Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 17A: A JELLYFISH Intelligence...HOW?

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right”.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

The editor at Stupefying Stories sent an email about a month ago with the following “bullet point”, discovered by his granddaughter: “…Portuguese man o' wars aren't individual animals, properly, they're siphonophorae…a colony of animals.”

He thought it would make a moderately interesting column post…

I think he understated (or deliberately intended to spark the wild flight of sorta-fancy you’re about to read…) the effect the simple video and article referenced below would have on me!

So, first of all, I did a bit of reading about Order Siphonophorae in which there are about 150 species. Condensing the article on Wikipedia regarding the order’s Morphology – in other words “…the form of living creatures, and how all their pieces are put together and related to each other.” Our morphology would point out that we have two arms and two legs. The arms are divided into to joints and hands. The legs are divided into joints and feet. The hands and feet are further divided into fingers and toes which are used to pick things up…”

The morphology of the “jellyfish” (not truly correct, just for you to get handle on what I’m talking about here!), in general is this:

Generally, Siphonophores exhibit one of the three standard body plans.

One group has a long stem with individual animals that have tentacles. One kind captures and digests food. One kind lays eggs. Another makes gas to fill a float and they mainly drift at the surface of the water. The second group give the jellyfish the ability to push water, making them sort of jet propelled, pumping water back in order to move forward.

They are made up of a number of types of animals. A zooid is a single animal that is part of a colony. Jellyfish can have zooids that either stick to stuff or swim around. Zooids can develop to have different functions.

For example, nectophore zooids can move, and working as a group, help the entire jellyfish move in water. When nectophores are located in one part of the jellyfish, they can coordinate the swimming of colonies. They can also work with reproductive structures in order to provide propulsion during the colony breaks up for form “baby jellyfish”.

Bracts are zooids that are made to protect the jellyfish as well as make sure the jellyfish doesn’t float too high or sink too far down. Gastrozooids stay in one place and digest food for the jellyfish, and palpons are gastrozooids that make sure digested food gets circulated.

There are dozens of kinds of zooids in your average – or even monstrously-sized jellyfish. Pneumatophores are gas-filled floats that help the colonies stay upright in the water. Some pneumatophores have an additional function of assisting with flotation and can even sense pressure changes in the water.

So now you have a general idea of the makeup of a jellyfish.

Now here’s where I take it a step further and create the possibility of a sapient jellyfish.

Jellyfish are not animals – they are a COLONY of thousands or millions, and in the case of the “beautiful *giant* siphonophore Apolemia recorded during the Ningaloo Canyons expedition, perhaps more than the 86 billion neurons that make up a Human brain.

But there’s nothing like it that that we know of.

What if an alien creature had “neuroids”, individual animals that behave like neurons…

Let’s just say that the creature in the video formed an immense spiral for a reason. To bring not only the various creatures of the colony together, but to bring the neuroids into closer contact. What if the number went beyond 86 billion?

For example, as it is in the image, nerve impulses would have to travel from the tail to the head of the jellyfish. That’s stated to be about 118 meters long (390 feet!), stretched out, it would be as long as the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, where I live.

Say an impulse travels 100 meters in a second. That means if I stomp on the jellyfish’s tail, it would take a second (literally) before it knew it in its head. That’s not too long. A jellyfish could easily survive in its “strung out” state without being intelligent. But if it somehow NEEDED to be intelligent, it could begin to coil, bringing the neuroids into contact.

OK – the next big problem I’ve recently realized and talked about a bit here: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2022/04/writing-advice-creating-alien-aliens.html. I have the same problem now, HOW WOULD A SAPIENT JELLYFISH THINK? Not just what would they think about, but HOW would they think?

It’s a jellyfish for heaven’s sake! What would it think?

Let’s start with what would it FEEL.

Water temperature, pressure, salinity, chemical components; maybe it could sense sound – but rather than with ears, along the entire length of its body. Probably it can sense light, though “seeing” as we do wouldn’t be that important. We already know it can sense water pressure, and it can move. It can hunt, it can reproduce, and now it can think -- and given the number of neuroids it has, it can probably think just as deep of thoughts as we can.

How much of the world would it be able to sense? We’re tempted to say, “It’s stuck in the water! How far can it go?” I’d have to point out that if you’re being perfectly honest, WE are the ones who are limited to the land – Earth is 71 percent water. That means our entire Human civilization is limited (at the MOST) to 29 percent of the Earth’s surface. Our Sapient Jellyfish can go pretty much wherever it wants to on the planet…

But see what I’m doing? I’m avoiding thinking about how would my intelligent jellyfish would think? WHAT would it think about? Beyond the same things we do regarding survival, what would it need to think about? Getting food. It might never see the stars, but Humans have never been into the depths of the ocean – and we developed intelligence. We would both have faced predators. We would both have developed ways of protecting ourselves…but…

The biggest difference between Humans and Sapient Jellyfish is that one Jellyfish is an entire world. The parts of the Jellyfish ARE NEVER ALONE! They are always together; always experiencing each other. Would they even understand the IDEA of the alien? I think Humans get it because anyone outside of us is an alien. You don’t know what I’m thinking; I don’t know what you’re thinking. And even with my very dearest friend, my wife…I truly have no idea what she is thinking.

An Intelligent Jellyfish would never be alone because it would be aware of all of its parts…

Now isn’t THAT an alien thought?

More on this later…

Resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siphonophorae (basic background on the lifeforms and their characteristics); https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/deep-sea-predator-millions-clones (article is more informative on the Siphonophore discovered a bit over a year ago off the coast of Australia), the larger YouTube on the bottom is a more general survey of the creatures (colony????), the Tweet is just a 30 second clip from the larger video…); https://theconversation.com/it-feels-instantaneous-but-how-long-does-it-really-take-to-think-a-thought-42392 (how fast does a nerve impulse travel?)
Image: https://image.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/alien-human-600w-136457129.jpg