August 03, 2004

Power through damage

In comics and movies, we're used to the idea of humans getting superhuman powers as a result of some sort of damage: a radioactive spider bite, dunking in toxic waste, irradiation by gamma rays or cosmic rays, whatever. There's an even longer history of mythic animals undergoing similar transformations. The idea of gaining powers by contact with feared pollutants makes magical sense but not biological sense, and so I'm not used to seeing it outside of fantasy.

But here's a CNN story about Natasha, a black macaque who began walking on her hind legs after a severe infection that may have caused brain damage. Will we start to see some real-world stories about domestic animals who develop extraordinary communicative abilities as a result of over-exposure to currently feared pollutants of human culture, such as tobacco, fried potatoes or reality TV shows? [link via Pepper of the Earth]

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 3, 2004 06:56 PM