” More Complexity?
    A group of Frogs or a Gorilla?
    They’re both Animals—but are they on the same “level?”

    Food for thought.

    There’s the way that “Science” considers things—and there’s the way the Average Guy sees them. Two different things. One may be better than the other. I don’t know. You decide. It’s Real World VS. One-Size-Fits-All.

    So no, I don’t think it is “unscientific” or “pointless” to say there’s “levels” in the way indigenous people classify things. But I get your point. I actually agree with Fhqwhads about the coelacanth question. Just think Bigfoot/Others are a different dimension altogether. :)

  7. Fhqwhgads responds:

    Actually, “being” would have to include “non-sentient being” and “inanimate beings” — everything that is. But I do see a point in classifying how interesting, or unexpected, or important a new find may be. If we found a “new” species of human — hobbits living in Indonesia or Neanderthals living in the Caucasus Mountains — it would be a much more important find than a new species of cockroach living in the Brazilian rain forest. Nasssty hobbitses!

    What does it mean to discover something? Do you have to know exactly what it is? Do you have to at least recognize the observation as being important?

    When the Chinese recorded supernovae, they had no idea what they were seeing. Would we say that the supernovae were only “discovered” when we began to understand what stars are and how they go supernova? [My answer: No. The Chinese saw it and realized it was different, even though they did not understand it.]

    Suppose a guy named Joe goes camping with an NFL linebacker. One foggy morning he notices a really big dude cross the road several dozen yards away; he assumes it is the linebacker and calls out to him, but the shape disappears. In reality, it was a sasquatch, but Joe never has reason to suspect this; he thinks the linebacker was just ignoring him for some reason. Joe saw the sasquatch, but he did not recognize it for what it is or even as anything out of the ordinary. Should he get any credit for contributing to a discovery? [My answer: No. Observation without some degree of understanding should not count.]

    A much harder case would be the platypus. I can’t see any resolution but to say discovery was a two-step process: the Australian aborigines discovered that the animal existed, but Westerners discovered that monotremes existed.

  8. MattBille responds:

    We most definitely do know the name of the person who brought in the coelacanth type specimen, Captain Hendrik Goosen of the trawler Nerine. I don’t know whether the names of his cremembers who actually pulled in the net have been recorded anywhere.
    “Discovered” as meaning “specimen obtained and made known to organized science” makes sense. It is simply, in biology/zoology, the meaning of the word. That the animal was locally known is true but didn’t have any scientific impact until Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer discovered the species by finding the type specimen. After that, this local knowledge became valuable, giving scientists information on the animal’s habitat and helping in the search for further specimens.
    There is undoubtedly, back in the history of the Comoros or Indonesia, some fisherman who pulled in the very first coelacanth ever noticed by humans. His society would have rightly called him the discoverer. Modern science just as rightly calls Courtenay-Latimer the discoverer. If we adopted a new word for “obtained or reported the first example brought to sceintific attention,” and perhaps we should, then the term “discoverer” would indeed apply only that ancient fisherman. (“Described” is too narrow for what we are talking about, since the discoverer and describer are very often different people.)
    OK, that was MY best effort to sort it out.

  9. norman-uk responds:

    The important discovery here was the significance of the fish the fisherman found in their nets. Not a knowledge of a presumably unpalatable and unwelcome catch unless the locals had some other use for it such as lamp oil. I expect the fish has been known for centuries without comment.

    My view is respect to the fishermen for their skill and their knowledge and kudos then to the scientists who recognized its significance. A great discovery but one which was in many ways a matter of serendipity rather than the latters great work.

    Interestingly different situation with Sasquatch, where the locals know of it and its significance but the scientific establishment refuse to entertain it unless and until they can no longer wriggle out of it. In general I would say the official line is that there is no case for the existence of Sasquatch and they cannot bother with it.

    DNA is sitting on lab shelves marked as unknown etc. Why is this not up there with Neandertal man’s DNA being scrutinised? It will be interesting to see how the kudos will be attributed when Sasquatch is comfirmed.

  10. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    Well, never mind about the fisherman’s name not being known – regardless, it is less widely known than Latimer’s, as I definitely did not know the fellow’s name. Thank you for sharing that information, Matt.

    Cryptidsrus – I really don’t think we should count our eggs before they hatch – the plesiosaurs, while a fascinating group of reptiles in their own right, may turn out to be abjectly useless compared to the (to my knowledge, edible) Coelacanth. Bigfoot may turn out to be as dumb as a rock (though I doubt it).

    (Also, when looking at sharks, the definition you gave for fish is problematic – many species do not lay eggs, and some, like the Great White and Mako, are warm-blooded. Not to say that plesiosaurs and whales should count as fish (reptiles and mammals, respectively), just having some fun with fish.)

  11. cryptidsrus responds:

    CryptoInformant 2.0:

    The “definition of fish” came from Wikipedia. Somebody needs to go in there and “expand” it then—maybe I’ll do it. The definitions written depend on who’s doing the “editing.” That’s the Good of Wikipedia—anyone can edit it. That’s also the Bad—ANYONE can edit it. :)

    Thanks also for the information about Mako and Great White. I did NOT know that!!!

    One Thing—
    Forget “Being” for a moment, Ok??? Let’s just say “Animal.”

    I was actually agreeing with Loren and the others regarding the Coelacanth. Fhqwhads gave some good points what it means to “discover something” in his follow-up post.
    And believe or not, I also tend to give credit to your idea that there may be “Eurocentric” tendencies in the way Science “discovers” species and so forth. So in that, you may have a point there.

    All I was saying is that given the “complexities” of creatures (whatever the heck “species” they are) like a Plesiosaur or whatever Sasquatch is, I personally feel that they are a little more “exciting” (to use Fhqwhads’s phrase) and more “important” animal-wise, than some other cryptid discoveries.

    To use Fqwhads as as source again—it would be more “exciting” and “important” if Hobbit-sized humans were discovered than if new kinds of cockroaches were discovered. Scientifically they might be “equal”, but influentially???
    No contest. The Hobbit-sized humans would change the way we look at our world forever. It would be monumental.
    I think it’s ultimately a questionof “influence,” rather than “important,” sop tio speak.

    So it is with a Plesiosaur/Sea Serpent/Whatever. A Coelacanth is important—but it would not be “influential” in the way a Plesiosaur/Sea Serpent/Whatever would be. I think you would agree Science would have to revise some of its preconceptions regarding survival of prehistoric species, as well as the way they classify animals—wouldn’t you agree???

    Same with Sasquatch. A new kind of Gorilla discovered would be exciting and important to science and animal lovers everywhere, but an Animal that could “possibly” be the “Missing Link” between Man and Ape??? Are you kidding???

    It might be an Ape, but it’s also MORE than just an Ape.

    I don’t dismiss the idea that Ole Hairy maybe “dumb as a rock” as you put it—it might be. Like you yourself said though, I doubt it.
    If it was THAT dumb, I think man would have eventually come around to detecting it by now.
    To be honest, I think it is the other way around. Man may have been too distracted and stupid (or just in plain denial, maybe) to “discover” it.
    An animal? Ok. But a very SMART animal to stay hidden for so long, you have to admit. Either that or WE are not THAT “good.”

    A Whale is a Fish, Ok. But we don’t put take out our tackle box and fish for it. We do do that with Groupers, not Whales.
    (Thankfully, at least, not anymore—and not legally).

    And therefore, since these are “special” kinds of animals,
    it is still fair (I think) for me to say that it would be condescending for Science to come around and say “Hey, look!!!
    we’ve discovered a Plesiosaur/Sasquatch! Ain’t we Great!”
    We would just be catching up to Reality, like I implied before.

    Fhqwhads was also on to somethign in asking the question—“What does it mean to discover something?” We have to think about that.

  12. DWA responds:


    The coelacanth was what we call “ethnoknown.” (I’m surprised I only see that word twice on this blog: in the blog proper, and here.)

    The coelacanth was discovered in 1938. Period. Not sure what the issue is here.

    Is the sasquatch real in the sense that science has pinned it down and given it a name? Nope. OK, what does that say about all the people who have seen them? About the native cultures to whom it’s a real animal?

    Discovered means “made known to the wider world; documented such that there can be no doubt among reasonable people as to its existence.” That definition is clearly established by everything that gets put up here, i.e., by usage.

    Not saying that we should give science too much credit for getting very very late on the ethnoknown bandwagon. But still. When humanity knows, THAT is discovered. And I do think differential credit must needs be given to the Westerner who goes where others fear to bring the knowledge – and frequently the impetus for protection – to the world at large, over the folks who simply know what it is, ’cause it’s, well, something they know. (And like, with mango.)

    1938. That’s it.

  13. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    Cryptidsrus – One thing – whales technically are not fish, but mammals. Fish, in general, do not breath air (pushes lungfish under desk), and the orientation of the tail fin is another very important thing.

    I agree that the influence a discovery has on cultural stuff is important to a degree, but that’s a matter of context as well – someone studying the evolutionary development of insects would probably be fascinated by the new cockroach, whereas a Lord of the Rings fan would have a heart attack over the “hobbit”.

  14. cryptidsrus responds:


    You do make a very good point, as always.

    However, I have to ask you—

    Shouldn’t the more proper word for this be “Verified?”

    Sasquatch is not only “ethknown,” as the Coalacanth was, but Accepted AND well known outside the scope of local, indigenous tribes. Nessie, Bigfoot, Yeti—

    These are world-wide “phenomenons.”
    They are not only “known” by a large portion (Not the majority, certainly, but still a huge chunk) of the population of Earth, but actually Accepted as Fact. That is separate from scientific methodology, of course but I’m not talking about that here.

    The Coelacanth was known in areas of Africa and other specific areas for centuries, but before it was discovered it was NOT in the imagination or “radar” of the world as Sasquatch and Nessie. The world (when it was discovered) said “Wow, that’s great!!! A prehistoric Fish!!!—but it did not say “Oh, great, they’ve finally PROVED it!!!”

    Like it or not a huge portion of people accept Bigfoot and certain other Cryptids as fact already. Based on the overwhelming number of sightings, some physical evidence, etc.

    If Science were to finally find out there really was a “Sasquatch” or a
    “Sea Serpent,” wouldn’t the appropriate term for that would be
    “Verified,” or “Proved,” not “Discovered?”.

    I know some people who would say “What took you so long?” or “So what else is New?” The majority of people would not say that, but a LOT would. Wouldn’t it be better to say that Science simply FORMALLY Verified what was already a Fact to a large part of the world???

    I’m not trying to belabor the point or be a “PAIN,” DWA.
    I basically agree with your argument—-
    I just think some cryptids are so “accepted” by many (again, not ALL) segments of society that Science would simply be said to be “catching up” to it. Again, different “levels.”

    And I know you “sort of” said that in the post.
    I just think “verification” would enable the rest of the world to finally accept what was known and accepted already to a good number of people. Sasquatch et al. are already “popularized.” Science would simply “Prove” them. In that sense they are more “influential” than the Coelacanth or other Cryptids.

    And I understand many people disagree that a good portion of the world Accepts these Creatures as Real.

    But again, I get what you are saying. I like this discussion. Gets my mental juices flowing. It ultimately comes down to how one uses semantics and applies them to the real world. :)

  15. DWA responds:

    Cryptidsrus: thoughtful comment.

    My post stands. But not without reference to yours.

    We have one reference point for what is real in modern society: what is commonly agreed to be. Walk out onto the street, and stop anyone at random. Heck, even go for the most likely looking one. Talk to him about the sasquatch.

    Right. You and I both know how to bet that one if we had to lay money.

    Science (and the related informational disciplines) are our compendium of What Is Real As We Understand It. Until they weigh in, it is NOT real. Not as society recognizes the term. Of course, if it’s real and unrecognized by the culture at large, it’s still as real as a rat. It’s just the recognition factor, the common basis of discussion, on which we must rely, or else accept that EVERYTHING is real, something I don’t think anyone wants to do.

    When and if marquee cryptids are confirmed, scientists will have a LOT of explaining to do. (To me, they’ll have to explain why they forsake their science when it makes them uncomfortable.)

    But their word will be everybody’s; and from that point, the ones who doubt the sasquatch will be the ones off their meds. And we can, all of us, mark that date.

    I’m OK with that.

  16. DWA responds:

    Oh. I missed this.

    Cryptidsrus: I consider “verified” and “confirmed” (the latter being my word) to be precisely equivalent. Either one works for me. “Discovered,” the word used in this blog, is one I studiously avoid with regard to the sasquatch and yeti, which certainly seem ethnoknown in my view.

    In this case, however, I actually hadn’t known that the coelacanth had that kind of background with the local culture. Maybe “verified” or “confirmed” are better words.

    They don’t technically change the sitch, though. “We” – all of us – can date global knowledge of the coelacanth, precisely, to that 1938 catch.

  17. JMonkey responds:

    This was an astounding discovery at the time. I would compare it to finding and capturing a terradactyl or some other land or air based dinosaur. That is in fact what this is a “living” dinosaur. I do not think that any cryptid is any less important than another, and each of these discoveries brings us just a step closer to validation, as searchers, investigators, and scientists. Coelecanth may not be a bigfoot, but it is a large step towards getting into his footsteps.

    Oh and you can call me an elitest, but while I love all animals, I do not put anything on the level that I am on. I am just a little higher than all of them, though some are very allusive, I can still design cars, program computers, and build skyscrapers, so in my , warped and twisted, mind I am still better than all of them.

  18. mystery_man responds:

    Cryptidsrus- I agree that it is the big “rockstar discoveries” that tend to generate the most excitement in the general populace, but I think this has more to do with the influence of the media more than anything else. Things like new mammals, new dinosaurs, and the like often get more coverage while “smaller” discoveries get little to no mention at all. However, many of these “small” or “unimportant” discoveries are nothing of the kind. Some of the discoveries that many haven’t heard of are actually incredibly important to our understanding of evolutionary history and biology, and are just as exciting to scientists as many of the more sensationalized findings known through the media. Sadly, because they are not concerning a charismatic animal such as a new primate, some of these discoveries tend to get short shrift by the media and so are not generally known by most people.

    Personally, I think every new animal discovery is invaluable to expanding our knowledge of the ecology and biodiversity of the natural world.

    I also wanted to touch on your mention of “animals” versus “beings.” First off, it is important to understand that no matter how many may feel that we are somehow above nature or special, humans are animals. It seems to me that the classification of what constitutes a “being” is very subjective. By what criteria do you define “being” and what exactly is at “our level”?

    Are you basing your definition on intelligence or ability to think? In that case, at what point is an animal deemed intelligent enough to qualify as a “being”? There are many very intelligent animals out there, and judging them by human standards is not always the most accurate way to assess intelligence. There is also a lot of research that is increasingly showing us that many animals are capable of thought and cognition on a level that was once thought to be solely the realm of humans. It is becoming clear that a lot animals are much more than the dumb, mindless creatures that they were once thought to be.

    Or are you basing the definition on a creature’s ability to feel emotions? In that case, I think again we are likely to find that this capacity is less and less a unique human attribute. Since there is no real way to objectively gage emotions in other animals, it is of little use in defining “being” here at this point anyway, and useless as a criteria for classifying sasquatch or Nessie as such.

    Is it ability to form bonds? Nope, humans are not the only creatures that do this. Ability to use tools? Again, many animals use tools even without the luxury of having opposable thumbs. Is it the ability to learn or exhibit culturtal transference? No, humans are not unique here either.

    So what makes a “being”? At what point does any creature reach “our level”? Once again, humans are animals, and I think any line you could draw between “animal” and “being” is getting fuzzier. How exactly can we make a distinction between “animal” and “being” that does not involve some subjective assumptions or human egotism to some extent?

    This brings me to something else I wanted to touch on here, concerning “complexities” in animals. I presume you mean the difference between “simple” organisms and “complex” ones, but again how do you define this? It is hard to say any creature is “simple” or “primitive” when they could be perfectly adapted to their environment and what they do. You might say that a fish is more “primitive” than an ape, but the fact is, that fish is likely just as well adapted to its environment as any ape is to theirs. “Advanced” is a subjective term here.

    There tends to be a common misconception that all organisms are continually becoming more “sophisticated” and that humans somehow sit at the pinnacle of evolutionary perfection, but this is simply not true. Many animals are perfectly evolved to what they do, and indeed many have been around for millions and millions of years, in some cases undergoing very little change precisely because they are so well adapted. These animals may be perfectly adapted to their habitat and niche, so how can they be called “simple” or somehow “less evolved”? Think of it this way, if all organisms were constantly getting more and more “complex,” then we would have no bacteria or one celled organsims today. Organisms do not get “better,” or “advanced,” they simply evolve to their habitat and ecological niche.

    I think generally, many people have to re-think their definitions of “simple organisms” or conversely “evolutionarily advanced.” These are tennuously defined terms that have little meaning when looking at how evolution really works and how organisms adapt to their environment.

    I do not think it helps us here to start dividing animals up into subjective groupings such as “simple” versus “complex” or “animal” versus “being.”

  19. mystery_man responds:

    Oh well, I figure that since I’m here, I’d throw in some thoughts about the issue of “discovery” being talked about here.

    I’m with Loren and DWA on this one. I don’t see what the issue is. Cryptozoology has always dealt heavily with ethnoknown animals, and what Mr. Hamlin has said here is a little baffling. I read it and say “Yeah, and..?”

    A great many cryptids, both “discovered” and not, have been ethnoknown by the local people for quite some time. This has been the case with many major new animal discoveries. Unless the creature was dredged up from somewhere that humans have never laid eyes on (like the megamouth shark), then chances are the cryptid is ethnoknown. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here talking about them.

    So when is the ethnoknown animal considered “discovered”? I think it would be hard to really track down and definitively identify the exact date that a human being first saw this animal and even if we could, I think we can’t really consider the animal “discovered” in a broader sense of the word until it has been classified and made known to the world at large without a reasonable doubt.

    This is where I think science is essential. What we have in science is a way of coming to the truth through careful consideration, evaluation, and cross analysis, as well as careful documentation. One of the reasons science is so important as an arbiter of what is real to the best of our knowledge is that it is essentially a series of checks and balances. If you see that a new species has been discovered, you can be sure it has no doubt been witnesses by other scientists, analyzed to see if perhaps a mistake was made, and peer reviewed, meaning that other scientists are poring over the information and finding anything that was inaccurate or missed. So in the end, you get information that has been picked apart and looked over and you have as close an approximation of the truth as is possible with current methods and data.

    In short, you now know with reasonable confidence that the creature really exists. Yes, to many, sasquatch and Nessie are accepted as real, but we don’t know that for sure at this point. Many people believe in a lot of things, but this does not necessarily make them real, does it? Sasquatch and Nessie may very well exist, but until we know for certain, through accepted protocols, we cannot make any concrete assumptions. Likewise, some ethnoknown animals may not be real in a physical sense, and myth can sometimes be hard to disentangle from the possible reality behind it. How do we know in the end that something is objectively real? When it has been scientifically documented. This is why scientists that have seen cryptids or are convinced of the evidence are working very hard to prove the truth in a scientific way instead of complaining about nobody believing them.

    An animal documented in this manner hasn’t been dreamed up by someone. Even a single sceintist could not expect their finding to be accepted at face value without being subjected to the scrutiny of others within their field. If it is a scientific hoax, it will likely be found out at some point, and if it is a misidentification or a mistake, that will be weeded out by others as well. A scientist will also do an intense literature search to make sure that what they found is really new. As real as many cryptids may be, they may not have undergone such intense measures yet.

    Not an excuse for anyone to ignore evidence or patently dismiss an cryptid’s existence, but scientists (even ones that suspect cryptids are real) understand that you can’t be sure until it has been reasonably demonstrated. In the case of discovery dates, it has to be documented to the satisfaction of the greater scientific community, not even just “Western science,” I would say.

    This all really becomes a discussion of semantics. In the end, I think concretely proving to the world at large that an animal is real, and not myth, folklore, misidentification, or mistake, is where science is important in the definition of when an animal was discovered. This becomes a reasonable consensus of what is agreed upon to be real, and so should be considered the “discovery.”

    In that sense, I’d have to say that the answer to the question posed by this post is “Yes.” 1938.

  20. mystery_man responds:

    Cryptidsrus- I just wanted to add something to clarify my earlier post. Starting to sound like DWA here, with my tacked on comments. :) I joke, DWA.

    I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding about what I said earlier. Obviously, some animals have a more complex physical structure or physiology than others. I don’t mean to say that there are no such physical distinctions. What I do want to say is that a creature’s level of complexity has little bearing on how “high level,” “majestic,” “important,”or “evolved” an organism is, and perceived simplicity should not be used as a criteria upon which to base the importance of one animal over another or putting one a “step above” others.

    There is no ultimate goal for organisms to become more and more complex, no grand plan for nature to strive towards greater “sophistication” of form. This is not how it works. Some seemingly very simple creatures are very well adapted to what they do. As I said before, a creature’s complexity has little bearing on how well it is evolved to its habitat or how successful it is. In fact, animals have been known to lose complexity in their evolution. Indeed, some of the most successful organisms on Earth or some of the least physically complex, and have survived through the rise and fall of other more complex creatures.

    Does simplicity mean an organism is “less evolved,” or somehow at a “lower level” than more complex animals? No, it doesn’t. Complexity is not the yardstick by which to gage an organism’s success, but rather how well it is adapted to what it does. There is a common misconception that says hands are “more advanced” than paws, or paws “more advanced” than fins, and so on, however it is hard to make a distinction over which one is more sophisticated because they are different adaptations suitable for different habitats. “Advanced” in this case is purely subjective. One is not “better” than the other simply due to its complexity.

    Remember, there is no master plan for increased complexity in evolution, just organisms adapting to their environment and selective pressures. If they are suitably successful, these creatures could remain unchanged for millions of years. In that sense, “simple” organisms can be regarded as just as adapted and successful in their environments, just as important, as more complex ones.

    Complexity is a poor indicator of a creature’s importance or “level.” There are no “levels,” just survival.

    That’s the gist of what I was saying.

    And one other thing, science is always catching up! :) We are not creating these things, we are uncovering the truth about them. If scientists went through the effort of concretely confirming the existence of (discovering, whatever you want to call it) say, a sasquatch, I think they would probably deserve a little credit.

    Jmonkey- I really don’t know what to say except that it’s all relative, isn’t it? Out in the forest with no gun, with a hungry tiger on your trail, I think your whole perspective of who is “better” might change.

  21. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: as usual I have little to add.

    I particularly like your definition of scientific fact: “as close an approximation of the truth as is possible with current methods and data.” The “truth” is always subject to further review. As Pluto could tell us. 😀

    As to evolution: it is not about better and better, with humans the pinnacle. (I’d love to see a poll asking people whether that’s the case. I bet some of us would find the results unsettling.) You ask me, looking around, we ain’t the pinnacle of nothin’. Try to live with a chimpanzee troop in the wild for a month, you might change your mind on that too. :-)

    Evolution is not about perfection; it is about “it works.” Put another way: you don’t fail if you don’t become us. You simply adapt to a different set of circumstances, that’s all.

    Good posts.

  22. cryptidsrus responds:

    Hey, Mystery_Man—was waiting for you to show up!!! :)

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the time RIGHT NOW like I had two days ago to pen another long post— but to answer your question as to what I meant by “Complexity”—

    The MAIN context in which I used the term “Complex” was in the sense of “Intelligence,” there were other contexts but that is the main one—
    I gave an example on one of my replies above—

    (And I’m “borrowing” the example from one of Ken Wilber’s excellent books, to be honest, but it is still relevant to this discussion)—

    Who has more “Rights”-a group of Frogs or a Gorilla?
    To sort of “tweak” that for the purposes of this discussion—

    Who is more “Intelligent?”
    I’m pretty sure most would say “Gorilla.” I’m not talking about Taxonomical equality—they’re both Animals, of course—but in terms of ability to “think” (and I’m getting into controversial territory here, I know) the Gorilla can outwardly and more EVIDENTLY demonstrate signs of intelligence than a Frog. Coupled that with brain size and I hope you get what I’m getting at.
    I don’t know—maybe Frogs CAN think—our definition of what is “Intellingence” and “Sentience” will change by century’s end, I’m sure—but in terms of “reasoning capabilities,” the Gorilla is more “complex.”

    I would also add the abitlity of some creatures to “Feel,”—we don’t know if frogs can Feel—but Gorillas almost certainly “can,” emotion-wise. Different type of emotion than us, maybe, but still emotion. I know that will be disagreed by most here but that is what I feel.

  23. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say in my more long-winded way. Organisms don’t get “better,” they adapt. In evolution, we simply do not have bacteria sitting the “bottom” and humans sitting at the “top.” It is not a race to become ever more complex and sophisticated. There is no such thing as “devolution,” or some ultimate life form that all others are striving to reach. Humans are animals that happen to be very intelligent that have evolved to their environment the same as all others. It doesn’t make us some ultimate life form or even the most ultimately successful. We’ve only been on the scene for a geological blink of an eye, far too early to tell if we are going to last all that long. I am sure that long after humans are gone, we may still have alligators and coelacanth that haven’t changed at all, doing what they’ve always done, as well as bacteria and other creatures commonly and erroneously seen “more lowly.”

    Unfortunately, there are many who think that humans aresomehow at the pinnacle or that we have transcended the status of being an animal, and so I wanted to address that stubborn misconception in my earlier posts. I shudder to think what the results of such a poll as you suggested would be, although I don’t think I would be too surprised with the results.

    Cryptidsrus- I appreciate that you have been trying to take the time to really jump in here. Look forward to seeing anything you have to post and I’m glad I was able to join this discussion as well. :)

  24. norman-uk responds:

    I think it is wishful thinking (not mine) to say all new animal discoveries are of equal value; clearly they are not for many reasons. My top ones would be Neandertal man, Orang Pendek or Bigfoot and I’d really like to see some aurochs! A new flea for example would come somewhere near the bottom!

    As to organisms not getting better or more complex, I think if you look at the history of life on this planet, i.e. ”as close an approximation of the truth as is possible with current methods and data.”

    Life has evolved from the very simple to very complex, and judging subjectively as a human-what other way is there? Complexity means better; isn’t a car better with a reverse gear as well as a forward gear and doesn’t this allow the next (to god) great enjoyer humanity have more to enjoy? This allied with greater intelligence or the greatest intelligence on the planet and development of the mind and spirit mean that humans and without hubris, as a generalisation, are at a pinnacle and are the greatest ?

    We are not just animals in the sense that say a mouse is an animal are we? Much more I’d say and being so have much more responsibility for the planet we share with other life forms and for each other.

  25. mystery_man responds:

    Norman-Uk- If that were the case, and everything was getting more complex, we would not have any one celled organisms. No insects, no less complex organisms. We still have all of these types of creatures because they are well adapted to what they do, which does not require more complexity.

    To use your car comparison, what if you never had any need to go in reverse? What if your survival depended on only your ability to go forward? Then the “complex” reverse gear would be completely irrelevant. Lets look at another example. You might say that something with four wheel drive is better for instance than two wheel drive, but what if you never need to go off road? What if that is never required of your vehicle and the having no four wheel drive is actually more conducive to doing what you need to do? Are there not different cars designed for different needs? Is one really any “better” than the other if you consider how suitable it is for the job it is specified for and what is required of it? It has nothing to do with enjoyment. It has nothing to do with upgrades. This is all about survival and adaptation, and a recurring thing that can be seen in nature is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    All life is most certainly NOT getting more complex. This is a fallacy that many hold about evolution. We have plenty of organisms that are quite simple in structure that have changed very little over an immense space of geological time. Evidence, like I said, has even pointed to a loss of complexity in some creatures over time. It is evolving to changing environmental conditions and filling in open niches that determines a creatures adaptations and complexity, NOT some ultimate goal for every creature to reach some ultra complex or sophisticated form.

    But don’t just take my word for it. Go around and look at all the “lowly” insects and “simple” animals all around us, or better yet look under a microscope. If it were true that everything was getting more complex we would have no bacteria or other microscopic organisms. There are many, many “simple” organisms from lineages that have been around far, far longer than anything associated with humans.

    Animals evolve precisely as they must in their environment and biological role, no more, no less. Evolution is randomness focused by natural selection, there is no race to be more sophisticated. If it works, it works. The complexity of a species is totally irrelevent in this regard. Evolution and biology make no claims to the contrary, and I’m not sure what you mean when you bring up the history of life on our planet. I am talking about the history of life on our planet, and it is simply not true that life-forms are striving towards more and more complexity.

  26. mystery_man responds:

    Norman-Uk- I thought I should clarify my sentence and say that all life is certainly NOT necessarily getting more complex. Obviously some organisms have, for instance, brain structure in humans. What I’m trying to get across is that complexity is not some sort of “goal” of evolution, and it is certainly not a prerequisite for a creature’s continued survival or success.

    I also wanted to clear something else up. I am in no way implying that a mouse’s life is comparable in importance to that of a human being, or that they should get equal rights with us. I am just trying to illustrate that humans got to where we are like any other animal, through evolving to survive in our environment, and this does not necessarily require increasing complexity. Complexity is irrelevant. “Greatest” is really relative. Some animals have been around far longer than we have and will likely be around long after we are gone, so the definition of “greatest” could be seen in a number of ways.

  27. cryptidsrus responds:

    I tend to agree with Norman-Uk. Hate to be a “Species Chauvinist,” but yea, I tend to think we are somewhat a “cut above,” so to speak, above the ordinary run of Animals. In the sense that we are Self-Aware AND are given the Opportunity to make choices Non-Humans don’t.

    We CHOOSE to eat meat. Non-Humans don’t. One can say that that in the future, that statement will be Qualified—but as of RIGHT NOW, that statement stands. Like I said in the previous post, it may that in the next 100 years we will find out that animals have a level of “Intelligence,” emotional or otherwise, that was not previously “known,” so to speak. And therefore we will find out they are capable of a Sentience and Raticionization that was not previously detected.

    Most animals are not like that, of course—I’m speaking of the more (again) “Complex” animals like Apes, Dolphins, Whales, etc.
    It may also be that the lower “levels” also have their own type of
    “Intelligence.” We will see.
    Scientifically that is up for debate, but in my HEART (which is “Scientifically, Objectively Unimportant”, I know) I am pretty sure that is the case. :)


    I agree that with you that we are not necessarily the “Pinnacle.”
    The above statements about our place in the Chain Of Being on Planet Earth may indeed be qualified in the future, like I said. In fact, I’m almost SURE they will be.

    We are at the Top, of course—
    But if we were to be gone right now, the lower levels would go on about their business without any disruption whatsoever.

    On the other hand—
    If the lower levels were gone—-the Animals, the Plant Life, etc—we wouldn’t stand a chance. You know that and I know that, Mystery_Man.

    We need them—they don’t need us. And we better start acknowledging that.

    An example of this would be the Bee Colonies worldwide disappearing in mass droves. The problem has been somewhat slowed down now, but if it keeps up—think of the catastrophic consequences of that. And self-pollination by humans works somewhat (ex. China) but not on the efficient level of Bees. They can pollinate 3 million fruits/flowers on 1 day—we can’t even do HALF that. We’re in Dangerous Times, My friend.

    Anyway, back on topic.

    You say that “Complexity” is not a yardstick for “Success”—
    I’m saying that I’m not trying to measure this by neccesarily “Success,” but by “Intelligence.” We are not trying to decide who is the more “Succesful” animal here—there is an argument to be made that many species have been more Adaptable and “Succesful” habitat-wise than even US so I’m not trying to go there.

    I’m saying Sasquatch and a tiny group of other cryptids (according to most accounts) exhibit a level of Intelligence and “Reason-making” skills that lifts them above the standard level of ordinary cryptids.

    Sasquatch especially.

    And I’m choosing my words carefully here—

    I PERSONALLY feel that Sasquatch exhibits a level of “Intelligence” and “Emotion,” and even “Sentience” (by that I mean “Aware of itself”) that lifts it above the level of just an “Ordinary Animal”—know what I mean?

    Are Animals “Aware of themselves?”

    I don’t know.

    Can they Feel???

    Most apparently do. As in “they react physically to stimuli.”

    Do they “Feel” as in the “Higher Emotions?” (Love, Despair, etc.)

    Scientists say Nope. So FAR.

    Like I said before, that is very “Controversial” and I”m not trying to belabor the point.

    It’s just that given my own Intuition and based on the countless number of reports and descriptions worldwide as to how these Creatures ACT and interact with Humans and Animals, I personally can AT LEAST label them “Highly Advanced Animals Almost But Not Quite on Our Level.”

    As in “They Are Aware of Their Own Existence.”
    That is what I mean by “BEING.” (Many will disagree with that, I know).

    I know a lot of people are not comfortable with “BEING” so I’m happy with giving out the definition of “Advanced Animals.”

    Let me Clear:
    I cannot OBJECTIVELY prove that. Scientifically or otherwise. I just SUBJECTIVELY feel that.
    And I’m comfortable with that.
    That is what I meant when I said Millions of people Accept Sasquatch’s existence and that od ther cryptids as FACT. They Feel it. Cannot prove, but Know It.

    Again, Scientifically worthless, but Socially, Humanly Important.

    Like I said, Mystery_Man:

    I agree with Loren on his feeling about the Coelacanth.
    But Sasquatch?

    Let me put it to you this way (Finally).
    If another Coelacanth-type of cryptid is discovered, I will be very happy and will be glad that another “Prehistoric Fish” has been “Discovered.” Knowledge-wise, it would be a Tremendous discovery and would help advance our knowledge of our Earth and History. Absolutely. It would be Important. Absolutely.

    If and when, though, Ole Hairy is “Verified,” “Discovered,” “Detected,” whatever the heck you want to call it—
    I will WEEP. Because Humanity will never be the same again.

    Whatever the heck this creature is, it is (subjectively, to me and others) more than just an “Animal.”

    And since Natives for Millenia have accepted this as more than just another “unusual animal,” it would indeed be a little bit more than just Science finally formally “Verifying,” or “Discovering” IT.

    Science has SOMEWHAT dismissed Native Lore as “False” or “Unsicentific” without taking the time to “Look into the Matter properly.” So yea, in a way they would be “catching up.” :)

    Turns out Preconceived Notions and Derision do not make one “knowledgeable” about the world.

    Hope that sort of explained my “position.” :)

  28. mystery_man responds:

    Cryptidsrus- Well, if you are basing your positions on intelligence, self awareness, and overall sentience, I think it is obvious that in that sense I can’t argue that humans get top scores there as far as we know. I won’t deny at all that humans are by far the most intelligent creature on this planet. But we are still animals. We have just had the good fortune of getting very useful adaptations such as incredible brain power and the opposable thumbs to put it to use. It could very well have turned out differently.

    Modern day apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees diverged from the same line as us long ago. We have both evolved through the same amount of time, yet we turned out to be the way we are while they remain somewhat closer to their ancestral stock. We have both come from the same line and evolved in tandem, yet we have turned out to be more “complex,” while apes stayed relatively unchanged. The reason is not because we were destined for it, or had a set course to become super intelligent creatures. It was due to the unique environmental and evolutionary challenges we faced as a species, in addition to advantageous adaptations, and this turned out quite favorably for us.

    Make no mistake though, we are still animals. When sasquatch or Nessie are found, they will be animals. If you want to assign them some special status based on their level of intelligence, then have at it, but they are specially adapted animals all the same.

    My posts still stand, and I am not sure we humans are as unique in the animal kingdom as many seem to think. There are many attributes that we are increasingly being found to share with other organisms that are not uniquely human. One think that can probably be said though is that as far as sheer intelligence level goes, we are superior in that respect, yes. Is that a good enough reason to place ourselves on some other special level or create new categories such as “beings” to which only the elite humans should be a part of? I’m not so sure. Chimpanzees for instance are turning out to be quite similar to us in many, many ways, and I think we may be surprised just how much like us they turn out to be. In a way, they are quite likely very close to “our level” by your definition. There are a lot of other creatures that also qualify based on at least parts of your criteria.

    If your position is that sasquatch could turn out to be on par with human intelligence, then you may be right. This doesn’t really make them on “another level,” though. It just makes them very smart animals, like us. My whole point is that there is no such thing really of “just another animal” versus “something of human level.” Humans are extremely unique and we should cherish that we are so endowed with intellect and emotion. But we are animals.

    This whole discussion has gotten a little off track and is becoming rather a philosophical one instead of one on biology. I won’t argue that discovering sasquatch would be an extraordinary find, and that yes, for the vast majority it would be more exciting than finding a new prehistoric fish. I’d be out of my mind to say you are wrong in that respect. I was just trying to illustrate that what we think of as totally human is not necessarily so, and that it is difficult to create arbitrary levels for animals based on subjective criteria that may indeed not be so unique from one to another.

    Let’s also remember that pre-conceived notions about what is special about humans and derision against science in general are not really getting us closer to knowledge either.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your honesty about your position and your willingness to share it. I do hope you have at least considered what I have been saying here, though.

  29. DWA responds:

    Norman-uk & cryptidsrus:

    I can only add to what m_m has said the following, as he covers the bases pretty well.

    To me, most new species discoveries are, feh, who cares. I have to admit it. A new flea or a new crustacean had better have some pretty neat features before I get excited about it. New beaked whale? Whatever. I bet there are at least a dozen species of those we have yet to document. And most of those might be virtually undistinguishable to a layman. Feh.

    And that is a totally subjective judgment on my part. And I believe the human focus on more complex critters really amounts to a focus on more cuddly, really. Which is really subjective, and sapiens-centric. The disagreements I would get would likely be from sapiens who have managed to break down the cuddly wall, like entomologists or bacteriologists.

    And the biggest problem we have is with the ones that we (subjectively) see as being too uncomfortably close to us. Which is the issue that our culture, I believe, has confirming animals like the sasquatch and the yeti. They’re too close for comfort, owing to completely subjective attachments we have to things like our bipedal posture, our faces and our feet.

    Which are no different, in my objective view, from the fangs of the sabertooth, the long finger on the aye-aye or the foot of the clam. That is, they’re adaptations, that have helped us succeed as a species. As those others did. The sabertooth definitely succeeded. It was around longer than we’ve been. The dinosaurs? Spectacularly so, particularly when compared to us. (Which may not be a fair comparison. We are one species, the dinosaurs many species. All of which succeeded.)

    Too many judgments in this field – too many human judgments, period – are subjective. Not that that in itself is bad. Subjectivity can be important. (I’m reading a very interesting book now, by the primatologist Frans de Waal, that seems to be arguing that some things we might label “subjective” judgments might actually be objective, and the reverse.) It’s when a judgment obscures our vision that we need to reconsider. One such judgment is that complexity is better. Not surprising that we’d do that, as we’re complex. But slime molds would disagree. And particularly compared to us, they have experience on their side.

  30. DWA responds:

    And because m_m loves my tack-on posts 😀 , here’s another one:

    We may put ourselves above mice. But that’s a totally subjective rating. Anybody want to check Ma out on what She thinks about it?

    Hint: She’s kept cockroaches around for a few hundred million years more than us. And She’s given us hints that they’re staying long after we’ve worn out our welcome.

    Just sayin’.

    And I think that “discovery” might be said to be equally subjective. Except for this, and actually this too might be subjective: when the word is out for our entire species to read all about seems like when discovery – or OK, confirmation – happens. And when we all know, we subjectively tend to be better with it than when only a few of us do.

  31. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    I think the whole bit with “more important” discoveries is largely a matter of opinion – for instance, another primate may be a wonderful new thing to some, but there are those who would hardly blink. Some may see a new species of centipede as an excuse to move somewhere colder, while others would be jumping for joy.

    Also, to build off of Norman-UK’s car analogy – what if all the parking spaces happen to be just big enough for bicycles? That amazingly complex car is going to be at a bit of a disadvantage, isn’t it?

    DWA – I know what you’re saying about the beaked whales; I’ve started an art project dealing with sharks, and believe me, it’s hard to distinguish one species of Gulper Shark from all the others.

    Cryptidsrus – I have to disagree with you on the point of complexity=intelligence. For an example, let’s compare a well-known fish and a well-known mammal.

    -The Great White Shark is an intelligent, efficient hunter with hunting behavior that suggests a level of planning.
    -Opossums are just a little smarter than bricks.
    And yet, the opossum is more complex – the shark doesn’t even have bones, for crying out loud!

  32. norman-uk responds:

    I think it is pretty clear that life has evolved to overwhelmingly to increasing complexity even though there may be some examples where complexity has actualy reduced or appeared to have reduced. If the driving force of evolution is survival then this reduction could have been necessary or an advantage (imo). Often a reduction in one ability would have been met or exceeded by increase in another.

    Unless humans are off the scale, because they were planted or created by god or aliens, they have almost certainly been here since the beginning like all other life forms, so starting as something little more than a replicating rock, (Hopefully leaving panspermia out of the discussion.) Look at what we are today? Are we not vastly more complex and interesting? as are many other life forms. Even the journey from barely life to an amazing single cell is a hugh increase in complexity, perhaps the biggest until the brain came along !

    I think humans can make a judgement about what is a better form of life overiding what scientists come up with, though taking their view into account. In a sense I think this would be a subjective/objective view as it would be rationalising from human preferences objectively.

    Evolution is ok but lifeforms value in human terms does not depend entirely on their evolutionary value or sucess, its just a part. In human terms is what counts to humans this may involve being cuddly it may not

    Stating something is ”just an animal” misses the wonder of that creature with its 3.8 billions years of evolution. Is a blue whale just an animal or is it an outstanding, extraordinary, beautiful animal to be enjoyed and treasured ? I think it is ! Then the statement ”we (humans) are just animals”, in most cases certainly not, much more, starting with conciousness and on top culture and knowledge etc. You may say animals appear to have conciousness etc etc. They may in small amounts but not like the hugh development seen in humans and if they did then they are too something more than what we mean by animals especially using that term in a demeaning manner

    My example of a car with forward and reverse gears made an assumption that it would have been in an environment where two gears would have been beneficial. Selecting an environment where it wouldnt doesnt make sense, like a whale out of water. Next time i’ll specify the environment first !

    So I still think we can and should have preferences about newly discovered creatures and set value on them and this obviously affects where the money goes to find them or nuture them.

  33. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- Yes, exactly.

    That is the essence of what I am saying. It is all largely subjective, and categorizing organisms as “more advanced” or “more evolved” is totally arbitrary. There is definitely a “cuddly wall” as you put it. You also underline my point that many creatures have been around longer than we have and will still be around long after we are gone. It really puts terms like “better” and “greatest” into perspective, doesn’t it. Let’s put it this way, if humans were to disappear today, there would not be much impact on the Earth’s biome as a whole. But if we were to take away bacteria or insects? Hoooo brother, we’d be in trouble.

    I like what you say about humanity’s propensity for subjectivity too. It’s true. Even scientists, in what many think of as an entirely objective field, are not above it. Scientists are only human, and although they are careful and critical of evidence, they still are influenced by preconceived notions and human subjectivity to some extent. For instance, it can effect what evidence they look at more closely or what hypotheses they form to explain a given phenomenon. I might come up with an entirely different approach than a colleague even when given the exact same data. The notion that science is completely 100% infallible and objective is a myth. Anyone who thinks scientists are beyond the reach of subjectivity in any form are in for a surprise. That being said, science is still are best way of parsing out the truth of how things really work.

    Cryptoinformant 2.0- Good analogy with the parking cars. I’d also have to say that even though we have cutting edge, high tech concept cars, the person who just needs to put around town is still going to buy an economy car, which are still sold regardless of all of the other advanced cars out there.

    I didn’t mention this before, but really I’d have to say that in the end, cars are a poor analogy for evolution anyway. Cars are designed by humans who want a certain feature, like speed, style, handling, or gatling guns that pop out of the hood. :) We can make a car better in anyway we desire which current technology allows. Evolution does not work that way. It has nothing to do with what an organism wants. We don’t have creatures trying to evolve. An animal doesn’t think, “Man, it sure would be cool if I could fly,” and then work on sprouting wings. Evolution occurs completely independent of desire or enjoyment, and the organism has no say whatsoever in the process. They adapt to their environment and survive, or they don’t and those genes die out. That’s it.

    The colloquial meaning of “evolution” is that a certain thing always gets better and more advanced or complex, but in nature that is just not how it works. There are no animals that exist solely to be a stepping stone to something better or more complex. They just are. They are an organism just surviving in its niche. If the way they are is successful, that will carry on.

    Any assigning of “levels” is a human construct.

  34. mystery_man responds:

    Norman-Uk- How exactly is it pretty clear that all organisms are moving up some sort of ladder to a higher “level” of complexity?

    If you really look at the animal kingdom, I think you will find far, far, FAR more simple organisms such as plankton, microscopic organisms, insects, I could go on and on, exist today than “more complex” ones. Many simple animals have thrived for far longer than humans, as a distinct species, have been around. In addition, many of the more complex ones have remained relatively unchanged since long before mammals, let alone humans, were even on the scene. The notion that all life is “overwhelmingly” moving towards greater and greater complexity is quite patently false. Survival and success has nothing to do with complexity, and even something that we see as “better” today in its current form, might not have benefitted from these adaptations in earlier times in different environments. It is about survival, not complexity. The reason why life became more complex at first is because it was necessary to branch out into opening niches. But there is no guarantee that a lifeform has to keep getting more advanced. It is quite obviously clear that this simply is not the case.

    Yes, humans have become complex. I’m not saying that increased complexity never happens. However, humans have become more complex because it helped along our survival, not because evolution is geared towards more complexity. You cannot just take the animals that have become more complex and then say that this is where evolution leads while simultaneously ignoring the examples of animals that are not getting more complex or are even losing complexity. Evolution does not work that way. There are just as many very successful animals that are quite simple in form and function that have not exhibited any continueing advancement into more sophisticated forms. Organisms are getting better in that they are adjusting to new niches or environmental pressures, but this does not always equal increasing complexity, and I’ve tried here to illustrate this with examples.

    As far as humans go, I’ll restate my ape example from before. Humans and apes diverged from a common ancestor. We evolved for the same amount of time from the same stock. Now, if we were all getting more and more complex, why don’t we have chimpanzees driving around in cars talking on their cell phones? Because their environment did not require it of them. Because evolution is not geared towards increasing complexity, but rather towards survival. What works, works. If some adaptation comes along that makes a creature more efficient and better suited to its environment, then great. But added complexity is simply not always necessary.

    I think you misunderstood me when I said “just an animal.” I was replying to others who who have made a distinction between humans and other creatures that are “just animals.” I was trying to make a point that if you can say other organisms are “just animals,” then you would have to include humans in that grouping as well. I did not mean it as a demeaning term. I actually find it annoying when people say “just animals,” so my responses included that phrasing to try and drive home what I was talking about.

    As much civilization and culture as we have, humans are animals. We have evolved to the way we are through usual evolutionary means and have become quite complex, but it was not a given that this would be so. Everything that we have built and created springs from our evolutionary heritage as animals and is due to our adaptation of great intellect. But animals we are. If you want to find some other biologist who disagrees with me on that point, I think you will have a hard time of it.

    As far as human subjectivity goes, though, I have to say that yes we are going to value some finds over others. However, you might be surprised at how excited scientists get over some things that would not fire up public imagination all that much.

    Funding is also not so simple and clear cut.

    As far as funding goes, that really depends on the demonstrable plausibility of what you are proposing. By your definitions, sasquatch would be some ultimate level of animal to uncover, but I will tell you that there is far more funding for research into insects or “new fleas” than there is for sasquatch. It also has to be understood that in actuality, funding is not directly related at all to how complex or intelligent an animal is anyway. There is not some committee that says “Oooh a new monkey, that’s more important, let’s take the funding and put it there rather than in the new type of flea.” There has also been a lot of money invested in preserving pretty simple creatures while some other more complex creatures get little or no protection.

    So funding is already not based on complexity or intelligence of the organism in question. Complexity does not equal importance. I think a lot of biologists would freak out to hear that we are going to start divying up grants to the most complex or most intelligent animals. I know I would.

  35. mystery_man responds:

    Norman-Uk- I wanted to give another example concerning funding because I really think this is an important point that needs to be understood.

    Let’s say we do find something like sasquatch, and they are very complex and intelligent, and have sentience, and all that. Also, at the same time, the plankton of the world’s oceans (very simple organisms) are mysteriously dying out. If plankton die, the whole ocean dies, (incidentally if they had gotten more complex, the oceans would not be able to thrive). Or a certain type of key bacteria is dying out (again, bacteria, protozoans and other microscopic organisms far outstrip more complex life in terms of sheer mind boggling amounts of different types and their overall success). Now imagine we have a set amount of money we can use for funding either preserving the sasquatch, or preserving the plankton or bacteria. This is totally not how it works, but it’s just an example. Which do you think we are going to direct the funding to? I’ll give you a hint, not the sasquatch.

    The notion that we should decide funding based solely on how complex or intelligent a creature is completely unrealistic. Their value has nothing to do with either of these things. If one wants to assign value and preferences to organisms and base funding on that, then one has to look at factors other than how complex an organism is or how close to humans they are. Assigning value based on intelligence or presuming that less complex organisms are less evolved is not only untenable, but could be dangerous.

  36. DWA responds:

    Maybe one more thing might help thinking here.

    The idea that evolution tends toward more complex = better = us seems to presume some directive force with a goal in mind. But the general consensus among scientists is that evolution works by means of RANDOM genetic mutation. If a random mutation confers competitive advantage, it is retained through the possessor mating and passing on the gene. The possessor needs to be attractive to members of the opposite sex in order to get that gene moving toward replication. So the adaptation, one would think, can’t be too radical, but still must confer an advantage that passes it on through generations. Not to get outside my expertise here (and believe me we are close). But this seems like a slow process to me, and one that will “settle” for “good enough” rather than “striving” for “perfection.” Not to mention which the range of competitive advantages conferrable to any given organism is, well, let’s say somewhat limited, not only by the organism’s current gene bank, but by the available biological niches.

    Anyway. Evolution still being “only” a theory, it’s safe to say no one really knows why or how humans got to be humans. Although clearly something different appears to have happened in our case. But gorillas didn’t get to be “only” gorillas. They don’t have technology, among other things, because they don’t NEED it. And that technology has allowed us to foul our own nest faster than any other species has managed doesn’t make it – or us – “better.”

    Might just be an experiment in complexity, gone awry. I try to be humble in the face of such stuff.

  37. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- Well, evolution is only partially random really. The mutations that appear are random, but natural selection isn’t. Natural selection is actually a very vigorous, very non-random process, as an environment can have very strict requirments for what is needed to survive. You can also have totally random, freak events influence evolution as well. Let’s say you have a primate that has the mutation of incredible intelligence, but suddenly a tree falls and kills it before it has ever had a chance to breed. There goes that promising adaptation. Random events like this can have an influence on how things turn out.

    I also wanted to take a moment to bring up that not only are creatures not necessarily getting more complex, they are not even necessarily getting better. In nature, an adaptation only has to work. It doesn’t really have to work as well as is possible. Nature is full of flawed, but workable designs, and some organisms don’t evolve features that would have made them more successful. For example, sharks don’t have gas bladders to help keep them afloat, and must continue swimming. A gas bladder would be helpful, but since everything works fine, the shark is stuck with what it’s got. A panda uses a wristbone as a thumb, which is not very elegant, but gets the job done. The general rule of thumb is that an organism doesn’t have to be perfectly adapted to its environment, just enough to survive in its niche and keep up with competitors, avoid predators, and so on. Instead of striving for perfection, Nature often sticks with what is merely adequate. If it works, it works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    As far as what you said about these things taking time, you are right. But more than just time, evolution is a numbers game as well. Since we are talking about the weeding out of detrimental versus beneficial mutations over subsequent generations, the population of a species, how many offspring it produces, its number of generations so far, and so on, are all important factors. Simply put, the more mutations that are being put out, the more natural selection has to work with. This is “evolving” more than any advance in complexity.

    Now let’s apply this to humans to see how “evolved” we are. If you look at how many generations human beings have been on the planet, and how many mutation cycles we have seen, we are not really evolved all that much at all. Consider that bacteria produce more generations- and therefore chances for selection of new mutations- in a decade than humans have in our entire existence. In terms of how many generations we have had to go through mutation and selection, one could even say that from the persepective of evolution, we are not very evolved at all. It’s a humbling thought.

    One more thing, you had to bring up “theory” didn’t you! People who say evolution is “just a theory” really don’t have a good grasp of scientific terminology versus colloquial terminology. A theory is not an unproven idea in science. It is coherent body of widely accepted propositions for a phenomenon backed by evidence. Theories are very important in science and generally agreed upon by the scientific community. You could say that evolution is “just a theory” but then you’d have to say that Einstein’s theory of relativity is “just a theory” too. Stress theory, which the building you are sitting in right now is based upon, is that “just” a theory? How about all of the scientific advancements we take for granted everyday that are based on principles that are “just theories”? Evolution is supported by massive amounts of data over a range of scientific disciplines. To call it “just a theory” is not accurate.

    Anyway, evolution in the sense that it represents change in an organism over time and in response to environmental pressures is indisputable in science. The area where there is disagreement is in the process of natural selection and exactly how some creatures have developed the way they are. We don’t know everything there is to know about evolution, and there are many conflicting ideas. Indeed why humans developed such a massive, complex brain is somewhat of a mystery. But the fact that creatures change in accordance to their environment, this is not in dispute by anyone (Anyone in science, anyway).

    I’m sure you are aware of some of this, your use of quote marks suggests it, but darnnit if I am not fed up with hearing the “just a theory” line. :)

  38. mystery_man responds:

    Sorry, one more thing here.

    I think a big part of the misconception that evolution is geared towards moving up a ladder of progression from “higher” to “lower” is that over time, there tends to be an increase in species diversity. Creatures are branching out into new niches, diverging, and speciation. This results in more species sharing the same environment, which leads to sort of a biological arms race, with organisms adapting to avoid predators, compete with other species, avoid parasites, and so on. This means that over time, we get an increase in maximum level of complexity, but the problem is this gets misconstrued as a “overwhelming tendency” towards greater complexity, which is not true.

    The problem lies in essentially a sampling bias. People look at the most complex animals, which indeed have acheived greater potential maximum complexity through species diversity, yet these same people ignore the fact that these organisms make up only a small portion of the Earth’s total biomass. Actually, the vast majority of the biomass and biodiversity on Earth is comprised of microscopic prokaryotes, which include bacteria and archaea, themselves making up a whole domain of life. Then you have insects, plankton, and so on, leaving very complex animals as really only a small portion of biodiveritsy of life as we know it.

    Looking at only the maximum level of complexity and then saying that all life is geared in that direction is erroneous. Like I’ve been saying over and over again here, complexity is not necessary for evolution. If everything is moving towards greater and greater complexity, then you have to explain why over half of our biomass is comprised of microscopic creatures that make up whole domains of life, in addition to other very simple life forms. You cannot just take a sample of the most complex and say that this is the trend of natural history. It isn’t. This sampling bias is at the root of the common fallacy that everything is moving “higher.”

    You also have to explain why our friend the coelacanth here has barely changed in the millions of years since it was thought to have gone extinct. Obviously there has not been any great push towards greater complexity in this case.

    Figured I’d tack that on here DWA style. :)

  39. DWA responds:

    M_m: alrightalrightalready! I’ll stop putting “just” before “theory!” 😀 (Actually, I said “only.” In quotes. 😉 )

    Evolution is like the P/G film: no serious evidence against it yet. (Sorry. 😀 )

    And of course it’s not totally random. The popping up of new genes seems to be; but after that you have very non-random impacts of environment (and the occasional falling tree). I only really intended to say that the occurrence of genes is random; much else in the process obviously isn’t.

    And I have to hold out the possibility that what we “know” can be superseded by future discoveries. I mean, science does ignore stuff. Like the evidence for the ohnevermind. 😀

  40. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- You were going to say “sasquatch,” weren’t you? :) Can we get through a single discussion without our hairy friend making an appearance? 😉

    Don’t worry, I wasn’t picking on you. 😉 You seem to have a pretty good grasp of what is going on in evolution. “Only” in quotation marks is good enough for me. Just know that theories are not hunches or unsupported guesses in science. Theory of relativity, theory of gravity, stress theory, they are actually a pretty big deal. Unfortunately, a lot of people try to toss off the word “theory” as if it has the same meaning in science as it does in colloquial terminology, which it doesn’t.

    As to randomness, right. Evolution is a bit of randomness focused by natural selection with some freak falling trees thrown in. Not totally random, but with some elements of randomness for sure.

    And yes, future discoveries can always change things. That is one of the things science is all about.

  41. norman-uk responds:

    Interesting your comparison between a great white shark and a possum. I doubt if any objective comparison has been made or need be made here, because both are evolved from less complex animals and both lifelines go back to the same 3.8 billion years. The white shark in particular is impressive both in itself and by its superb adaptation. The talents of the possum are less obvious or charismatic. Who can say if its less intelligent? Very likely a different kind of intelligence. I reckon it would be a lot easier to construct a life like functioning robot shark than a possum, Though I dont think this is proof of anything.
    It is possible to construct first of all some criteria for categorizing life forms objectivley with a bit of subjectivity thrown in, assumming there was an incentive or willingness to do so, then applying it. I am not saying it would be easy ! ”Mystery man” goes down that road in his example in a following post when he compares the financing of saving the worlds plankton with saving Sasquatch. The latter coming second ! That was an easy one !
    I think if we got rid of humans this would have a positive impact on earths biomass -unless and until we made a device which diverted or neutralised a potential devastating cometry impact! You cannot really mean there is any meaningful comparison between getting rid of all bacteria or insects and one species, homo sapiens can you? The implication being that because this would be catastropic, bacteria are somehow more develpod than man? Bacteria and bugs fill a role much as water and air do and man is the enjoyer.
    Humans do have a propensity for subjectivity as you say including scientists and also an ability to be objective. But I dont think we can trust scientists in many areas where we human beings can do better and have the responsibility to do so.
    You are right also about cars being a poor analogy for evolution, except in a limited way, maybe we should abandon it now?
    No one here has suggested evolution is mindful, though programme makes often suggest it is. I dont think any evidence of it has been found has it ?

  42. norman-uk responds:

    mystery man
    In my post 29/7 I stated it is pretty clear that life has evolved overwhelmingly to increased complexity. I also think this is self evident starting with organised molecules that were virtualy indistinguishable from non life to RNA to DNA and archaic virus’s and bacteria. Probably still with us or evolved unrecognizably. In among them was us, much changed I hope by the process of evolution! Not mainly a sideways process but forward in complexity and function, This is a matter of record.
    I did not mean that ALL life forms had evolved onward and upward to infinity and beyond but in general the creatures comprising the earths biomass have evolved. So the belief that some life forms had not evolved or evolved little does not detract from this. As for the hugh biomass buried in rocks, soil, ocean and even air. I think the same generalisation applies not that anyone probably knows.
    In effect all creature with minor possible exceptions have evolved from simpler life forms many times over they might now appear to be marking time but at some point they’ll get marching up that hill again. Virus’s are stuffing their DNA in them and the environment is challenging by change and nobodies watching.
    Apes and humans from the time of their split follow seperate paths and an increase in complexity took place when they did. Presumably thay are both now at a seperate point to what they were at when the split took place. Because apes are not on cell phones and in cars you imply thay have not and are not evolving, not so. Just different paths. Planet of the apes envisiged a different scenario!
    I go along with you on the ”just animals” matter up to the point when you state humans are just animals. I think there is a logical case to refute this, it is not my experience and is only the least of what is available to or acheivable by humans.
    There is an important idea here that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts I think this applies to humans and robots as well- but thats another country.
    More to come!

  43. mystery_man responds:

    Norman-Uk- I did not say that some life-forms did not evolve, or evolved little. I have been saying that evolving does not equate to increasingly advanced complexity. The statement that not all things have evolved onward and upward, but in general everything has evolved, does not make sense. Creatures are changing in response to their environment, which has nothing to do with added complexity or going onward and upward. Some creatures will need the added complexity to compete and survive, or fill new niches, others will not. “Evolving” and “getting more complex” are two separate things that are not necessarily mutually inclusive.

    I also did not imply that apes did not evolve. I said that if you are basing “evolving” on an advance in complexity towards the direction of humans, then in that respect you yourself are actually the one who is saying they have not evolved. I was merely saying that not everything is aimed to evolve to be like us, but rather to the challenges of their environment. In fact, from my previous examples, humans are not really that “evolved” anyway in terms of generations of mutation cycles. “Evolving” is not really synonymous with “getting more complex.” Organisms adapt to their environment, that is all, and it is independent from getting more complex. This has been my whole point. Nothing has “stopped evolving,” I have not said any such thing and this is a misrepresentation of what I have said. If anything has remained unchanged for long periods of times, it is because it is well adapted to what it does. Anything that remains in a simple form does so because it it is fulfilling its role and there is no reason for it to keep adding complexity. If there is change, or new niches to fill, and whatnot, simple organisms can evolve to meet those challenges without necessarily advancing in complexity.

    The level of complexity achievable by life has increased because the Earth’s ecosystems have changed. The environment has changed. Organisms are speciating, filling niches, competing with each other. This has caused, like I said before, a sort of biological “arms race,” with many organisms adapting to keep up with the changes which can result in added complexity, yes. However, this is because due to the environment and ecology, this added complexity was what natural selection demanded of these organisms. But it is not a requirement for life to do so. Life can evolve and be successful without gaining complexity. By far the vast amount of life on Earth is comprised of simple organisms. This is a matter of record, an immutable fact. It does not mean they have stopped evolving, you are misunderstanding me. Bacteria and the other whole domains of simpler life are evolving. In fact they evolve at a rate far faster than human beings simply because of the number of generations being produced at a fast rate. We have even witnessed evolution in microscopic organisms. But it does not mean they are getting more complex, obviously.

    The vast majority of life on Earth is simple organisms. You are taking the most complex animals and saying that this is the overwhelming drive of evolution, when evolution says no such thing. Evolution is merely adapting and changing to survive. It is a change in allele frequencies over time and natural selection points that into adjusting to the environment and role they fulfill. The overwhelming fact is that there are far more types of microscopic creatures, insects, and so on than there are things like humans and other mammals. Taking the most complex and saying that this is where life is “overwhelmingly” headed is ignoring this fact. Obviously when you have the vast majority of your biomass as simpler creatures and only one that has turned out like humans, that life is “overwhelmingly” headed this way is a fallacious statement. Does it mean these simple organisms are not evolving? No, it doesn’t, they are evolving just fine. What it means is that evolution does not equate to increasing complexity.

    Level of Complexity is a poor measure of how evolved an organism is. Something can be highly evolved without being complex.

    I also think you missed the point entirely of my example with saving plankton versus saving sasquatch. I even said myself it was an example and not how it works. I was trying to use something to illustrate that a creature’s complexity, subjective or not, is not really a good way to gage how important it is. Yes, it was a poor analogy.

  44. mystery_man responds:

    I should also mention that evolving does not necessarily mean that everything keeps changing and changing. Organisms only change to fit their environment, no more no less. A creature can be perfectly adapted to its role and remain unchanged, but that doesn’t mean it has stopped evolving just that it is well suited to its current environment. I have even illustrated that organisms are not even necessarily getter better.

  45. mystery_man responds:

    Also, this-

    In effect all creature with minor possible exceptions have evolved from simpler life forms many times over they might now appear to be marking time but at some point they’ll get marching up that hill again.

    First, I don’t know what you mean by “minor possible exceptions,” when the vast majority of bio diversity on this planet is in fact comprised of quite simple life-forms that are indeed evolving. The minor exceptions are actually the more complex organisms and us.

    Second, there is no such thing as “marking time” in evolution. Organisms adapt or their genes do not get passed on. That’s it. No species is marking time, waiting to move up to some next level. Like I said before, organisms do not exist to be a stepping stone to something “greater.” They just ere. They are either adapted to their environment and pass on their genes, or they do not. They are not “marking time,” waiting to move up. The mutations that appear and the environment will determine when or if they change. It doesn’t even have to be the survival of the fittest, but rather the survival of the fit enough. If they breed, they pass on their genes.

    Third, organisms may start “marching up that hill” but it is not really a hill to be marched up. If there is some change in the environment, or a competitor or predator that influences natural selection on an organism, then yes even organisms that have remained unchanged for long periods of time (and again this does not mean they have stopped evolving) will adapt or die out. Some creatures that are complex now might not have survived so well in past times, and some in past times would not have survived in the current ecosystem. If the environment changes- and this includes a wide range of factors such as climate, food availability, predators, competition, disease, parasites, etc- so will they. Again, environment and natural selection determines this, not some hill to march up or any particular drive to greater progression of complexity. So yes, of course organisms can be spurred to change even if they have remained relatively static in form. I have not at any point said this isn’t the case. This is what evolution is. Maybe this change will mean more complexity, maybe it won’t. For many, many simple organisms, it has not meant marching up some hill to greater and greater complexity. Organisms will adapt to their current environment, that’s it. Advances in complexity, or lack thereof, are tied directly to that.

    I’m trying to illustrate how these things work and it is taking a while to dispel the attitude that evolution equals a progression from “lower” to “higher.” This is a common fallacy and appears in the top ten of every list you are likely to find on misconceptions about evolution. I see why people embrace this, because they tend to look at only the most complex creatures, which indeed have achieved a higher maximum complexity level due to changing ecological forces. But they are not really the majority, and a creature’s complexity has nothing to do with how evolved it is nor does a simple form indicate that it has stopped evolving. Far from it.

  46. mystery_man responds:

    typo- my post above should read-

    “Like I said before, organisms do not exist to be a stepping stone to something “greater.” They just are”

    It should not say ere. Sorry.

  47. norman-uk responds:

    Im quite willing to state that some life forms on this planet have evolved little or barely at all. I cannot see where I said you said it, nor do I see where it would contradict your position seriously. Though an argument for a little or no change situation would tend toward the creationist position.
    My position is that I think life on this planet has in general got more complex. I think this is a consequence of evolution as are, in general, increased or new abilities. There are all sorts of exceptions but the general rule still holds.(IMO)
    The main driving force for this increase in complexity I feel is competition between organisms. Stating increased complexity doesnt mean that all creatures are complex compared with creatures which we would think of as complex but there is a drift in that direction.
    If you are not implying apes have not evolved the alternative meaning then of ”Now if we are all getting more complex why are chimpanzees not driving around in cars talking on the telephone”
    is that chimps are not getting more complex because they are not in cars on the phone. This is no way to judge the issue of complexity is it ? I have a feeling you might which to rephrase this? I am very sorry if you feel I have misrepresented you I have tried to deal honestly with what you said rather than what you might have intended.
    Going back to your example of plankton versus sasquatch. Good example or not, what was happening is you suggested in some way some kind of value being put on one life form versus the another. When I have been told here this was not possible or desirable. It is inevitable in the real world and that is why for example in the UK there is a growing campaign to exterminate the grey squirrel !

    ”In effect all creature with minor possible exceptions have evolved from simpler life forms many times over they might now appear to be marking time but at some point they’ll get marching up that hill again”.
    I dont see why you have a problem with this, I am sure you will agree that virtually all life forms have evolved from something simpler. (Though I do understand why you dont agree with the hill)This doesnt mean they are complex but were even simpler before! Like the first feeding organisms, maybe even before replication!
    Isnt it generally accepted that organisms have periods when they dont evolve ie mark time then do a bit more often in leaps and bounds. This whether or no they have an accumulation of changes to their DNA.

  48. mystery_man responds:

    Norman-Uk- I think there has been a misunderstanding on both of our parts. Upon thinking about what has been said here, in my opinion we are talking about two different things here.

    In the sense that life as a whole moved up from simple groupings of molecules that are the beginnings of life, then yes, life has a whole has experienced a surge in complexity in that sense. That was an easy one! There was really nowhere to go but up in terms of complexity at that point in natural history. In those terms, then it could be said that life has developed into a more complex form from those earliest beginnings. As I have already stated, the maximum level of complexity has gone up due to the branching out and speciation of life and the effects that natural selection has had on that. I will concede that in the sense that life gained complexity in relation to these simple molecules it started out as. I do not meant to say that life has never gained in complexity whatsoever.

    My whole point has been that life is not necessarily geared towards greater and greater complexity. This is where I think we are diverging on this topic. Although there was this initial surge in complexity, it does not follow that all organisms will necessarily continue to do so. Of course we have humans today which are very complex and indeed started out way back as tiny one celled organisms. This was due to a continued diverging from those lines that continued in complexity, while others did not because their environment did not lead to that. So we have us humans, but we also have one celled organisms, some of which are very simple in form. These one celled organisms have been around since long before humans, and have experienced a huge amount of generations of mutation and natural selection, far more than humans, yet they remain one celled organisms. There is no biological imperative for them to suddenly sprout legs or fins and start turning into more complex organisms. They are well suited to their role and environment. They may evolve to meet challenges, but not necessarily in the direction of “higher” organisms. The fact that most life on Earth is made up of these very simple organisms that did not experience greater and greater complexity even in light of their increased mutation cycles is really unavoidable. The way you make it sound is that all of these simpler creatures have some sort of destiny to keep getting more complex and if they haven’t already, then they certainly will. NOT SO. That position is indicative of creationism, not the other way around.

    Take another example. Many more complex life forms originally evolved from amphibians. Through diverging and speciation in conjunction with selective pressures, some lines have gone on to become birds, mammals, and so on, yet we still have amphibians. These amphibians may change over time, but they are not necessarily gaining greater and greater complexity. This is because speciation does not require that all of the lines keep gaining complexity, only that they survive in their environment. So like with the one celled organisms, you have some species increasing in complexity, but not all. Humans branched off from creatures that are not too unlike some arboreal primate species still around today. They are adapting and surviving just fine despite not moving up to greater and greater levels of complexity.

    You misunderstand my chimp analogy. The point is that some creatures (humans) are going to speciate and lead to a more complex form, while others (chimps) are not necessarily going to move in the direction of the kind of complexity found in humans. The environment and ecological challenges will determine the change they exhibit, and that change may not necessarily be an increase in complexity.

    While yes, many creatures have become more and more complex, the vast amount of life on Earth has not experienced a greater drive towards that. Microscopic prokaryotes, all manners of invertebrates, insects, and on and on, have not demonstrated a drive to greater and greater complexity. They might evolve, yes, but that does not equal greater complexity. Life may have started out, due to competition and filling new niches, experiencing a surge of complexity, but there is nothing that requires that these organisms keep doing so.

    Look at the coelacanth here. It has changed almost not at all in the millions and millions of years since it was thought to be extinct. It has many what you could call primitive attributes such as the lobed fins. Since before any line even somewhat resembling humans have been around, the coelacanth has remained the way it is. This is due to how well suited it is to its environment, and there was nothing that made it keep gaining and gaining in complexity, obviously. In your opinion, it should have gotten more and more complex until it was an organism bearing little resemblance to its ancient form, which has not happened. Evolution does not require that creatures keep changing, only that they change enough to survive in their environment.

    Evolution does not even have to mean gaining new abilities. As I said, the most basic definition of it is a “change in allele frequencies over time.” This does not necessarily equate to “better” or “more complex” or new and improved abilities.

    Much of the Earth’s biomass is able to keep evolving and not necessarily gain greater complexity. They may have come from something even simpler, but they do not have to keep moving up. If the organisms are suitable to their role, they may continue to be as they are. You make it sound like all one celled organisms are inevitably going to turn into something more complex, which is not a given at all. As a matter of fact, if these simple organisms started to sprout fins or legs for no good reason, that would actually be evidence against evolution.

    I do not understand your mention of creationism here and implying that what I say is tied to that. That is so far off base, I don’t even know what to say to it. I am actually in the field of biology, and the implication that anything I am saying is a creationist line of thinking.. well I think I can say that this could not be further from the truth. I don’t know if that was meant to offend me or not, but I have not posited a single creationist angle here, and I am actually quite outspoken against creationism.

    Anyway, in the sense that life as a whole moved up in complexity from replicating molecules, yes you are correct. But life is not necessarily always moving up to greater and greater complexity. There is not an imperative drive from “lower” to “higher.” This was my point. Although they may have come from something even simpler, creatures can remain and evolve in a relatively simple form indefinitely in accordance to selective pressures. An initial increase in complexity does not mean that this will continue on and on. As I said, the vast majority of life on Earth is testament to this. The majority of life forms on this planet have done quite well without moving onward and upward to increasingly advanced complexity.

    If that were true, then we should expect to see the majority of life on this planet as very complex organisms, when in fact this is just the opposite.

  49. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    Norman-UK – First, a response regarding the shark vs. opossum analogy:
    You mentioned that you feel that it would be easier to make a fully-functioning robotic shark than a similar robotic opossum. Perhaps, focusing solely on biological complexity, this is the case – however, there is a greater body of evidence for high intelligence in Carcharodon carcharias than in the Opossum, so the behavior of the shark would be much more difficult to get working, whereas the Opossum would quite likely be programmed according to a series of simple rules, guiding its behavior without any great effort of thought or reasoning.

    Also, with your statement that

    It is possible to construct first of all some criteria for categorizing life forms objectivley with a bit of subjectivity thrown in

    , there is a very simple logical fallacy there – objectivity and subjectivity are mutually exclusive, and you cannot have “a bit of subjectivity thrown in” while keeping it objective to any level.

  50. mystery_man responds:

    I think this whole discussion has sort of gone around and around in circles. My whole original intent was to illustrate the problem with basing importance on certain discoveries or priority of funding on arbitrary assignment of “levels of importance” based on such tenuously defined categories as “complexity” and intelligence.

    It was stated way up there that “complexity equals better,” and that is not really true. Trying to explain why this isn’t true has been my whole point here with these long posts.

    Some last thoughts here.

    Norman Uk stated-

    My top ones would be Neandertal man, Orang Pendek or Bigfoot and I’d really like to see some aurochs! A new flea for example would come somewhere near the bottom!

    How do you rank those as most important? Not intelligence because I don’t think aurochs would really gain top scores in that area. Complexity is also a completely arbitrary way to judge an organism, as I have tried to illustrate. Why exactly is flea at the bottom? Because you don’t think they are cool enough, important enough, or some other subjective rating? I agree that most people are going to be the least excited about the flea, but this is not really any indicator of how important the flea actually might be.

    He then says-

    So I still think we can and should have preferences about newly discovered creatures and set value on them and this obviously affects where the money goes to find them or nuture them.

    Again, basing that value on what exactly? On complexity or intelligence, or on its actual importance? The whole implication of the posts leading to this is that this value on subjective labels such as complexity or intelligence. It just doesn’t work that way in science. An animal’s importance is just not all that tied to its complexity or intelligence level, and it really does not have much of an impact on where scientific funding goes or how important scientist view the creature. As I have already stated, no committee is sitting around saying one discovery or animal is more deserving of the money based on these subjective factors alone. Some very intelligent animals are getting less funding than simpler animals, it all depends on a lot of factors.

    Of course value is assigned in science to certain animals over others, I did not say this is impossible or even undesirable. What I said is it has nothing to do with subjective factors such as complexity or intelligence. There are other more important things to consider, such as its role in the ecosystem which is not related at all to any human judgement of intelligence.

    An example is found in my own area of expertise. I do research into the effects of invasive species on island ecosystems, specifically in Japan. A creature’s complexity level or intelligence has pretty much no impact on where funding goes. In this case the value of the organism is placed on whether it is indigenous or not, and its impact, rather than how complex it is. Incidentally, Britain has some of the same issues in this area as Japan does, hence the whole grey squirrel thing. It is not based on cute and cuddliness at all, but on the ecological implications. People may think an animal is very cute, and this can be a speed bump to trying to enact management plans, but fact is that cute animal may be no good for a foreign ecology. In this case, the importance lies in what is best for the ecology, not what people think about the animal.

    Then there is this quote-

    It is possible to construct first of all some criteria for categorizing life forms objectivley with a bit of subjectivity thrown in, assumming there was an incentive or willingness to do so, then applying it.

    Any categorization you made on which creature is “more developed” is going to be inheritely flawed, because as I have been saying the importance of an organism is not based on some sort of “level of development,” as was implied. I have also tried to show that “level of development,” in biological terms, is not so easy to put a label on in the first place. It’s all relative.

    My whole, admittedly heavy handed example of sasquatch versus plankton was to show that an organism’s value is not tied to its “level of development” as perceived by humans, or the complexity of the creatures in question. It was not intended to say that plankton were more developed than sasquatch or some such direct comparison, but rather to show that factors other than complexity or intelligence have to be considered when placing any sort of scientific priority on one creature over another. If anything, my whole point with that analogy was that human assigned “levels of development,” intelligence, and whatnot have nothing to do with it .

    Cryptoinformant 2.0 is also correct. How do you come up with something workable concerning a monumentally important task like categorizing value and importance of life forms that is objective with a “little subjectivity” thrown in? Subjective in what way, and by whose standards? I think most biologists will agree that such a system as Norman-Uk proposes would have to be completely objective, and it is likely an organism’s complexity is going to have little impact in this regard. You are going to have to have other things that contribute to an organism’s assigned value.

    Funding is not tied to creating these subjective hierarchies of animals based on complexity or intelligence, and it is unrealistic to think this sort of thing would work. There are many, many factors that have to be considered and funding for any sort of preservation is going to be based on a range of criteria.

    So this is quite an unrealistic thing to say-

    But I dont think we can trust scientists in many areas where we human beings can do better and have the responsibility to do so.

    Let’s forget that us scientists are apparently not humans. The idea that the general public necessarily knows more about what’s best for the ecology is not very realistic.

    I will say that obviously human subjectivity has a huge impact on the plight of some animals over others and I suppose this can have a big effect on money coming in. For example, if you put up a cute endangered animal like the giant panda, people are going to respond to that and this will led to greater amounts of money headed their way. On the other hand, take a less charismatic animal such as, say, the Japanese giant salamander, and you are not going to get such a public response. In this sense, human subjectivity is going to have a big impact. Does it mean that scientifically and objectively speaking the panda is more important than the giant salamander? No. Does this mean I don’t think pandas should get the funding? Not at all. But it is completely subjective and based on “cuddliness” in this case, rather than any other factors that actually matter.

    Yes, human reception of animals has an impact on funding in the sense that awareness is raised. Public opinion and awareness is very influential and can be very important. But this has little to do with trying to come up with a viable, scientific way of assigning value to certain animals based on cuddliness, complexity, or intelligence.

    Positive public opinion of an animal can actually be detrimental to conservation efforts and trying to deal with some invasive species in certain areas such as feral cats and dogs, squirrels, black bass, and many many others. People can be against the elimination of these pests for a variety of reasons, none of them tied to how important or dangerous the animal is to the ecology. Negative public opinion can have a detrimental effect too, for instance when you have people who do not want wolves reintroduced due to perceived threats, and so on. In all cases, none of the public opinion really has any direct bearing to how valuable an animal actually is. People may have the best intentions, but there is more to consider than how they subjectively view these animals.

    So forgetting what scientists have to say and just letting the general populace make all decisions concerning conservation and funding could result in a lot of problems.

  51. norman-uk responds:


    Isnt the situation with the shark that its abilities focus on smell, and detection and managing its physical abilities, much like a robot sub and being so we are more than half way to our robot shark already and thre are robot fish. Sharky doesnt have much of a social life or mental life even though some has been reported and is finding out what the shark can do a work in progress not conclusive?

    Not much been done on the possum I think and I guess it is probably comparable with the common rat. Thats quite considerable and in possum versus man in new zealand the possum appears to be holding its own.

    I will be honest I do not know if a shark is more intelligent than a possum or if it is possible to make a proper comparison, but I would tend toward the possum without good evidence.

  52. norman-uk responds:


    How I think it works is that there is, something inherent in the evolutionary process which on average tends to lead to greater complexity and this has happened/ is happening on this planet. In any particular at any one period this process may be fast or slow or very slow. An important driver of this process is competition between life forms and a drift to versatility. More complex life forms tend to have stored and unused potential whose DNA can be switched on and selected to deal with new conditions.
    I think this process may reverse when conditions become unfavorable to life. One could speculate what has happened on Mars, assumming it had life and it now shrunk to be invisible.
    Does anyone know if the Coelecanth has changed or not? Physical conditions for it have probably changed and so has the local fauna. So it has very likely it has had discreet changes not easily seen but significant, enough to enable it to survive. Without more evidence it cannot be said that it has not changed. It probably can be said it has changed but not by what degree
    So we agree assessments can be made of some kind of relative value of different life forms but you insist on an entirely objective system decided by scientists. I think in the real world peoples feelings and preferences should be part of the decision and I didnt say ignore the scientists but take their contribution into account.
    Also in the real world apparent contradictions can live together and do and oxymoronic utterences make sense. Being subjective and objective in the same arena can be valid and beneficial. Scientists are quite fallible you will see if you study these matters and some kind of natural wisdom outside science is needed to provide balance, starting with political science. Viz dont do what scientists say blindly and people have a right to an opinion ie be subjective if they wish.
    The most amazing discovery in nature in the last century on this planet was the ubiquity of life. Perhaps billions of tons of life newly discovered miles and miles of them under our feet at every step. How many life forms was this perhaps more than ever discovered previously. Maybe in combinations we havenot dreamt of with strange capabilities. Perhaps in combination going through solid rock achieving group intelligence and affecting us in new ways.
    Maybe indirectly mystery_man has reminded me of these and this and other obsevations here makes me think the subject needs a bit of a rethink ! This includes me.

  53. CryptoInformant 2.0 responds:

    Norman-UK – Two things – one, while the full picture of a Great White’s behavior is incomplete, some pieces of the puzzle have been filled in. The Great White does exhibit, in some instances, pack-hunting behavior, as well as problem-solving skills and a tendency to stalk prey much like a serial killer would.

    As for your continuing assertion that life tends “on average” to move towards greater complexity, you seem to be missing the fact that more than half of all the species on this planet are things like bacteria, amoebas, dinoflagellates, algae, and other, very simple organisms. There is some debate as to whether viruses and prions count as living things but, whether or not you include these two ultra-simple groups of organisms(?), the fact remains that, on average, life does not evolve towards superfluous complexity. Indeed, natural selection seems to favor the simplest solution that will work, which is perhaps why pandas still don’t have real thumbs.

  54. norman-uk responds:

    Crypto Imformant 2. 0

    Does the Great white’s pack hunting include co-operative behaviour exibiting short term unselfishness for later gain? Presumably not just coincidently hitting the same targets. It is possible the description ”pack hunting” could mean a lot or a little ! I doubt the Great White is in the same league as the Killer Whale and I think we know who cares for their young best. Isnt the latter trait much admired by us anthropomorphics ?

    Yep, there are a lot of relatively simple life forms about but are they getting more complex ? I think they are, at the same time are new life forms coming into being ? In addition are new life forms being seeded from space as perhaps the red rain was in India? but maybe I’m casting to wide a net here !

    What is happening in the hugh new biomass discovered on this planet is surely terra incognita as yet though we have an inkling. I dont see why increasing complexity shouldnt rule here either despite setbacks when it all starts again.

    You state, generally life does not evolve toward superfluous complexity. I think it probably does here and there and evolution is not an exact process and like earth, only looks smooth from a million miles away. If natural selection favours the simplest solution it doesnt mean the solution is simple, it depends on the task and circumstances and the competition. Give the Panda time, if a thumb is better, it will get it.

  55. Shift responds:

    Yeah, those scientists are always looking through their little tunnel of “logic” that they never really see what’s out there!

    If the natives knew about this for all that time, what about mokele mbembe? That crazy murderous dino living out in Africa? There’s lots of interesting critters not known to science, but the natives talk about them all the time!

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