Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dolphins, Names and Language

Dolphins name their young and identify each other by those names. But don't eliminate the barrier between humans and animals just yet. They do not necessarily have a real language system, according to Laela Sayigh, who was involved in the study:
She stopped short of saying dolphins might have a human-like language.

"I tend to shy away from using the word 'language' myself, because it's such a loaded term," Sayigh said. "I still really feel strongly that there is no evidence for something like our language. (Dolphins) have got the cognitive skills at least to have referential signals."

Often, a term like "language" or "culture" gets used in the biological sense when referring to animals in a way that misleads people. I once got all excited about a book called The Ape and the Sushi Master, because I had heard the book argued that some animals have "culture." Well, it was major let-down when I realized "culture" meant so little in zoology--largely just the ability to teach the young, through example, how to perform survival-related tasks. At some point, these words are reduced to so little that animals having "language" and "culture" no longer seems incompatible with them being like machines. Computers have no consciousness, yet they have some language, at least in terms of code. Couldn't there be a robot that observed and imitated?

3 Comments:

Blogger Falter Ego said...

Wow! That's all I have to say. I am an avid fan of your Dad's blog...and now yours as well. I find myself compelled to say bravo for your voice so far. I find it brilliant to ask the question regarding your guests "self-pleasuration" simply becuase it is honestly never going to be asked.

Coincidentally, my policy has always been don't ask...don't tell. And for crying out loud...keep the baby-batter off my clean sheets.

Time to "flog the dolphin". Thank goodness it can't talk back. I might have to get a new girlfriend in that case.

Bravo!

7:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Althouse said...

Thank you very much! I hope you keep commenting, too.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Goesh said...

Dolphins - reminds me of the piece I saw a while back and how they respond so well to handicapped children and visa-versa. Of course I have known in my time a couple of dogs smarter than most people, so who am I to say dolphins don't talk?

11:05 AM  

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