In Defense of Dolphins [ePub]

by Thomas I. White

In Defense of Dolphins contains some fun facts about dolphins who are aquatic, auditory, emotional, interconnected, highly-social, intelligent nonhuman beings. Dolphins have spherical brains and have been around in their modern form for more than 10 million years (compared with 5 million years for humans and just 100,000 for homo sapiens). They can share auditory information with each other in a way that would be akin to humans being able to "... see what something looked like through someone's else's eyes." and this may give them a shared and interconnected sense of self, explaining why they opt to remain in a group rather than escape as individuals — if this is made possible — when trapped in tuna nets.

It also offers some interesting speculations: What would humans be like if we had evolved in the water without tools and hands? What if human intelligence were assessed by dolphin standards (with an emphasis on social, emotional, auditory interactions)? How would we stack up?

"We might say that, in the ocean, nature may select for specialists in relationships not tools — for emotional sophistication perhaps more than for cognitive sophistication."

The key idea here is that dolphins are intelligent in a way that is different from humans, best described as "alien" intelligence (per marine scientist Diana Reiss), and therefore, dolphins are ethically entitled to treatment as individuals. White provides some science and research to support a perspective expressed in Douglas Adams' novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979).

"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 — while all that 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."


To anyone predisposed to imagine that dolphins may be intelligent in ways that are different from humans, there isn't much surprising here. Rather than delving into an understanding of dolphin intelligence, this book skims the surface. In large part, this is because White (while often using terms familiar to the animal rights movement: sentient-ism, speciesism, and anthropocentric bias) makes a strategic decision to address this book to skeptics rather than people who might already be familiar with the concept of respecting nonhuman intelligences (readers of works by philosophers and ethicists Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, for example.) White's premise is that the case for dolphin intelligence is so strong as to convince even someone resistant to the idea that nonhumans can think, and once so convinced, anyone will naturally understand the necessity of treating dolphins with the same moral code — do no harm — accorded any human individual.

Pairs well with: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy — re watch the opening song to the movie, "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish."

21.11.2012

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