Livin' on the MDedge

Who needs self-driving cars when we’ve got goldfish?


If a fish can drive …

Have you ever seen a sparrow swim? Have you ever seen an elephant fly? How about a goldfish driving a car? Well, one of these is not just something out of a children’s book.

In a recent study, investigators from Ben-Gurion University did the impossible and got a fish to drive a robotic car on land. How?

Illustration of an old car and goldfish PxHere

No, there wasn’t a tiny steering wheel inside the tank. The researchers created a tank with video recognition ability to sync with the fish. This video shows that the car, on which the tank sat, would navigate in the direction that the fish swam. The goal was to get the fish to “drive” toward a visual target, and with a little training the fish was successful regardless of start point, the researchers explained.

So what does that tell us about the brain and behavior? Shachar Givon, who was part of the research team, said the “study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment.”

The study’s domain transfer methodology (putting one species in the environment of another and have them cope with an unfamiliar task) shows that other animals also have the cognitive ability to transfer skills from one terrestrial environment to another.

That leads us to lesson two. Goldfish are much smarter than we think. So please don’t tap on the glass.

We prefer ‘It’s not writing a funny LOTME article’!

So many medical journals spend all their time grappling with such silly dilemmas as curing cancer or beating COVID-19. Boring! Fortunately, the BMJ dares to stand above the rest by dedicating its Christmas issue to answering the real issues in medicine. And what was the biggest question? Which is the more accurate idiom: “It’s not rocket science,” or “It’s not brain surgery”?

Illustration of a rocket launching from someone's head Tumisu/Pixabay

English researchers collected data from 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons who took the Great British Intelligence Test and compared the results against 18,000 people in the general public.

The engineers and neurosurgeons were basically identical in four of the six domains, but neurosurgeons had the advantage when it came to semantic problem solving and engineers had an edge at mental manipulation and attention. The aerospace engineers were identical to the public in all domains, but neurosurgeons held an advantage in problem-solving speed and a disadvantage in memory recall speed.

The researchers noted that exposure to Latin and Greek etymologies during their education gave neurosurgeons the advantage in semantic problem solving, while the aerospace engineers’ advantage in mental manipulation stems from skills taught during engineering training.

But is there a definitive answer to the question? If you’ve got an easy task in front of you, which is more accurate to say: “It’s not rocket science” or “It’s not brain surgery”? Can we get a drum roll?

It’s not brain surgery! At least, as long as the task doesn’t involve rapid problem solving. The investigators hedged further by saying that “It’s a walk in the park” is probably more accurate. Plus, “other specialties might deserve to be on that pedestal, and future work should aim to determine the most deserving profession,” they wrote. Well, at least we’ve got something to look forward to in BMJ’s next Christmas issue.


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