Here is your first weird animal of the day: the Barreleye Spookfish.
Yes, it has a transparent head. Yes, its tube-like, telescoping eyes are actually inside its head. It literally sees the world out of a window in its skull. The eyes are set upward to scan for the silhouettes of prey against the distant surface, and biologists believe they are inset to protect them from jelly tentacles, from which they likely snatch a good deal of their food.
I have been thinking lately about the Drake Equation. It’s a shorthand formula to describe how many intelligent alien civilizations there might be in the Milky Way galaxy. In other words, it’s an algebraic expression to define the probability of extraterrestrial life. I have an interest in astronomy, but on the whole I’m a very Earth-centric person. But I’ve been wondering if we couldn’t devise a formula to estimate how many undiscovered species there still are in the depths of the world’s oceans, or even jungles.
After all, the barreleye spookfish was only discovered this year. Biologists have hardly begun to plumb the depths of the sea floor, or the heights of the world’s forest canopy cover, that great “eighth continent” that contains untold numbers of new species of plant, fungus, and insect. Hell, we are still discovering new mammals.
Here is my belief, my hunch, my hope. It is said that outer space is infinite. And it’s true that the Earth is a closed system. With the exception of a few meteorites and space shuttles, very little gets in or out. This would naturally imply that the number of anything on Earth is finite. But somehow, I don’t think it’s true. I think that the Earth, closed off under the bell-jar of its atmosphere though it may be, is actually infinite. It is a fractal: a rough geometric shape that is infinitely complex and self-repeating. In other words, Earth is infinite in its details: its tree branches, its forest fires, its spiral shells. If outer space can be infinite, what not inner space? And if inner space continues going and going, into the cracks and gullies and hidden folds of its corporeal self, we are going to continue to find weird life-forms there.
I’ll go one big step further: I believe that what makes Earth infinite is Life. Pluto may as well be a frozen bowling ball orbiting in a drunken oval around the sun, but the presence of Life on Earth adds an extra dimension that, with the fourth dimension of Time, makes the planet infinite even when the matter that it’s composed of is finite.
There are numerous problems with this theory, but they haven’t shaken me. If quantum physics changed everything about the way physics was understood, I wonder if quantum biology will also prove true even though it’s faintly unimaginable.