Creepy crawly fluffy bunny

In a change of pace this week, we are looking at sea slugs.

Sea slugs??, I hear you repeat, in a tone of wonderment – or is that disbelief? – I can’t be quite sure, and your raised eyebrows are not helping.

Anyhow, before we take a closer look at those frisky little critters, we first intend to address our Editorial Policy, by way of explanation for why we feel it is appropriate, here on this blog, at this particular moment in time, to talk about sea slugs.

As any regular reader will know (I deliberately use the singular, as our polling indicates that there is approximately one of you out there!) here on Blathering About Nothing our team of intrepid reporters do their very best to deliver every single day – or, on average, once every 2 to 3 weeks –  an article deemed educational or newsworthy, whether that is a study on the behaviour of socks, an investigation into the history of a moustache, an opinion-piece on the revoltingness of milk, or just for something different, an examination of the potentially lethal dangers of yoga mats.*

You’ve probably gathered from the above topics, that part of our editorial policy on this blog is to avoid, wherever possible, simply jumping on the bandwagon of whatever topic is the latest craze to go viral on social media. Socks, moustaches, milk and yoga mats are examples of topics we brainstorm in the editorial offices, and deem to be, not only newsworthy and educational, but also, very safe bets in our strategy to avoid joining in on any social media frenzies. So if you are looking for the latest dumb thing said by Tony Abbott,* done by Kim Kardashian, or worn by that young female celebrity whose name I can’t remember, you will not find it here. If, on the other hand, you like moustaches, socks, yoga mats, celebrity ears, or hate milk, then there is something here for you, my friend.

An artist's likeness of former Australian PM Tony Abbott

An artist’s likeness of former Australian PM Tony Abbott

(Note that in the Sliding Doors version of writing this post – where we see the alternative-universe version of the direction this post might have taken if I smiled more, chopped my hair into an elfin, page-boy cut and had it dyed blonde – the previous paragraph could have been cleverly placed as an introduction, allowing me to fill this current paragraph with a long, amusing list of idiotic things you theoretically wouldn’t find here. What a missed opportunity for a gag-within-a-gag! Unfortunately as I don’t  generally follow those kinds of news items, I can’t even begin to imagine what they might be, so we are stuck with the sad-faced Gwyneth Paltrow with the boring brown hairstyle.)

So when brainstorming in the office this week, this reporter recalled an image that flitted momentarily through her Twitter feed many months ago, only to pop up in her memory again recently when she was filling time on a long train journey by trying to think of something to write about.

That image, which apparently went viral for a short time in the middle of 2015, was of a particular species of sea-slug that, on first glance, looks for a moment like a cute fluffy bunny rabbit. After that first moment, you realise that the cute fluffy bunny has no nose, mouth or eyes that you can discern, and suddenly its cuteness is kind of undercut by a somewhat alien, slightly creepy, quality.

No doubt it was this cute-but-wait-a-minute-it’s-kind-of-creepy look (which was all the rage in Paris this summer), that caused pictures of the sea-slug to go viral on social media in about July of this year. However, as it’s now late September, our Editorial Team decided that the sea-slug is safe for us to cover, since it’s clear that we missed the bandwagon when this going to viral land. (We didn’t even make it to the bandwagon departure point. Where do bandwagons depart from these days anyway? It’s no wonder we are never on them – it’s very hard jumping on bandwagons in modern times, when it seems the only way to catch them is to take a running jump as they go past at high speed, with a high risk of landing in the middle of the brass section and knocking out the tuba player’s teeth.)

If you still doubt our editorial integrity, you only have to look back at some of our past posts to see that we have, from time to time, expressed a particular fondness for primitive creatures who reached their evolutionary peak many millenia ago, and have stayed pretty much the same ever since then. We’ve published pieces about jellyfish and other deep sea creatures, cockroaches, and parasites (in the form of large hairy moustaches), for example. So its clear: here at Blathering About Nothing, we are fascinated with the primordial.

As a last ode to our integrity – or a perverse desire to ensure we never use cheap tricks to get extra hits on this site, we’ve made the editorial decision not to link to any of the pictures of the slug that were widely circulated. But we are not leaving it entirely to your imagination – we commissioned an artist to do a portrait of the slug for us. I’m sure you can appreciate that this was an expensive venture, given the cost of the deep-sea diving gear and the underwater pencils that work at depths of more than 4 metres.

 

An artist's likeness of a sea slug (fig 1.) and a cute fluffy bunny (fig 2.)

An artist’s likeness of a sea slug (fig 1.) and a cute fluffy bunny (fig 2.), note similarities.

Now one thing that this slug-bunny, as we like to call it, reminds us of is Wittgenstein, a famous philosopher, who wrote about the phenomenon of seeing something as something else. His example was an image of a duck-rabbit – on first glance you may see a duck’s head, then when you look again, it’s a rabbit’s head, on its side. Woah, right? (To see what I mean, check out an art work inspired by this idea, called The Duck-Rabbit Problem, by Australian artist Kathy Temin, which you can see here or in the contemporary collection at the National Gallery of Victoria.) The equivalent in 2015 is the slug-rabbit problem, a philosophical problem which can be encountered by anyone in their own home with time on their hands, by Googling “sea-slug with rabbit ears.”

The other thing that we like about the sea slug is, as mentioned, that it reminds us of deep sea creatures who look as though they did all their evolving a few millenia ago and then sat back – or slithered around, as is more usually the case – and let the rest of us various species gradually appear, and then blunder along doing our best to evolve, losing casualties along the way, trying to work out who was the fittest, etc etc. Take jellyfish for instance. According to the Smithsonian, they have been drifting aimlessly around in our oceans for more than 500 million years. In comparison, homo sapiens appeared around 200,000 years ago, a mere blip at the end of that time period.

A rigorous search by our intrepid research team has so far been unsuccessful in establishing just how long the particular species of sea slug in question, the Jorunna parva, or “bunny-rabbit slug”*, has been around for, so any insinuations that it has been crawling around on the ocean’s substrate for as long as jellyfish have are purely conjecture on the part of the writer (ie, me), made in order to ensure that the theme I’d decided is not spoiled by the presentation of evidence to the contrary. This, of course, is common practice in any tax-payer funded research project, so if you have evidence to the contrary, we will thank you to keep it to yourself, or write your own post on sea-slugs, which we will read with great interest.

As a final note, if you’d like to see lots of pictures of the bunny-rabbit-like slug, check out this website. If you’d like to ask a sea-slug a question you can go to the sea-slug forum. And if you have no interest at all in sea slugs, well, I guess you stopped reading a while ago, which was probably a smart move.

*

* Although we usually try to avoid topics that are popular on social media, we have actually written posts about cats. We hasten to point out that our cats were not falling off/into toilets, or speaking in a dumbed-down pigeon-English. Ours were far more diverse in their activities, which included hiding under the bed and doing star jumps. Despite that, one of our cat posts did go viral – relatively speaking, meaning that it got about 1000 more views than any other post on this blog has. Except for one about socks, which turned out to be our most popular post ever. Go figure.

*Similar to Donald Trump but with less money and more of his own hair

*the latin name probably does not mean bunny-rabbit-slug, although I suppose it might.

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A Really Brief History of Time

7.5 billion years ago: Things are pretty quiet as far as we can see. Earth does not yet exist, which accounts for the lack of extra noise. Out in the universe, stars burn away for millions of years, and that’s about it for action, really. Occasionally they explode, which livens things up for a while. As it happens, right at the moment that we are looking back at, one such star, GRB 080319B (although, at this point in time, it went by the name of unnamed) explodes, and the light from this explosion begins to travel through space.

Star exploding

 7.5 billion years ago

6.5 billion years ago: ….oh, sorry, I’d fallen asleep. It felt like a billion years just went by. Anyway, not much has been happening, things are pretty much the same as they have been for the last billion years. Even a maths lesson on a hot stuffy afternoon would seem action packed in comparison to this. Light from the explosion of GRB 080319B  still hurtles rapidly through space, allegedly travelling at the speed of…well….light. (Eye witnesses are hard to locate.)

4.5 billion years ago: Major thrills!  Over in a galaxy  – which will later be named “The Milky Way,” after a delicious chocolate bar that does not spoil the appetite – a new planet forms. This will be designated as “Earth” by the inhabitants, but that naming ceremony is still billions of years away.

3.5 billion years ago: More excitement! Who said nothing happens around here? The first life forms appear on Earth. Later named “bacteria,” these primitive life-forms prove to be the most resilient anywhere in the universe.* Meanwhile, light from the explosion of GRB 080319B continues to zoom through space.

650 million years ago: animals with nerves and muscles, but no brains, begin to appear on Earth. They are called Jellyfish. (Some of these creatures evolve to become Rugby League players.)

250 million years ago:  dinosaurs roam Earth. Light from the explosion of GRB 080319B is still ploughing steadily on through space at a consistent speed. (if ploughs could be said to go at the speed of light.)

100 thousand years ago: Homo Sapiens first appear on Earth. Apparently one of the main things that distinguish Homo Sapiens from Neanderthals is their production of artistic objects. Thus the beginnings of the human race is marked by its need to make art, which is handy for a thematic link to my previous post.

1 thousand years ago: the real Macbeth reigns in Scotland, but not in entirely the same way as the famous fictional character did – eg, there are less witches boiling up trouble, and not so many ghosts popping up through the fruit platter at banquets. A mysterious voice proclaiming “Macbeth has murdered sleep” in the middle of the night might really have been heard, depending on just how loudly he partied at night.

500 years ago: Shakespeare writes Macbeth, basing it on the king who lived 500 years earlier. (To Shakespeare and his cronies, Macbeth’s time seems like ancient history, but they didn’t have the benefit of being able to read this handy post to put things into perspective.)

Meanwhile, throughout all of this planetary, and now human activity, light from GRB 080319B continues to whizz steadily through the universe. Remember people, it was going at the speed of light, not at the speed of a segway. Reports from this time are still sketchy, but it appeared to be heading in the direction of The Milky Way.

60 years ago: Beckett writes Waiting for Godot and makes obvious reference to Macbeth.**

13 years ago: Stephen Hawking publishes A Brief History of Time, which explains a lot of stuff about the workings of the universe but overlooked the connection between  Macbeth, Waiting for Godot, black holes, stars exploding and the endlessness of the universe. Hawking’s so-called “brief” history also takes a lot longer to read than this post, even though I’ve managed to add in the parts about Macbeth and Waiting for Godot that Hawking left out of his.

3 years ago:  the light from GRB 080319B, that has been travelling for all that time, reaches Earth’s atmosphere. The light from the explosion that happened 7.5 billion years earlier and has travelled across the universe for all that time is seen briefly by Homo sapiens, on Earth.

3 days ago: I write a post that manages to tie the explosion of a star 7.5 billion years ago to Macbeth and Waiting for Godot, and which, no doubt, astronomers, physicists, literary academics and my local postman will be quoting in the years to come.

Just now: In what is already rapidly becoming the short-term past, I hit the “publish” button on this post, written to give an overview of the history of the universe so that it was clear where Macbeth and Waiting for Godot fitted in to the grand scheme of things.

Meanwhile, out in deep space, things are going along pretty much the same as they were, billions of years ago.

*

In other relevant news, apparently Milky Way now comes in a spread.

 

Milky Way spread

Milky Way spread. Neanderthals didnt think of that one.

*With the possible exception of Daleks

* *Beckett’s reference to Macbeth seems obvious to me, but is just my opinion, and I am not an academic. Any literary scholars who would like to disagree this may send in a 500 word essay on the topic, which will be published here in serial format.

A tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. (But it mentions stars exploding.)

In my last post I referred to the “spine-tingling” factor that happens when I contemplate the stars and universe.  As a reminder to all you regular readers out there (or should I say, “in there”, since most of you exist only in my head?  Still, thanks for reading either way) – I’m talking about how that light that we see, and call a “star,”  is the light from a massive body (that’s the star) that could have already exploded and died  – and yet that explosion won’t be seen (by the naked eye) for maybe millions of years.

Yeah, that’s right, I had to reiterate that fact, because I can’t get enough of it.

Anyway, strangely enough, when I think about this stuff, my mind often makes an association to something else that I find spine tingling – a quote from Macbeth! I say strangely, because it’s nothing to do with stars or the universe. It is the famous quote, which I have located this morning in a falling-apart copy of Macbeth (complete with scribbled notes all over it) and goes:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(Shakespeare, Macbeth, v.5)

Did your spine tingle? Mine did. I can’t put my finger on why it is, but I have heard that this Shakespeare dude is quite a good writer, so I reckon he knew how to make a few words have an impact.

I suspect the reason why my brain connects this text from Macbeth with stars exploding and their light travelling for thousands or millions of years and still hitting our vision thousands of years later, is that idea that human existence is so brief, such a mere blip on the radar of what Macbeth describes as dark and dusty nothingness, or in my mind, is the fathomlessness of the universe.

Of course, the play is full of foreboding, and conveys a growing sense of dread and darkness, so all of that contributes to Macbeth’s famous speech, which comes close to the end of the story, feeling so potent and causing my spine to tingle.

I reckon that Samuel Beckett’s spine felt a little tingle when he read Macbeth, too. In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon echo some of Macbeth’s ideas.  I think the spine-tingling I experience at these passages is partly due to recognition of Macbeth’s famous speech, as well as my reaction to the similarly dark content of what they are saying. Have a look back at what Macbeth says, and then check out the similarities:

Vladimir: All evening we have struggled, unassisted. Now it’s over. It’s already tomorrow. (p77)

Vladimir: In an instant, all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness! (p81)

Pozzo: Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time!….One day,  is that not enough for you, one day like any other day, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?….They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more. (p89)

I wonder if Beckett was having a little bit of a joke, too (given the nature of his absurdist play it seems likely) as Vladimir and Estragon could very well be the “idiots” that Macbeth speaks of, telling the tale that signifies nothing. The power of their statements is achieved very differently in Waiting for Godot. This play does not develop a growing sense of dread, rather I think that, for me, the power of these deep, existential statements is probably highlighted by the contrast in the way they are delivered: amidst conversation that, on the surface, appears to be pure rambling, by bumbling, pathetic characters that we feel sorry for.

So art can make my spine tingle too, just like the idea of stars exploding, and the universe in general, can do.

I guess that what makes for a spine-tingling feeling varies for everyone, but occasionally we all feel it for some reason or other, either by staring up at the stars, listening to a beautiful piece of music, or reading Macbeth!

Star exploding

An explosion 7.5 billion years ago – visible in 2008

Photo Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler, et al.

(Click here if you want to read about this exploding star. Apparently it exploded 7.5 billion years ago – well before Shakespeare was born, or even before Macbeth, whose story took place a mere 1000 years ago.  After travelling for all that time, the light from the explosion finally arrived close enough to earth to be seen by the naked eye in 2008.)

Black holes and other things I dont know enough about

There’s a lot to wonder about out there….

The supermassive black hole at the center of our Galaxy.

What do I wish I knew more about??? Oh, there is so much that could come into that category! After all, I named my blog “It keeps me wondering” for a reason!!!

I like wondering about all sorts of stuff…admittedly sometimes in a fanciful way, but I’m actually stimulated by learning new stuff, particularly if it’s through a dialogue with someone else who is knowledgable and passionate about it. I enjoy trying to picture and understand how things work, so I can become genuinely interested in almost any topic – for example, why steam burns you twice (as a friend was explaining last night). A good example is that when listening to local community radio station 3RRR, I can find myself becoming absorbed in the discussion of topics ranging from the work of the Mirabel Foundation to a current exhibition on in Melbourne. Sadly, I don’t seem to have a good ability to retain a lot of facts about how things work, however. So I don’t seem to store those facts in a database in my head, but the upside is that, like a goldfish, my active curiosity in learning about things can be triggered by hearing the same information I’ve heard before, if it’s presented in an interesting way!

It’s hard to know where to start, but here are just a few of the things I wish I knew more about, and can always hear about with interest:

Astronomy – the stars, the galaxy, black holes! The fact that the light we see in the sky left a star anywhere from 4 years ago to 1000s of years ago (or millions of years ago if you have a telescope) – that is one of those mind blowing facts that (even though I do retain it) still causes a shiver to run down my spine when I think about it. I guess it is because that light connects us with the prehistoric past of the universe, before the earth was inhabited, so many eons of time ago that we can’t even begin to picture how much time ago we are talking about. It reminds me  that human existence on earth really is a tiny blip on the radar of the universe.

Sociology and psychology – why we crazy humans behave the way we do! For example, it’s always fascinating to read about those famous experiments that I remember from psychology, like the one where someone on top of a tall building looks like they are going to jump, and down below the crowd gradually lose their sense of individuality and concern, and all chant at him to jump! Or the one where there is an apple on a table and everyone around the table one by one has to say what the object on the table is. The first person (a stooge) says it’s a pear, and no-one queries them, so then one by one, everyone round the table says it’s a pear.* Or the one where some people were made to play prison guards and put in charge of other people, playing the role of prisoners, and during the course of the experiment, the “prison wardens” started treating the “prisoners” in cruel and inhumane ways as the power dynamic went to their head. Human behaviour is so complex, fascinating, and sometimes scary!

History – the things that humans did in the past, and why they did them! There is a story to everything, and just about anything can come under the category of “history”, and tell us a little about the society that created it. The history of Ireland. The history of grafitti art. The history of robots.

bioluminescent jellyfish

Is it a space alien? No, its a bioluminescent jellyfish!

M. Youngbluth

Biology – particularly marine life – they are so mysterious to us. Starfish – how do they eat? How do they reproduce? Those bioluminescent deep sea creatures that live down on the ocean floor, creeping about in the murky depths, generating their own light, and not even bothering to evolve, just remaining as weird and primordial as their ancestors who were creeping around in the same ocean thousands of years ago.

I guess my interest in barely evolved creatures must be part of my fascination with history and pre-history. I just think it is shiver-inducing to know that there are still little bits of ancient history around us – out in the galaxies and way down deep in the oceans.

Of course, there are plenty of other, every day things I’d like to know more about too, for example, what half the functions on my phone are for, or why Fisher and Paykel bother having a 24/7 help line, but those things are not as potentially fascinating so I can survive without knowing the answers or even wondering too much about them. There’s too much other, more interesting stuff, to wonder about!

*

* The object on the table in that experiment might not have been an apple, it could have been an orange, or for that matter, a ham sandwich. I can’t recall and didn’t feel like looking it up. So I am not succumbing to peer group pressure when I say it was an apple, I just chose apples and pears to illustrate the point.

An orange

Umm…..an apple??

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