The World Below, or, On the Stupidity of Fish

Even when all things are considered, fish are fairly stupid creatures.

Admittedly, there’s no real reason for them to be smart. The buoyancy of water means that they can build up much more muscle and fat mass, and although they need some complex three-dimensional trigonometric calculations for determining optimal paths through an environment where height is more than just the “the empty space above my head”, there’s not a lot of real intelligence in a fish.

Perhaps, at some point in history, a short-lived branch off of the evolutionary tree showed some signs of real intellect. Maybe, at one or more times, a fish blinked, looked around at its fellows swimming through the water all around him, and thought to himself, “Hey, I wonder who created this maze where we all hang out!”

That fish was probably the first to be eaten by a dolphin, because instead of swimming away like his fellows, he stopped and tried to negotiate with the dolphin.

The dolphin, of course, simply ate him. Dolphins are fairly intelligent, but they tried being the smartest creatures on the planet once, and it didn’t work out so well for them. Now, they mainly just spend their free time playing with rings of bubbles. They don’t waste energy on negotiating.

Not that the fish that swim through these columns, below the surface of the water, clustered together for safety in their blue-tinged world, know this.

Still, if that smart fish managed to evade predation, he might have wondered about what sort of strange, peculiar process of Nature formed the massive pillars that stood at regular intervals. How did lava, which he knew only as a faint, hot glow at the bottom of distant deep-sea vents, rise up to make these columns, stretching up above the edge of his world?

Obviously, Nature wasn’t responsible for the columns. Nature took one look at their regular, evenly spaced, symmetrical layout and said “No thank you, not my kind of thing, I’ll stick with the natural shapes and curves.”

The fish didn’t know this, either.

The fish didn’t think about how, long ago, big dark shapes moved across the top of their world, sometimes parking near the tops of these columns and spending time floating there before eventually drifting away. The fish didn’t think about how these big long shapes stopped showing up one day, and no more activity moved up across the top of their world.

Fish tend to stay away from those big, dark shapes, because one of them might turn out to be a dolphin, waiting to eat them, without even offering its poor prey the chance to negotiate.

Fish also aren’t good at counting, except for counting to zero, one, and “more than one”. They aren’t able to count the rate of dark shapes (oh, let’s just call them “boats,” another word that fish don’t know) and calculate out how many light/dark cycles have passed since the last boat came to their home.

It’s been a lot of cycles, which the fish would definitely not refer to as “days”. Thousands of them. Indeed, one of the columns even fell down more than one day ago. Nobody showed up to do anything about it.

To the fish, of course, this is perfectly normal.

One day, perhaps, more columns will fall down, as Nature slowly but surely exacts her vengeance on these strange creatures that dared to make columns in neat, symmetrical lines, the type of lines and patterns that Nature abhors. If someone explained this to a fish, very slowly (because again, fish are stupid), the fish might feel sad, because it would someday not have columns to swim around, explore over and over, and use as hiding spots from dolphins.

Or maybe not. The fish might consider that this is the fate of all creations, to eventually crumble and be subsumed, returned back to the primordial state of basal existence, to lie in wait for the next being to rise and challenge Nature for a brief period of supremacy before once again being consumed by its own hubris.

No one’s ever tried asking the fish. No one’s around to ask.

(By the way, although they only know three numbers, fish are very good at counting. They spend most of their time counting. Most of the time, they count how there are zero dolphins. Sometimes, they may count one dolphin, or even more rarely, more than one dolphin. This signals to the fish that it’s time to hide in the pillars until they once again count zero dolphins. Counting is very important to fish.)

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