In the beholder's eye

October 12, 2005

A couple of scientific breakthroughs recently caught our eye - because, in the end, they all hit close to home.

First, wild gorillas were documented using a branch as a walking stick to ford a small pool. Previously, they had not been observed using tools, and so this advertised more clearly their evolutionary link to man.

Second, a recently discovered planet - dubbed Xena and possibly our solar system's 10th planet - turns out to have its own moon, orbiting much like the moon circles the Earth. As with gorillas in the jungle, distant space offers self reflection.

And then there were the first photos of a living giant squid in its native habitat, an oddity long known by legend and the occasional dead specimen. This squid - 26 feet long with a parrot-like beak, huge eyes and long tentacles with powerful suckers - affirmed man's ability to foresee the unseen. Or the ability of at least one eerily accurate prognosticator, Jules Verne, the father of science fiction.

From Verne's 1873 novel, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea": "It gaped with enormous eyes. ... Its arms stretched a distance twice the length of its body and they writhed like the serpentine hair of the Furies. We could plainly see its 250 suckers that lined the inner sides of its tentacles. ... What a freak of Nature!"

Not bad for never having seen one alive. And, oh yes, Verne's squids attacked the Nautilus, his imagined submarine. Modern scientists had thought them passive, but the recently photographed squid was an active predator. And when one of its tentacles ended up severed and aboard the scientists' ship, it went after them on its own. In other words, the squid was quite aggressive - just like man.

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