This less-than-affable-looking sea monster reminds me of an old course in modeling I was involved in, laden with insights that have stayed with me ever since. (Please read “modeling” as “making conceptual/practical models of excellence”, not as “wearing scant expensive designers’ clothes for a living”.)
At some point, we were studying the adaptive strategies of a blind man, Silvano – a very independent, capable music teacher. A couple of aspects of his perceptual world were astounding.
One, he was able to transform a plethora of disordered sensory stimuli – such as the overwhelming noises, thrusts and smells at a crowded road junction – into an enjoyable experience. He accomplished the feat by simply letting them in without resisting, allowing them to ‘stack’ or ‘pile up’ (his words), trusting they would eventually self-organize in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Two, he would navigate with ease and certitude through the world of the seeing thanks to a special kind of sensitivity he felt all along the sides of his body – a feature he learned much later fish are actually endowed with, fittingly called ‘lateral line’. But while the lateral line of acquatic creatures is wired to perceive mostly movement and vibration, Silvano claimed that the information processing abilities of his were more of an electrical nature.
So, here comes our monster (the picture shows a developing paddlefish). It is there to remind us that, as the article goes, ‘About 96 percent of vertebrates–30,000 land animals (including humans) and roughly an equal number of fish–descend from a common ancestor with a sixth sense: electroreception.’ Because ‘With as many as 70,000 electroreceptors in its snout and the skin of its head, the paddlefish has the most extensive electrosensory array of any living animal.’
In another article, http://www.futurity.org/top-stories/ancestor-with-an-electrifying-sixth-sense/ Willy Bemis, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, comments: “The electrosensory organs also develop immediately adjacent to the lateral line, providing compelling evidence “that these two sensory systems share a common evolutionary heritage”.
Sturgeons have that, too. Music teachers. Blind people. Maybe alchemists, who suffer the presence of too much metal around, messing up with their electrically hypersensitive receptors.
BTW: I’m presently reading a thoroughly enjoyable book about embodied phylogeny (or maybe the embodiment lies in the eye of the reader?). It’s called ‘Your Inner Fish’, by Neil Shubin. I’m not going into any details until I’ve finished it – in the meantime here you’ll find more about it http://tiktaalik.uchicago.edu/book.html.