CHAPTER 5

The Communication Trap

The female frog faces a serious decision-making problem when it’s time to mate. How can she locate the best mate amid the chorus of hundreds of croaking males in her pond? In many frog species, the “best” is the frog with the lowest-frequency croak, which indicates that he has a higher body mass.1

As the female frog participates in this deafening cocktail party, she’s overwhelmed by the overcommunication. Her nervous system allows her to detect only those frogs in the small radius around her with croaks that meet a particular frequency, and the other frogs’ communications will recede into the background as noise.2 This means her options are in fact an illusion—she can only discern two or three frogs in her immediate ...

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