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Do You Like My Hat?

By A. Goldfish, as told to Sabrina Imbler

12:59 PM EDT on April 28, 2023

A goldfish with a very strange computer-like implant coming out of its forehead, rather like a hat.
Lear Cohen, CC-BY 4.0

Hey! It's been a minute, how's it hangin'? Me, I've been doing well. I actually just got a new place—a tank full of water inside of a room. The water is room temperature, which could really mean anything, I suppose, depending on the room. But so far it's a good temperature. I have 14 roommates, but we all have our own tanks at the temperature of the same room, like a co-op. It's comfortable enough here, but what I would give for some gravel, let alone a plant!

I don't mean to drop hints, but have you noticed anything ... different about me? Anything ... new? I don't mean to fish for compliments—yes I'm aware of the pun we don't need to make it a thing—but I was just wondering, do you like my hat?

It's new, in case you couldn't tell. My hat is not like other hats, and I'm not just talking style, although it is certainly distinct in this regard, kind of like a Teen-Titan–colored layer cake with no clear center of gravity. I was a little intimidated by this hat before I wore it, but to be fair, I was also intimidated by the concept of hats more generally. Someone once told me that there are hat people, and then there are also people who wish to be hat people. Well, I am a goldfish! And I do not wish for hats to be gatekept from anyone who wishes to wear them. I am of the opinion that wearing a hat makes anyone into a hat person, or a hat fish.

A scientific diagram showing a goldfish with a computerized hat inside a tank of water
Look, they have drawn me with my hat! Put me on the cover of Vogue! Credit: Cohen, et al (2023) CC-BY 4,0Cohen L, et al (2023)

Something special about this hat is that it is actually directly connected to my brain. Have I got your interest now? The hat is implanted into my telencephalon, a region of my brain that is important for navigation. As a fish, I experience steep gradients of pressure when I swim up or down the water column, and some studies suggest I can sense these pressure changes in my telencephalon. I'm not telling, though! But my hat contains a recording device that monitors my brain activity and offers insight into how I find my way around my world, which, for the moment, is a two-foot-long tank. They attached this hat to my brain by doing a surgery, threading electrodes into my exposed brain while I was bathed in anesthetic. I suppose I never asked for this hat, but it is now affixed to my head along with a square of buoyant, colorful styrofoam to neutralize its weight. And frankly, I think the foam makes the hat.

After they did a surgery, I swam around a tank with my new hat for a little over an hour. As I approached the edges of the tank, my brain cells lit up, suggesting I navigate my environment slightly differently than mammals. While mammals have an "inner GPS," we fish rely more on environmental cues, such as understanding how far we are from an obstacle or barrier. At least this is what the scientists were thinking; I was thinking only of my hat. I wanted to show it off, but there was no one else around.

What is the point of wearing a hat when you are alone? Is a hat not a plea to be not just seen but also validated for our choices? If a hat goes unnoticed, was it worn at all? When scientists put 3D glasses on cuttlefish, the world went wild. Some even called them "adorable." Where is my media frenzy? Does everyone hate my hat?

Would you tell a fish with a face like this that you hated their hat? Credit: Lear Cohen, CC-BY 4,0Lear Cohen, CC-BY 4.0

I do not remember much of my hat-less past, but I have an inkling that my future days are limited. A goldfish with a hat this chic cannot return to society as if nothing has changed. I know more than I did before: about telencephalons, electrodes, and style. I have stared into the abyssal eye of Fashion and did not blink, and they will surely want to examine my brain. For I have learned a higher truth. Wearing a hat is a deeply vulnerable act, and it is also a statement you make to the world, a declaration that you are unafraid of what is to come and will greet it in a style of your choosing, however inadvisable or off-trend. So let me tell you this: life is too short not to wear the hat.

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