Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Pelagic Biology, Behavior, and Ecology of Tropical Reef Fish Larvae

During the last few months I have neglected to add any new material to my blog. The reason for this pause in my writing has been due in large part to my preparation to write my graduate capstone review paper. In order to complete my master’s degree, my school requires its students to either take fewer classes and write a thesis or take more classes and write a capstone review paper. I have chosen the later route. Since the end of February I have been busy collecting and reading over one hundred scientific articles in order to prepare my review paper. At this point in the process I have begun to write a rough draft of what will become my capstone review paper. What follows is the introduction to my paper and only the references cited therein (including all my references would easily double the length of this post).



Nearly all bony reef fishes have a bipartite life history consisting of a reef associated adult period and a pelagic larval period spent in open water. The length of time spent in the pelagic zone, referred to as the pelagic larval duration (PLD) varies between and within species and can be as short as a week or as long as a few months. The duration of the PLD and the events occurring during that time can have a tremendous effect on reef fishes (Bay et al. 2006; Leis 1991, 2006; Leis and McCormick 2002).

During the pelagic stage, larvae may disperse from their natal reef and thus affect the biogeographical distributions and diversity of fish species. Survival in the larval stage heavily influences recruitment rates and population sizes (Hjort 1914), and the individual condition of juveniles and the amount of post-recruitment growth is determined during this stage (Bay et al. 2006). Due to the potential for dispersal in the pelagic stage, genetic and demographic connectivity are intricately linked with what occurs to the larvae in open water. Researchers are often interested in the evolutionary and biogeographic significant genetic connectivity, while managers of fisheries and marine protected areas depend on the scale of demographic connectivity. As a result of its importance in affecting so many processes on the reef, a solid knowledge of the pelagic phase of reef fish life cycles is crucial to understanding and caring for reef ecosystems (Leis 2006).

Pelagic reef fish larvae have been known for over 100 years. For example, the highly specialized larvae of chaetodontids, called tholichthys, were first described in the late 19th century (Leis 1989). At the beginning of the 20th century scientists began to appreciate the importance of the pelagic larval. Fisherman had long noted annual variations in catches and fish abundance. These fluctuations were thought to be a result of migrations of adult fishes (Dower et al. 1997). Johan Hjort (1914) first proposed that the annual fluctuations in the abundance of commercially important species in Europe were due to variation in the recruitment success of juvenile fishes into the population and not mass migrations. Hjort (1914) suggested that larval mortality and, subsequently, recruitment success were due to sufficient food being present during the “critical period” when larvae exhausted their yolk sacs and began feeding on external sources. Thus starvation mortality was thought to be the main factor in controlling population abundances.

Hjort (1914) proposed that another factor controlling mortality, but to a lesser degree than starvation, was the transport of larvae away from suitable juvenile habitat. This suggestion was based on the assumption that larvae drift passively on the currents. The belief that fish larvae did not have the ability to influence their position in the water and that their behavior could be regarded as irrelevant grew into what has been termed “the simplifying assumption” (Leis 2006; Leis and Carson-Ewart 1998). The tenets of the simplifying assumption dictated that 1) larvae are poor swimmers, 2) the pelagic larval duration is the only biological variable influencing dispersal, 3) all larvae behave the same, and 4) once competent, larvae settle on the first suitable habitat they chance upon after drifting on the currents. It was not until the 1980s and 1990s that the tenets of the simplifying assumption in tropical species began to be evaluated and found wanting (Leis 2006).

Detailed studies on commercially important larval fishes in freshwater and temperate marine climates began in the 1950s and have outnumbered studies on tropical species ever since. With the lopsided knowledge of tropical and temperate species it was natural to apply what had been learned about temperate species to tropical species. Although some general assumptions may still be valid, as our knowledge about tropical species has grown, reasons to doubt the accuracy of assumptions based on temperate species have developed (Leis 2006; Leis and McCormick 2002).

The majority of temperate and tropical species belong to distinctly different taxonomic orders. The few species of fishes that have attracted the most attention in temperate waters belong to the orders Clupeiformes, Gadiformes and Pleuronectiformes. While the majority of tropical reef fishes belong to the order Perciformes. These orders have been separate lineages for at least 50-60 million years. Therefore, it is unsound to believe that the behavioral or morphological development of perciforms should be identical to clupeiform, gadiform and pleuronectiform fishes. To do so would be equivalent to believing that data on rodents would apply to primates (Leis 2006; Leis and McCormick 2002).

In addition to taxonomic differences, differences in adult habitat make assumptions based on temperate studies questionable. Tropical reef fish are demersal as adults and live on relatively small areas of hard bottom substrate on the continental shelf. The temperate species which are demersal live on vast, easy to find areas of soft bottom. Furthermore, some heavily studied temperate species are not demersal at all, but are pelagic and live in coastal or oceanic zones (Leis 2006; Leis and McCormick 2002).

The reliance on assumptions and estimations based on temperate studies has been shown to be misleading in a number of studies. Tropical species have a shorter incubation time than temperate species and hatch at smaller sizes and less developed states. Thus they have a longer average pelagic larval duration (Houde and Zastrow 1993; Leis and McCormick 2002). However, tropical species appear to develop more quickly (Job and Bellwood 1996) and possess better swimming performance than would be assumed with temperate species (Leis and Carson-Ewart 1998; Stobutzki and Bellwood 1997). These results may be due in part to the benefits of living in warmer water (Leis 2006).

Further complicating the study of the early life history stages of fishes is the complex, sometimes misleading, and arbitrary terminology present in the literature (Bond 1996; Choat et al. 1993; Leis 1991, 2006). The early life history of fishes is generally divided among egg, larva, and juvenile stages. The larval stage begins with hatching from the egg. During this stage larvae develop into yolk-sac larvae, preflexion larvae, flexion larvae, and postflexion larvae, based on morphological differences (see ‘Biology’ for more in-depth discussion of larval development). What determines the end of the larval stage depends on whether a morphological or ecological definition is used. Utilizing a morphological definition, the larval stage ends with metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is considered to occur once the fins are fully formed, squamations begin and larval characteristics are lost. This process can be abrupt or gradual and may occur independently of the ecologically defined end of the larval stage. The ecological end of the larval stage is called and settlement and occurs when the larva leaves the pelagic realm and moves to a demersal juvenile or adult environment. This review will use a combination of ecological and morphological definitions and refer to larvae as the pre-metamorphic fishes that have yet to settle from the pelagic realm. Thus, post-metamorphosis juveniles which have remained in the pelagic zone (e.g. some carangids and caesionine lutjanids) and the few species that do not have pelagic stages (e.g. Acanthochromis polyacanthus) will not be considered (Bond 1996; Leis 1991).

The acceptance of the “simplifying assumption” has led to larval reef fishes being often termed plankton (Leis 1991, 2006). However, the term plankton carries with it two connotations 1) being of small size, usually <1cm, but sometimes up to a few centimeters and 2) having insignificant swimming and orientation abilities relative to surrounding currents. The larvae of demersal fishes hatch at a small size (a few millimeters) and settle at only a few centimeters, thus fulfilling the size definition of plankton. However, current research has shown that larvae do have the ability to swim against ambient currents and orient themselves to reefs. Although they may be planktonic at the time of hatching, they are clearly nektonic at the time of settlement and some time before. Therefore, the references in the literature to the “planktonic larval stage” and “ichthyoplankton” are both misleading and counterproductive. The neutral term “pelagic” which means resident of the water column more accurately describes the entire presettlement stage of reef fish larvae (Leis 1991, 2006).

Even with generally agreed upon terminology established studying pelagic larval fishes is difficult. Fish larvae occur at very low densities. Even in the protected waters of the Biscayne Bay where larvae are fairly abundant densities only average 1.8 larvae per cubic meter of sea water (Houde and Lovdal 1984). In offshore locations, densities are even lower (Leis 1991). Furthermore, temporal abundance between seasons and even times of the lunar month can complicate sampling programs (Choat et al. 1993; Rooker et al. 1996). Larval fishes are also small (often only a few millimeters in length). But as they grow and develop changes in behavioral capabilities and size differences necessitate that different techniques and tools be used to fully sample the larval ichthyofauna (Choat et al. 1993). Larvae are also difficult to rear and maintain in the laboratory making detailed experimentations challenging (Leis and McCormick 2002).

Once sampling difficulties are overcome and larvae are acquired there is still the problem of the dearth of taxonomic information on larval fishes. The taxonomic knowledge of larvae is very far from complete when compared to the total diversity of fishes (~24,000 teleost species of which about 60% are marine) (Leis 2006). Descriptions of larval development is still ongoing and work that has been done in the past is often incomplete or incorrect (Brogan 1996; Murphy et al. 2007). Species which have been the basis for many scientific studies, even larval studies, have only recently been described. For example, the pomacentrid, the Ambon damselfish, Pomacentrus amboinensis , has been studied in numerous ecological and larval studies, but has only lately been described (Murphy et al. 2007). Species in common and highly conspicuous reef fish families such as Chaetodontidae (Leis 1989), Lutjanidae (Brogan 1996), and Serranidae (Kohno et al. 1993) have been described, but many still lack descriptions.

Despite the obstacles, researchers have learned a great deal about the pelagic stage of larval reef fishes. This review will describe some of the current tools which have been used successfully to study this life history stage of reef fish larvae. After which, the current state of research on the biology, behavior, and ecology of larval reef fishes will be examined. Afterwards, the advantages of a pelagic larval stage will be discussed. Finally, directions for future research will be enumerated.


Bay, L. K., et al. 2006. Intraspecific variation in the pelagic larval duration of tropical reef fishes. Journal of Fish Biology. 68(4): 1206-1214.

Bond, C. E. 1996. Biology of Fishes. Toronto: Thomson Learning. 750pp.

Brogan, M. W. 1996. Larvae of the eastern Pacific snapper Hoplogagrus guntheri (Teleostei: Lutjanidae). Bulletin of Marine Science. 58: 329-43.

Choat, J. H., et al. 1993. A comparison of towed nets, purse seine, and light-aggregation devices for sampling larvae and pelagic juveniles of coral reef fishes. Fishery Bulletin. 91: 195-209.

Hjort, J. 1914. Fluctuations in the great fisheries of northern Europe. Rapports Proces-Verbaux des Reunions, Conseil Permanent International Pour L’exploration de la Mer. 20: 1-13.

Houde, E. D. and C. E. Zastrow. Ecosystem- and taxon-specific dynamic and energetics properties of larval fish assemblages. Bulletin of Marine Science. 53(2): 290-335.

Job, S. D. and D. R. Bellwood. 1996. Visual acuity and feeding in larval Premnas biaculeatus. Journal of Fish Biology. 48: 952-963.

Kohno, H. et al. 1993. Morphological development of larval and juvenile grouper, Epinephelus fuscoguttatus. Japanese Journal of Ichthyology. 40: 307-16.

Leis, J. M. 1989. Larval biology of butterflyfishes (Pisces, Chaetodintidae): What do we really know? Environmental Biology of Fishes. 25: 87-100.

Leis, J. M. 1991. The pelagic stage of reef fishes: The larval biology of coral reef fishes. In: The Ecology of Fishes on Coral Reefs. Ed. P. F. Sale. San Diego: Academic Press. 183-230.

Leis, J. M. 2006. Are Larvae of Demersal Fishes Plankton or Nekton? Advances in Marine Biology. 51: 57-141.

Leis, J. M. and B. M. Carson-Ewart. 1998. Complex behaviour by coral-reef fish larvae in open-water and near-reef pelagic environments. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 53: 259-266.

Leis, J. M. and M. I. McCormick. 2002. The biology, behavior, and ecology of the pelagic, larval stage of coral reef fishes. In: Coral Reef Fishes. Ed. P. F. Sale. San Diego: Academic Press. 171-200.

Murphy, B. F., et al. 2007. Larval development of the Ambon damselfish Pomacentrus amboinensis, with a summary of pomacentrid development. Journal of Fish Biology. 71: 569-84.

Rooker, J. R., et al. 1996. Sampling larval fishes with a nightlight lift-net in tropical inshore waters. Fisheries Research. 26: 1-15.

Stobutzki, I. C. and D. R. Bellwood. 1997. Sustained swimming abilities of the late pelagic stages of coral reef fishes. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 175:275-86.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Belize 2008

For eight days last week I had the opportunity to take a class that allowed me to snorkel and dive the barrier reef off the coast of Belize. And I would like to take a moment to tell a little bit about my trip.

The trip began on Saturday, March 29 with me, our professor, the TA and eight of my local classmates flying out of Miami International Airport into Belize City, Belize. Once in the country we rendezvoused with two distance students, and took a single engine Cessna on a 15 min flight to Dangriga, Belize. From there we piled tightly into a bus on a short trip to the boat that would take us to our final destination. The boat delivered us to the IZE resort on South Water Caye, an island 16 miles off the coast and within a stone’s throw of the second longest coral reef system in the world. (Group on South Water Caye, photo credit: Katie Shade)

Our living arrangements for the week consisted of two connected “cabins,” cold showers, and a communal dining hall. On either side of our compound were resorts with easier access to the reef. We began work early Sunday with a snorkel in the area south of the island. After our lunch our task was to map that part of the reef and document the dominant species of fishes, corals, algae, and invertebrates in each zone of the reef. Using one of my classmate’s GPS unit we were able to easily map the area. Everyone else worked to document the species on the reef. And by 9pm we had finished collecting and organizing our data. (Our Cabin, photo credit: Katie Shade)

In addition to our mapping we also had the responsibility to read a few scientific papers everyday. Someone would then be chosen to present a summary of the paper to the class. On Monday, we took a boat out to the fourth cut south of our position. While at “Fourth Cut” we were able to see all the parts of the reef: from the peaceful back reef and lagoon to the more violent reef crest and even the tongue and groove structure of the deeper fore reef.

That afternoon, we took a boat out to the Smithsonian lab on Carrie Bow Cay, and traveled even further south to an area called Whale Shoals, which we mapped in a similar fashion as the reef on Sunday. That evening was filled with the fun and sometimes taxing work of identifying fishes, corals, sponges, and (for me) algae.

After working so efficiently together we were rewarded with a morning to catch up on our reading and have a little free time. Some people walked around the island, some went ocean kayak, and some (me included) decided to attempt to snorkel off the west side of the island. The tide was low and the back reef area was only knee deep at best. My three fellow classmates and I made it to the reef crest and, dodging the fire coral, were able to swim out to the fore reef. We spent a little while swimming about and decided to go back to shore. We were too far north to swim to the easy access on the south of the island so we decided to head back the way we came. Finding a groove in the reef crest I swam forward with waves crashing above and rocking me forward and back. In only a couple feet of water I had to grab hold of the fire coral (thankfully we all wore our dive gloves) to keep from being thrown about. We made it out but everyone had his or her own little scrape or damage from our little outing.

That afternoon the entire class went slopping through the deep mud of the mangroves. If you like hot, deep sulfur smelling mud, then the mangrove swamps are for you. We rinsed off with a snorkel in the channel that cuts through the mangroves and found many interesting juvenile fishes, sponges and even upside-down jellyfish.

Wednesday, most of the class went on an all day scuba diving trip to Glover’s Reef, an atoll 26 miles off the coast. We made three dives and saw hawksbill turtles, a field of garden eels, schools of blue chromis and a nurse shark, among many other species. (Underwater View, Whale Shoals, photo credit: Erik DeMicco)

Thursday, was reserved for our individual projects. Everyone did their own data collection on things like grazing rates, fish behavior, diurnal/nocturnal assemblage changes, etc. I helped a classmate mark off a patch reef and do a fish count. He then helped me to mark off a 3,000 m2 where I looked for a damselfish called a Beaugregory guarding eggs in discarded queen conch shells.

That night we geared up for a night snorkel. We found many sleeping parrotfish, squirrelfish on the prowl and an enormous number of invertebrates out on the reef. Squid, shrimp, and amphipods were everywhere. They were attracted to our lights and in some places cut visibility to under a foot. In most places we could see clearly and catch glimpses of animals like slipper lobsters that stay hidden during the day. At the end of the dive we found that leptocephalus (tarpon larvae) and mantis shrimp larvae had started washing up on shore.

Our final full day included us traveling back to the mainland and through Belmopan, the capital, and finally arriving at the Radisson in Belize City. It wasn’t safe to leave the hotel after dark, but the hotel had a bar and that’s really what most biologists are searching for anyway.

On Saturday, we travelled back to the states. One of the girls and I had been booked on an earlier flight so we made our way back by ourselves via the TriRail and my friends at work. Overall, this trip was probably the highlight of my Nova career. I saw a fairly healthy coral reef first hand and the amazing abundance of life on the reef. I made some good friends and learned a good deal. I only wish that it could have lasted longer. (The Pier, South Water Caye, photo credit: Katie Shade)


Other photos from the trip can be viewed here

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Absurd

In my previous blog about good art, I claimed that one of the prerequisites for good art is that it provides an escape from reality. And I would like to clarify precisely why I have come to think that way. This idea is not one I’ve invented, but rather comes from the realm of existential philosophy. I don’t consider myself an existentialist, but I do think that there is some truth to what some existentialists have said. One such idea is that of the absurd, spelled out most notably by the French author Albert Camus.

Camus defined the absurd as ‘a confrontation between ‘rational’ human beings and an ‘indifferent’ universe” (Solomon 15). Camus saw that we live in a world which is quite honestly indifferent to us and our expectations of it. We unconsciously expect from the world around us what we consciously expect from the people around us. We expect justice (that good be rewarded and bad be punished) and a satisfaction in understanding. But the truth is the universe in unfeeling.

We expect justice from the world, but the age-old problem of theodicy (the problem of evil) reminds us that although we expect justice, the world seems to be suspiciously lacking in that department. This is the absurd in action. Our rational minds project a desire (namely the desire for justice) on to a non-rational universe which, in reality, does not care.

The absurd shows up in another way. Many “scientific minded westerners” hold out the hope that we will find satisfaction and fulfillment in our understanding of the natural world. We expect that if only we could know a little more we could find satisfaction. But the truth is we won’t find satisfaction this way. We can understand much about the world around us, but it will always leave us wanting more. Once again our rational expectations are not fulfilled by the universe.

Our rational minds are at odds with the non-rational world around us. And Camus rightly saw that seeing the absurd can be a depressing thing. Left unchecked, living with the absurd can even lead to despair. But that is not usually the case. Why? Because we can escape from the absurd, if only for a little while, through art. We can, and probably should, also accept the absurd. What accepting the absurd fully means and where that leads is not completely clear to me at this point, but the alternative, despair, is not a viable option as far as I or Camus are concerned.

Albert Camus was an atheist and claimed that even “if there were a God, it would not matter¬– life would still be absurd” (Solomon 15). I agree with him on this point. Even though there is a God, life is still absurd. Looking around I can’t help but notice that the universe does not care about justice or providing human beings with meaning or purpose. The universe is absurd and there is no hope in it. But that is not to say there is no hope at all. There is hope, but to look for it in the universe, to expect that Nature will somehow provide us with a source of hope and meaning is to find absurdity.

Solomon, Robert. 2000. No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life. The Teaching Company.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Good Art

Not long ago, as I was trolling through the blogosphere, I happened upon an article inquiring about how Plato’s Theory of Forms relates to the subject of good art (For our sake art includes music, literature, and the visual arts). The author of this blog suggested that good art gives us a glimpse of the form, and consequently is itself more real than reality. (Actually, he says beautiful art more closely resembles ultimate reality, but that is a mistake as well). This got me thinking about what actually makes good art and beautiful art (and yes, there is a difference).

Let’s start with what makes beautiful art. Margaret Wolfe Hungerford once said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and for what it’s worth I agree with her. Beauty is a subjective standard that shifts between places, times, and persons. Different cultures have different definitions of beauty and to argue with someone that this piece of art is beautiful or not will be about as productive as if you argued that I don’t like chocolate (which I do). Beauty is, in all fairness, a poor quality to look for in good art, partly because beauty is subjective and partly because good art does not need to be beautiful to anyone at any place or in any time.

To be art, the piece must do three things. Firstly, it must communicate to the observer one or more emotions. Art stimulates within us that very human component that is the passions. It is not a logical or rational experience. When I recently read White Fang I felt happy when White Fang was able to reunite with his beloved master. No part of that experience was rational. Neither the wolf-dog nor the man were real, and my feelings were for something that does not exist. But art doesn’t need to be rational, that is what philosophy and science are for. Art is for the passions.

Secondly, art must offer the observer an escape from reality. Reality is a rather frightening, troublesome, and absurd thing which we can not deal with on a constant basis. If we did we would find ourselves overcome with despair. Keeping despair at bay, art can separate us from reality (there are other means of separating oneself from reality, such as drugs, but art is a much safer escape). Getting lost in a book or a play or a song is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, art should provide our mind with rest from the absurdity of reality.

Anything that has the ability to communicate emotion and to provide safe haven from reality can be called art. But the last prerequisite is what separates regular art from good art. That last quality is transcendence. Good art has the ability to transcend time and space and personal experience. Good art can provide us with an escape and can stir our emotions no matter when it was created or where or by whom. And it can do those things to people everywhere and everywhen.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Two writers at the beginning of the twentieth century prophesied the death of Western culture. One writer imagined culture being crushed to death in the grasp of a totalitarian government bent on obtaining absolute control. The other envisioned laughter, distraction, and frivolity as the weapons which would drive off culture. Both authors were correct. George Orwell foresaw the reign of the communist states which nearly smothered Russian culture. And Aldous Huxley anticipated the surrender of American culture to soma. However, it appears that the drug has not taken the form of a pill, but it is “Television [that] is the soma of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World” (Postman 111).

American culture is dying and television is what is killing it. Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death seeks to spell out how television is killing our culture. It is not an evil plot by nefarious individuals that has orchestrated the death of our culture, instead it is the way television has reshaped the way we carry out discussions about ourselves and the world around us. Simply put:

Our conversations about nature and about ourselves are conducted in whatever “languages” we find it possible and convenient to employ. We do not see nature or intelligence or human motivation or ideology as “it” is but only as our languages are. And our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture. (Postman 15)
The media that has been increasingly used to carry out our public discourse (that is, our informational, educational, political, religious, and commercial forms of conversation) is the television. In the past, the written word was the main vehicle for such dialogues, but today television is the primary mode of cultural communication. And “as typography moves to the periphery of our culture and television takes its place at the center, the seriousness, clarity and, above all, value of public discourse declines” (Postman 29).

The seriousness of public discourse has suffered because television works best when it is not being serious. There is no conspiracy, just the fact that “good” television is entertaining. If it isn’t, then no one will choose to watch. But entertainment is not what is causing damage to our culture, on the contrary, “the problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining” (Postman 87). Even this fact would not make television powerful enough to destroy our culture. As long as we could separate what makes “good” television from what makes good public discourse we would be safe. But we have not been able to do that. Now, what makes “good” television is the same as what makes a good debate or sermon or class.

For example, in the political sphere, we no longer choose candidates, mainly, on their policies or their grasp of the issues, but on the character they “play” on television and how well they are able to appear in “debates” (which have little resemblance to the actual debates of the past). In the commercial arena, TV commercials no longer provide us with information about the product or service; instead they try to make us laugh or to identify somehow with the slogan or logo. At church, sermons and the “worship time” are not intended to provide parishioners with an atmosphere in which they can commune with and worship their God. No, “good” churches are the ones that have rock musicians playing lyrically and theologically simple songs and a pastor that tells funny jokes and looks good on camera. At school, the “good” teachers are not the ones that force their students to sit still and study, but are instead the ones who sing songs or play games with the students. Our public discourse in education, commerce, religion and politics is all about being good entertainment.

Television promotes the idea that everything should be entertaining. This idea is not only harmful to the seriousness of our public discourse, but destroys the clarity and value any viable thought may have had. There is practically no way of effectively forming complex ideas, constructing arguments to support those ideas, and providing documentation to strengthen those arguments using television (you could conceivably do this with TV, but chances are very good that practically no one would watch such a dull program) . An undertaking like the one I have mentioned would be much better suited for the written word. Television provides people with a wide variety of entertaining images that change every few seconds and require little or no previous knowledge to enjoy. Every episode is a self contained package. Even shows that require a minimal understanding of the events that preceded the current episode open with the phrase “Previously on …” and a dizzying montage of images and one-liners can catch you up completely in less than thirty seconds. However, complex ideas are not self contained packages. You can’t watch a thirty second montage to catch you up on Trigonometry or the history of the United States or Aristotle’s metaphysics. Serious, valuable ideas and concepts cannot be conveyed adequately via television. It simply isn’t the media for that kind of discourse.

Television has done a great deal of damage to our culture already. The effects it has wreaked in politics, education, commerce, and religion are more obvious now in 2008 than when Postman penned his book in 1985, but our culture has yet to completely die. And it may have hope yet. Television and other new technologies will continue to affect our culture. Any attempts to stop the effects of new and existing technologies are already futile. Instead, the best we may be able to hope for is a recognition of how television affects the way we communicate with each other about important matters so that we don’t become the world Huxley imagined: “for in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking” (Postman 163).

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Viking Penguin. 1985.