Thursday, November 05, 2009

BitchBuzz: Douglas Adams & Dolphins

My latest column for BitchBuzz was sparked by a story about dolphins and television. Seems they figured it out pretty quick, unlike simians who had to be coached in the ways of the box. I shudder to think how much they laughed to see what humans do with their non-nautical time:

At the moment of Earth's destruction, Douglas Adams tell us in the course of the five part trilogy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the dolphins left the planet behind with a well-meaning and heartily kind words: so long and thanks for all the fish. The stunningly intelligent creatures were long dismissed by the hubristic humans because of their life style choices. Adams explains.

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, 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 reasons...

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Todd Mason said...

"Until now, because we're finally beginning to catch on that dolphins are a lot smarter than we believed."

Well, John Lilly, if anything, might've gone the wrong way in the other direction, and he was not alone...but what has been suggested by a number of recent studies is how similar other-species intelligence is to ours. (One factor not being taken into account betwixt dolphins and apes in the example you cite is that dolphins are by nature less wedded to stereo-vision than apes, or, say, cats, or certainly monkeys).

Intelligence and language studies with animals ranging from octopuses to groupers to certain bird species to pinnipeds (and certainly, of course, other primates) have all been building an increasing body of evidence that, pace Noam Chomsky and all, humans are indeed apes and the language instinct, much less other less specialized forms of intelligence, are all matters of degree rather than uniqueness/presence or absense.

K. A. Laity said...

I just get riled with the dismissiveness. "They have no language!" just because they don't speak English. Gibberish!