It's said that goldfish (and other fish, even) have a 3-second memory. That their brains are too small to process much of anything. That's why they can live in bowls and not get bored—too stupid! That's why you don't have to care about them too much, because they can't really remember you anyway.
Well, guess what? That's not true.
No one really knows where the myth comes from. Some think it was created so people didn't feel as bad when their fish died (Goldfish, when properly cared for, can actually live 5-10 years.). Or maybe by pet store owners who wanted to sell "easy pets." But wherever it came from, it's a complete lie.
Goldfish actually have good memories. They can recognize their owners, especially the one who feeds them. Those that are blind can even recognize their owner's voice. They can be trained to press levers for food. And they have an excellent sense of time, being able to anticipate their usual feeding times and act accordingly.
I have been keeping goldfish since the beginning of the year (which has turned into research for a book, of course), and I can attest to this already. Our fish recognizes us. I'm not kidding. I can see him on the kitchen counter from my desk, and when he's alone in the kitchen he swims and rests and does whatever. But the second I come into the kitchen? He's right at the glass saying hi to me (and probably hoping for a treat). He's even gotten so comfortable with me that I could touch him if I wanted, and he'll follow my finger along the glass all the way around the tank. He doesn't do that with strangers.
Now, I'm not saying goldfish are geniuses or anything, just that they are capable of far more than people give them credit for. Fish in general get a bad wrap for being dumb or boring pets, when in reality aquarium keeping is as complex and interesting as the fish themselves. Before my own foray into the hobby, I definitely had tons of misconceptions.
This whole fish-keeping thing, oddly enough, has made me think a lot about the way I view other people. It's so easy to put humans in neat little boxes, just like we do fish. It's easy to assume they are a certain way, instead of digging deeper to find that the truth is far more complex. What is it John Green always says? "The truth resists simplicity." I think it's something like that, and it's very true. Groups of people. Individuals. They resist simplicity, no matter how much we want to make it simple.
It's easy to take a person you know online, for example, and assume that what you see is how they are. It's easy to assume a famous person is how the tabloids portray them. And it's even easy to assume that an entire group of people that is "different from you" possess all the same traits.
And that's just not true, just like it's not true that goldfish are in a perpetual state of "Uh, where am I?". Digging deeper always reveals more, whether it's fish or people.