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The Phenomenology of Swim Bladders.

No thought required

Swim bladders are sacs of gas in fish that enable them to maintain neutral buoyancy so they can hold their vertical position in the water without much expenditure of energy.

They enable all sorts of lifestyles. Some fish rise and descend through the water column on a diurnal cycle following their prey and avoiding predators without moving a muscle. Some use neutral buoyancy to swim with their heads up and bellies forward. Sharks have no swim bladders and as a result have to keep moving all the time to get enough lift to stay at a level otherwise they sink.
I guess it works for sharks.

I was surprised to find just how sophisticated an organ a swim bladder is. At first thought you'd think that the bladder would be controlled by muscles like our lungs are. If you've ever tried to swim deeper underwater than snorkel depth breathing through a hollow tube you know what I mean even an extra foot down it becomes very hard to inhale.

So muscles can't be much help for swim bladders especially ones that work in the depths of the ocean where the pressures are very high.
Instead there is an ingenious diffusion transfer system that moves gasses in and out of the bladder triggered by an organ that emits lactic acid.

When I was reading about this I came up with one of the limits of quick searches on the internet. There was a detail I was curious about but couldn't check out. Just how does the fish know where in the water column it is what causes gasses to flow into or out of the swim bladder?

I speculate that the mechanism could be the actual physical size of the bladder itself this would be directly related to the amount of buoyancy it would provide; let's suppose this is so for the discussion.
Here's where phenomenology comes in that whole mechanism presupposes something that 'wants' to be at some level or another in the water column.
Or does it?
For instance fish who daily sink during the day and rise at night might be having an automatic response to light no light then rise / light then sink.

Would we think of an automatic mechanism like that as worthy of being thought of in terms of phenomenology? Well what is phenomenology anyway? It was a movement from a hundred years ago involving very hard to read writers like Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty that centered around a core insight about the nature of cognition that was a break with the past.

That was (my own paraphrase) that we don't have minds that we think with. WE THINK. Thinking is embodied. Bodies think creatures like you and me.

And that thinking is a lot more than the rational processes we are conscious of.

Lately I had my vision fixed which had the unexpected result of fixing my 3D perception. I didn't even realize that that was impaired. The very noticeable result was that suddenly my feet knew where the ground was again that's how I felt it it wasn't that I looked and saw how far away the ground was.
It's that when I made a step, my foot made contact with the ground where I expected.
Before there was a bit of uncertainty I didn't feel that uncertainty as uncertainty I felt it as shaky balance.

Wouldn't perception of depth in water for the fish be similar to my knowledge of where the ground is? I'm not aware of the angles of my eyeballs that enable my depth perception, and when the vision was blurred depth perception was impaired but what I felt was bad balance.

I imagine that the fish isn't aware of how the extension of the tissue of it's swim bladder tells it where in the water column it is it is just aware of where it is. And that information interacts with other systems. So here's what we have with a fish One system perhaps a diurnal oscillation of hormones causes another system to cause the fish to rise in the water column for a reason the reason is that the fish who can do that produce lots of baby fish.

That reason is a reason at the level of genes not at the level of fish. But even though it may be hard to imagine that the fish itself has a reason for doing anything it just does it's not hard to see purpose at the level of genes. With people it's a more complicated thing.

Having 3D vision isn't something I do on purpose it's great but it's not there for my reasons. On the other hand, unlike the fish I can get an inkling of what's going on.

I an tell myself a story from all the information I get from my presence in my environment and then unlike the fish, I can contemplate that story and maybe decide to change it a bit. That was something I didn't think the phenomenologists quite got there is more to what I do than the phenomenology of my perception.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.