January 25, 2005


Fish discovered with human face (January 14, 2005)

IF you found this fish staring up at you from a pond, you might do a double take.

Sinister eyes seem to peer out from the head and a broad nose tapers down to the mouth. But, in fact, the nose is just a marking on the carp's skin as are the "eyes" in front of its real eyes.

The features belong to two 19-year-old female carp in a pond in Chongju, Korea.

This seems a perfect opportunity for everyone to play Darwinist and cook up their own "Just-So Story" of how the fish got its face, The apotheosis of Stephen Jay Gould (Paul R. Gross, October 2002, New Criterion)
[Stephen Jay] Gould, his sometime co-author Richard Lewontin, and followers refer regularly to “ultra-Darwinism,” “pan-adaptationism,” and “Darwinian fundamentalism.” Those are slurs. They are meant to suggest that many scientists (the leading evolutionary biologists, in fact) are wedded to an obsolete and harmful system of reductive thought. According to such putatively obsolete thought, natural selection is the main agent of evolutionary change; the target of selection is the individual organism and the physical basis of its heredity, the genome; and, selected changes of biological form and function take place over many generations in the direction of better adaptation to the environment. The products of such thinking, Gould insisted, are often, or even generally, “just-so stories” à la Kipling, amusing fictions.

We'll send a book to whoever has the best entry. Here's mine:

Once upon a time, the Chongju carp looked just like other carp, but then Nature intervened. The Chongju carp swam in waters frequented by Buddhists who performed ritual ablutions daily and fed on the Chongju shark, the carp's main predator. Over time those carp whose features looked most like the submerged face of a human were selected by nature for the advantage this gave them vis-a-vis the Chingju shark. And that, my little ones, is how the fish got his face....

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2005 12:00 AM

After man burst out of East Africa, he migrated in all directions around the world, picking up all kinds of cool genotype characteristics in response to local survival pressures. When he hit Korea, he paused for a few hundred thousand years and evolved yellow skin and slanty eyes in response to the unique sunlight intensities and angles in those parts. While doing so, he munched happily on Chongju carp, so happily in fact that the species became threatened. So, as a defensive survival mechanism, it evolved a face that ressembled that of an ugly Korean slob. So freaked out were the Koreans that they stopped eating the carp, which then thrived in safety. But the Koreans got hungry and so many moved on to Australia, where they evolved into aborigines.

Posted by: Peter B at January 22, 2005 10:10 AM

Long, long ago (before Confucius even), there was a wise guy named Tony "carp face" Linguini-osoro who was always telling people "you'll sleep with the fishes". Well one day Tony wised off to the wrong Chinaman who smite Tony with a big stick. Tony fell into the water and was so scared he never surfaced again. Legend has it Tony eventually evolved into a really ugly fish.

Posted by: AllenS at January 22, 2005 10:27 AM

Move over coelocanth! Since the discovery of this amazing prehistoric fish, many natural historians speculate that it may have been the first creature to crawl from the ancient primordial sludge. Without the occurrence of this event there would be no birds, no earthworms, no humans and, more sadly, no whales or dolphins. The "face" on the fish could explain puzzling aspects of convergent evolution like the similar appearence of people, chimpanzees and the deaths head moth.

Posted by: Pat H at January 22, 2005 11:49 AM

Dr Mengele's crowning achievement was crossing Don Rickles with an alligator and producing James Carville. It was a mistake when he crossed Bianca Jaeger with Hillary and produced the dreaded chupacabra. Recently Barbara Boxer has been grating his nerves. If she doesn't quit carping,I'll fix her good.

Posted by: Vladimir Bubayev at January 22, 2005 12:56 PM

You're all out: this is not an evolutionary characteristic of carp, but of man.

As is obvious to any rational person, each individual h. sap/ is atomistic and alone, cut off from the indifferent universe. Life is necessarily a fight for scarce resources in which any resource consumed by any other creature is one less resource available for self-preservation. One would rationally expect, then, that the natural state of man would be one of universal warfare, in which each individual fights tooth and nail to control every available resource.

Although life maximizing for the individual, such a state would be death to the species. Because evolution is concerned with the survival of genes, rather than of individuals, humanity evolved several characteristics meant to overcome our logical need to dominate all others. Chief among these is our trait of seeing false patterns in nature that convince us that we are part of a greater whole to which we must sublimate our need to dominate. As a result, meaningless characteristics of morphology such as skin color or facial structure, or acquired characteristics such as language, are seen as signs of inter-dependence and kinship, so that our need to dominate individually is collectivized at the level of the breeding population.

Religion forms its own special tier of pattern-recognition, in which we are programmed to "see" in the universe itself, not the indifference of inanimate materiality that we now know, rationally, is the truth, but rather a benevolent being like unto us who commands us -- universally -- to protect our own "type" (i.e., groups of mutual support forming breeding populations) even at the expense of the individual.

One of the side-effects of this pattern recognition trait is that we see "human" patterns in certain random structures, such as the Man in the Moon, the Old Man in the Mountain, and the face on the carp.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 22, 2005 12:57 PM

HARVARD (AP) -- Biologists today announced discovery of the "missing link" in the evolution of carp.

It has long been known that carp evolved from primitive ancestors known as Homo sapiens, who shared their facial features but had a quite different body. Nevertheless, the "links" or evolutionary steps between the primitive ancestors and the carp have been unknown.

The find, announced today, of an amphibious creature that can stand on two legs as well as bottom-feed in rivers provides the key missing link that solidifies the evolutionary story and should silence critics of the theory.

Posted by: pj at January 22, 2005 6:16 PM

When the Godfather used to say "Luca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes," none of the rest of the Family realized that he meant it literally. Then, one day, Mama Corleone had a new koi pond installed in the back yard, not far from where Jimmy Hoffa was buried. . . .

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 22, 2005 6:53 PM

These fish hope the best way to avoid Natural Selection is to fervently deny its existence, and, unaware of irony (they are fish, after all) aim to achieve credibility by becoming dead ringers for one Orrin Judd.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 22, 2005 9:41 PM

The story of Tan'gun, legendary founder of Korea) more than 4,000 ago), brings clarity to the appearance of the two human-faced carp in Chonju, South Korea:
Ung, the son of heaven, changed a bear into a woman. The bear-woman could find no one to marry. Seeing her sorrow, Ung changed his form, married her, and fathered her child, Tan'gum.

The national holiday, "Opening of Heaven Day" (Kaech'onjol) commemorates this story. Similar stories surround great tribal leaders, heros and revered ancestors.

What does this have to do with the fish? Here's the story:
North Korea's "dear leader", Kim Jong-il, seeing the pain and suffering of his beloved favorite mistress, quietly and with compassionate love for her, ended her misery and breed her from the shackles of earth. Distraught and unconsoleable, Kim's already shakey hold on reality began to slip. He fell into a tormented pit of anguish and paronoia. Seeing his son's pain, Kim Il-sung, beloved of heaven, requested of Hananim, spirit of heaven (and grandfather of Tan'gum), that an end be brought to Kim Jong-il's torment; and it was so. Moved by the love he was witness to (and having a clear understanding of the situation in North Korea), Hananim dipped his hand into the Yellow Sea, and drew water from it. He poured that water upon the spirits of Kim Jong-il and his mistress, restoring them to earthly life. It is said that by Hananim's favour, all people live and breathe. It is also said that lightning, drought, natural and man-caused disasters are his judgement on the wicked. The two fish are Kim Jong-il and his favorite mistress. Hananim does have a way with poetic justice, doesn't he.

Posted by: Dave W. at January 22, 2005 10:41 PM

Dave W. gets my vote.

Posted by: Bartman at January 24, 2005 4:22 PM

I think it's obvious what's happening here. This carp is actually *devolving*. It's an atavistic throwback to the Sega Seaman.

There's a nice photo here (disturbing, but quite safe for work): Behold the Seaman!

Posted by: Guy T. at January 24, 2005 4:50 PM

I'll vote for Peter B.

Posted by: Pat H at January 24, 2005 6:17 PM

Jeff G's made me laugh the most, so I guess that's who I vote for.

Posted by: Guy T. at January 24, 2005 6:36 PM

Looks like a cat to me.

Posted by: Henry IX at January 24, 2005 11:24 PM

It's a toss-up between Orrin and Peter.

David's subtle entry is hors competition, naturally. I am sure it is satire but the vantage point from where everything flips and turns into silly putty is just out of my puny reach. Frustrating.

Posted by: Eugene S. at January 25, 2005 4:02 AM

I should win, of course, but Jeff G should come in second. :-)

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 25, 2005 5:57 AM

Dave W. #1, though I personally think the whole thing is intended as a warning to Bart that God is tired of all the "carp" he heeps into this blog.

Posted by: Phil at January 25, 2005 7:34 PM

Eugene: Then I did a bad job and don't deserve a book. I will nudge you in the direction towards which I meant to head by noting that one of the principal tenets of Juddism is that the Universe revolves around mankind.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 26, 2005 12:58 PM

Your theory was well stated and your conclusion was very clear to me. If my story is not number one then your's surely must be!

Posted by: Dave W. at January 26, 2005 1:22 PM