Fantastic Beasts and Where they Came From

Sitting in the botanic gardens, hungover, watching the ducks skim across the water, waiting for the revival we knew only coffee could bring. Attempting a normal conversation. “Have you heard the theory that octopuses are aliens that arrived on a comet?”, my friend asked. I hadn’t.

We examined this strange theory. It apparently relied on the absurdness of octopodes, fantastic creatures with distributed brains, unlikely intelligence, and the ability to squeeze and escape through a hole as small as their eye (see below). The theory was equally absurd, can this creature really be explained by accidental intergalactic space travel?

What else could give an explanation? Evolution? Yes. Perhaps tiny mutations, which help an organism survive, propagate through the species. Millions of tiny changes accumulate as one animal evolves into another. The fossil record supports these small intermediary steps on the evolutionary path to perfection, I thought, though I couldn’t quite remember.

This alternative helps clarify the space-octopus theory. We have a chain of intermediates before modern cephalopods. So, either the theory claims that the original ancestors of modern octopi arrived on a comet, and then evolved from there. Or, perhaps it claims all the intermediate species arrived by comet (at different times though, to stagger the fossil record appropriately).

Either way, the intergalactic theory is a dud. If all the intermediates traveled too, then we would need much more evidence (can they even survive in space?). If it was just the original ancestor, then evolution does the bulk of the explanatory work, and we are left wondering what motivates the other story. We at first thought this theory explained this strange and squishy beast, but now it only explains a much less absurd relative. Either way, this conspiracy has little explanatory purchase.

Cover image: Wikimedia

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