The Wonder of Impossible Complexity

Stefan Wolfe


On the Relax With Animal Facts podcast, we cover many animals which have some amazing abilities. Here are just a couple of examples we can easily take for granted.

Cheetahs can reach top-speeds of up to 70 mph.

Dolphins have a unique ability to “see” the world through echolocation, also called sonar.

Now many people travel at 70 mph at least once per day during their morning commutes. Now sonar is used frequently by oceanographers in their research, and is a standard technology used by naval forces for military defence. This has become common to us, and does not prompt us to any kind of special amazement. However, in the realm of human history, this is anything but a common human experience.

Let me illustrate this another way. We carry a magical rectangle in our pockets that gives us access to a treasury of knowledge and information; containing more books and resources than the greatest libraries composed throughout all of human history combined. And yet, we have become so accustomed to our magic rectangles that we often need to remind ourselves that Julius Caesar never had an Instagram, nor did Plato have Twitter (for which I am grateful).

Forgetfulness or a lack of perspective is always too prone to creep in; zealously eager to be called on, and to stand guard with orders to ensure no appreciation is able to get through the door. This forgetfulness not only affects our gratititude for the human innovations we enjoy, but also makes common some of the most remarkable natural abilities of our animal friends. A dolphin having an integrated sonar becomes less fascinating as we become hardened to sophisticated naval vessels; a Cheetah’s capacity for impeccable speed becomes less impressive next to the newest Audi. These inventions are amazing feats of human craftsmanship, but I shall show you how these things ought to in-still in us greater fascination in our favorite critters, not less.


In short, mimicry describes an act of imitation. I am not here referring to your brothers’ or sisters’ employment of that special sort of mimicry or mockery that has you white-knuckled in annoyance; but rather I am referring to the imitation of certain animal characteristics by humans.

Mimicry occurs among animal species all the time. Stick insects imitate–well you can certainly guess what, and they do it extremely well. Certain kinds of moths have specific colourations to appear as if they are a more dangerous or harmful animal species. Similarly, we look at the Axolotls’ unparalleled ability to regenerate limbs and tissues, and to this day are seeking a way to imitate their natural gifts with sophisticated scientific methods. When we were children we learned much through imitation of our parents, and this predisposition towards mimicry continues, reaching even those shrouded in their lab coats. We saw birds take to the sky, and we dreamed of joining them. We need dream no more!

You would be surprised to learn just how many innovations in our modern world are thanks to the characteristics of animals and nature. In a future post, perhaps we can delve deeper into some of them, but I will do my best to stir only one pot at a time.

Running on Mackerel

No matter our backgrounds in engineering or technology, naval ships and fast cars are easily recognizable as profoundly complex and intricate. I do not have to show you a blueprint of a Maserati for you to know that you could not throw one together as one would a salad. In order for us to have replicated sonar or to have built cars to outgun the Cheetah; we did not start from scratch. We had an industrial revolution, a technological revolution–well over a century of exponential growth and fine-tuning! We have to supply our modern military ships equipped with sonar with boat-loads of gasoline in order to keep them running, and constant maintenance to prevent them from breaking down. The Dolphin needs mackerel.

The Dolphin works like a well-oiled machine and uses sonar at its will, producing even more sonar-using offspring with the same steady supply of fish. We can say what we would like about our most modern machinery; we have yet to make any form of complex machine which is capable of reproducing itself. That is the wonder of the Dolphin or the Cheetah.


These are animals that are infinitely more complex than any of the best hallmarks of human ingenuity. They have impeccable capabilities (some) of which we have only within the past few decades been able to replicate. However, we have yet to make an Audi that produces another Audi; a warship that produces a warship. Our animal friends are beyond the capabilities of human design, and that ought to provoke in us a greater appreciation of that Woodpecker we see outside our window, or even the squirrel on our lawn.