Distance Communication in Nature and the Snail Telegraph

An excerpt from Justin E. H. Smith’s new book The Internet is Not What You Think It Is compares the internet with communications over distance in the natural world. When elephants stomp, the vibrations can be felt and recognized by elephants miles away. A spider knows what’s going on along the length of its web by touch. Even plants release chemical signals to inform other plants of disease, predators, and changing conditions. It’s a thought-provoking article, but one anecdote stands out, and made me want to know more. French anarchist Jules Allix promoted an alternative to the telegraph by harnessing the communicative power of nature. That of snails, to be precise.

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

Allix claimed that snails are particularly well suited to communicate by a magnetism-like force through the ambient medium. Once two snails have copulated with one another, he maintained, they are forever bound to each other by this force, and any change brought about in one of them immediately brings about a corresponding change in the other: an action at a distance.

That led me to an earlier article by the same author about this “snail telegraph.” Allix had written about it in detail, although terms like “galvano-magnetico-mineralo-animalo-adamical sympathy” and “pasilalinic sympathetic compasses” made the explanation quite dense. He demonstrated his idea in Paris in 1850. A bunch of snails were sorted into a box with slots that corresponded with each letter of the alphabet. Each snail had a partner it had “bonded with” in an identical box, with the two devices separated by a curtain. When a snail was manipulated (probably meaning poked) at one location, the corresponding snail would react in the other location in a process Allix called “escargotic commotion.” The demonstration was not as successful nor as scientifically rigorous as expected, but was never tried again. Yet the idea lingered in the public’s mind for decades thanks to Allix’s enthusiasm.  -via Metafilter

Source: neatorama

No votes yet.
Please wait...