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Dolphin Talk

In Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it is stated that humans are actually the third most intelligent species in the world. The first are mice, who are actually testing us while we think we are testing them, and the second are dolphins. "On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reason."  Aware of the impending destruction of the Earth in the novel, the dolphins leave the planet and try to relay a final message that ends up being "misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the Star Spangled Banner, but in fact the message was this: So long, and thanks for all the fish."

The sea-dwelling mammals have long been of fascination to human beings for their often playful and curious nature, and their relative intelligence compared to most other creatures with whom we share the world. Of the sea creatures, they have proven to be among the most useful and easy to interact with for humans, in a way that horses and mules and dogs and cats are useful. There has been some excitement in the blogosphere lately due to this study that plans to create the first two-way communication between dolphins and humans through the use of some sophisticated technology and long-studied habits of the creatures. Some of the excitement is a bit overdone, though, as one of the scientists involved pointed out.

This is not an advancement towards "conversation" with dolphins. One cannot have true conversation with one's dog, for example, but we can relate certain commands to a dog that it can learn to be familiar with (as an aside, I tend to sometimes think my dogs can understand me or at least get what I'm feeling, but I understand there's no reasonable basis for that, just a feeling or a hope, I suppose!). It will be similar to the dolphins; just as we have worked out way of communicating certain things with our dogs (and are sometimes able to get an idea of something the dog is trying to communicate too depending on its actions and mood), these scientists are expecting to do the same with the dolphins. Perhaps it will help us learn more about how these creatures act, but it likely isn't going to be bringing any sort of tremendous revelation or use to us outside of the realm of these studies. At the end of the day they are still irrational and guided by instinct, incapable of understanding concepts like justice, liberty, and morality. Good luck, though, to these researches in working to further understand the fun creatures and building some sort of communications with them!
Categories > Technology

Discussions - 2 Comments

Adams' work is based on a deafening silence regarding the human capacity to see with BOTH the body's eye and the mind's eye. It is with the "body's eye," that is, with our five physical senses that we hear, see, taste, touch and smell the things of our world, and we share that capacity for sensory perception with the sub-human animals--many of which have sensory capabilities which are much superior to ours. However, the sub-human animals see ONLY with the body's eye, whereas we humans see with the mind's eye as well. Consider that which is unique to human communication: COMMON NOUNS. Take, for example, the common noun chair. It identifies the idea, the purpose or the function of that particular type of furniture. The idea that is both in and common to all chairs--to sit on--has no physical properties and thus it cannot be seen with the body's eye. Instead, it is that uniquely human work, performed by the mind's eye, of extracting "the one" or the idea of chair from the many chairs that we see and sit on that is both the source our our ability to understand what a chair is as well as all of those common nouns which are found only in human speech. It is, after all, the INability of all sub-human creatures to see with the mind's eye that is responsible for the fact that common nouns form no part of their communication, and for the fact that we do not enroll them in academic institutions.

I don't think there's a lick of evidence that the difference between humans and other intelligent species is anything other than larger, more complex brains. This medieval bias concerning man's "soul" and how it makes him particular and special...tsk tsk. Sorry, I just don't see it. We live, eat, and die, and so do they. We feel emotion, and so do they. We are animated by mating most of our lives, and so are they. We talk...and so may they if we had ears to hear them. Let's be a little less quick to assume our superiority. In their world, we are interesting, clumsy creatures who lack important equipment and can't "talk" right. Sound familiar?

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