Most scientific research is, by its nature, rather boring. Research projects that reshape the way we think about fundamental topics are rare by definition, which means most progress happens piecewise, built up by a series of papers and articles, which then spawn more papers and articles, which collectively lead to advances in the field. Every now and then, however, you hear about projects that sound rather interesting — including one experiment in which scientists drugged crocodiles and shoved them into MRI machines to find out how they’d respond to classical music.
This is rather less ridiculous than it might seem at first glance. The team in question was investigating the evolution of complex stimulus processing. Crocodiles have remained phenotypically similar for tens of millions of years; crocodilians like Deinosuchus that lived 80-73 million years ago look quite similar (if much larger) than crocodiles today. The last common ancestor between crocodiles and birds lived 240 million years ago, which makes modern crocodiles an interesting comparison case for both mammals and birds. And one of the interesting things about mammals and birds is that we handle complex audio processing in areas of our brains that are functionally similar, even if the regions themselves are quite physiologically distinct. The question was, would reptiles show similar functional similarity, or did they evolve an entirely different method of processing this information? The only way to find the problem was to chuck a crocodile in an MRI and make sweet lo