Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
There are squid for sale,
I first learned about the squid's importance to neurobiology during college, where I was exposed to Hodgkin and Huxley's Nobel-prize-winning research on the squid giant axon - "NOT the giant squid axon," I can still hear the professor emphasizing, "but the squid giant axon. Don't make that mistake."
Squids learn. Newborn squids learn through trial and error. Their earliest life experiences can produce lasting physical changes in their nervous systems. The lessons they learn from a young age lead to complex, adaptive behaviors that enable them to succeed as adults, with corresponding, dynamic, neural transformations that are mapped into the squid brain down to its very cells. In an article entitled "Lowly squid's behavior may yield clues to human brain" Professor William F. Gilly at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station says,
"The simplicity of the squid's giant axon system will be advantageous in identifying the genes and chemicals involved in causing and maintaining these cellular changes - even in people. In this way, the delectable calamari may actually help unlock the secret of how our own brain cells are modified by early childhood experiences and help explain why we are who we are."
Who we are, in fact, is a species whose experience can write itself into the brain as significant chemical, cellular, genetic, and physiologic change. This implies an astounding pliancy and dynamism in the structure and function of the human brain. Cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf writes in her extraordinary book Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain,
This is a book that deserves a blog post of its own. Wolf traces the evolution of reading as a neurobiological entity, a human developmental attainment, and an agent of further neurodevelopmental change. The brain that could express ideas had to be able, at some point, to read; but literacy introduced its own rearrangements - a brain less dependent on memory, but more able to transmit information and ideas across vast expanses of time and distance. Wolf appears interested in and concerned about where our journey as readers and writers will take us next in this digital age, where spoken and written language may themselves be transformed, and where language inequalities - even "word poverty" - reflect the disparities between those who can "do well" in the world we have created and those who must struggle.
"above him swell / Huge sponges of millennial growth and height / And far away into the sickly light, / From many a wondrous grot and secret cell / Unnumber'd and enormous polypi / Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green."