we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

Young Buddha at Home, Part-5: Three Common Mistakes we have all Made

My contribution to this essay is quite short, but the quote by Kassewitz, which works in counterpoint to my propositions on original human nature, double the length.

All of Essay Thirty-Six in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice.

The “exo-holographic” part of the acronym [SPEL, meaning: Sono-Pictorial Exo-holographic Language] derives from the fact that the dolphin pictorial language is actually propagated all around the dolphin whenever one or more dolphins in the pod send or receive sono-pictures. John Stuart Reid has found that any small part of the dolphin’s echolocation beam contains all the data needed to recreate the image cymatically in the laboratory [the CymaScope is a device that assembles sono-images] or, he postulates, in the dolphin’s brain. Our new model of dolphin language is one in which dolphins can not only send and receive pictures of objects around them but can create entirely new sono-pictures simply by imagining what they want to communicate. It is perhaps challenging for us as humans to step outside our symbolic thought processes to truly appreciate the dolphin’s world in which, we believe, pictorial rather than symbolic thoughts are king. Our personal biases, beliefs, ideologies, and memories penetrate and encompass all of our communication, including our description and understanding of something devoid of symbols, such as SPEL. Dolphins appear to have leap-frogged human symbolic language and instead have evolved a form of communication outside the human evolutionary path. In a sense we now have a “Rosetta Stone” that will allow us to tap into their world in a way we could not have even conceived just a year ago. The old adage, “a picture speaks a thousand words” suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. …  Our research has provided an answer to an age-old question highlighted by Dr. Jill Tarter of the SETI institute, “Are we alone?” We can now unequivocally answer, “no”. SETI’s search for non-human intelligence in outer space has been found [sic] right here on earth in the graceful form of dolphins. —Jack Kassewitz [1]

I have reprinted Kassewitz’s statement here in some length, partly because I want to revisit it in the next section where I will elaborate on the “challenging step” whereby we can better “appreciate the dolphin’s world”—and our above-water human world as well—through a fuller appreciation of the sensorium itself. But also, the complete passage nicely introduces three points I want to make right now about human language and intelligence.

That Kassewitz, who is obviously up to “the challenge” (carefully distinguishing between pictorial and symbolic thought in the first place), at the same time casually uses an acronym that labels the “language” of pictorial thought not only symbolic, but perhaps doubly so (if you see SPEL-ling as visually symbolic of spoken words which are themselves symbolic of thought, so this is also a lesson in our mind-hobbling preference for vision and print), is an object lesson in the challenges that even the most sympathetic among us face in our efforts to ‘look’ past our symbols. (You might notice that my acronym for the human ecological strategy, the LAST Niche, actually denotes a non-niche. So perhaps our dubious acronyms just reflect the irresistible pull towards creative image association that we ourselves feel as very playful mammals.) As Kassewitz says:

Our personal biases, beliefs, ideologies, and memories penetrate and encompass all of our communication, including our description and understanding of something devoid of symbols.

My second point is that when we say “we are not alone”, for the simple reason that a dolphin can communicate its inner life, we make too little of the body language coordination we might see even in the lowliest of social animals (I grew up on a farm, and I had to stay alert  at milking time because, when one cow takes a whiz, all nearby cows relieve themselves at once), and, in my view, makes too much of an “exo-holographic” dolphin “imagination” that doesn’t express itself in structural modification. We can only say we’re not alone in this respect if we acknowledge the structurally-creative ‘intelligence’ of an evolving ecosystem.

Finally, “the graceful form of dolphins” is a perfect image to illustrate my argument that eco-evolutionary intelligence operates with a conformity imperative that limits imagination: if the gene-regulated harmony of our oceans had allowed an octopus (who can use tools) to evolve the social intelligence of our gracefully formed dolphin—no hands!—how long would the harmony have lasted? And what if octopuses had developed technology first? Well, Milford Wolpoff’s multiregional hypothesis, pertaining to hominin evolution, tells us that “the potential for niche overlap would have made the co-existence of multiple tool-using species impossible” [2]—no humans! Luckily these handy cephalopods are not only all aquatic, but, perhaps due to their unusual genetic flexibility, they are all non-social specialists with ecologically well-partitioned ‘interests’.


1. Jack Kassewitz. “We Are Not Alone: The Discovery of Dolphin Language.” www.speakdolphin.com —November 2011. (Jack Kassewitz: speakdolphin@mac.com)

2. Thorne, A.G., Wolpoff, M.H. 1992. “The multiregional evolution of humans”. Scientific American, vol. 266, no. 4, pp. 76–83: Milford H. Wolpoff, Alan Thorne and Xinzhi Wu proposed the Multiregional hypothesis in 1984, claiming that for the last two million years the various forms of hominins essentially represented a single, if loosely integrated, genepool with wide clinal variations. This does not necessarily mean that the widely accepted “out of Africa” theory is wrong, in the sense that a central maternal line of descent cannot be identified, but the proposition is rather that, because of the high degree of niche overlap allowed by technological exchange, the many populations could not have survived unless they interbred—at least enough to deny them the term “extinction” that would inevitably apply to distinct species that succumbed to this unrestrained competition. Perhaps the best evidence in favour of the hypothesis however, and certainly for the argument I want to make here about our current situation, is not found in the fossil record, but it is the simple observation that humanity today, in all its potential for adaptive radiation, shows no signs of further speciation: human kind is demonstrably a “melting pot”, and this is profoundly unlike any “natural species”.

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