Saturday, January 24, 2009

Absurd Levels of Design

In his very enjoyable book Blink, Malcom Gladwell comments that there was a group of people in WWII assigned to intercepting messages in morse code. They did not understand them at all, as they were in German and in code that we hadn't broken, but they were able to figure out who was sending them simply from the sound of the tapping. Each of the thousands of different Germans sending messages had a distinctive way of doing so: not a distinctive pattern of speech, but a distinctive pattern of tapping. We assigned people to follow each of the senders, and after several weeks, in a mix of several thousand messages, one person could be picked out. This enabled us to track them all across Europe, and, if we knew who they were traveling with, we would know what groups of infantry, what tank divisions were being moved where.

Lewis Thomas' book The Lives of a Cell, in which he employs his delightful prose on an incredible range of topics, offhandedly mentions that termites have an odd method of communication: tapping: "From time to time, certain termites make a convulsive movement of their mandible to produce a loud, high-pitched clicking sound, audible ten meters off..." Along with this there are the whale-songs, the "strange, solitary and lovely bell-like notes" produced by bats, the prairie rabbits, hens and mice that all drum their feet, "Fish make sounds by clicking their teeth, blowing air, and drumming with special muscles against tuned inflated air bladders... Even earthworms make sounds, faint staccato notes in rhythmic clusters..."

The list is literally endless. And no two of these would have the same exact sound, and not one of these was not planned from before the foundation of the earth. "The more we know, the more we realize we don't know, and we're learning so fast, it won't be long before we know nothing at all." We learn to sing that we might glorify God, but are still being out-done by earthworms. And how do they even make a sound? With what?

2 comments:

Claire said...

What noise do rabbits make, anyway? I've always wondered.

J. A. Broussard said...

They thump the ground. Kinda cool to see. Holly, when we were out on a tromp, said in a very excited whisper, "Jesse! Look!" And, lo and behold, a bush bunny was sitting on her flip-flopped foot. She reached down and stroked it twice, and then it hopped off into the undergrowth.

Wodehousian Fun