How Dolphins Could Help Us Communicate with Aliens
If we could talk to the animals, we might gain insight into what it means to communicate with an extraterrestrial species.
Megan Erickson is an Associate Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, she taught reading and writing to ninth and tenth graders in NYC public schools and tutored students of all ages at the Stuyvesant Writing Center, which she helped launch. In her spare time, she worked in the communications department at the Center for Constitutional Rights and served as a mentor at the Urban Assembly, where she designed and led an extracurricular civics course on grassroots community action. She’s written on education, small business, and the arts for CNNMoney, Fortune Small Business, and The Huffington Post. Megan received her master’s degree in Education from Teachers College. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Without a common language, a close encounter could be as aimless as an email chain in which everyone hits reply all but no one actually reads anyone else's response. (We sent “Across the Universe” across the universe. Get it? Anyone?) And whether or not you buy Stephen Hawking's evil-alien-colonizer theory, the consequences of an intergalactic miscommunication would undoubtedly be worse than annoying a few colleagues.
"There are many sentient species on our own planet, and that would probably be a good model to start looking at how we might communicate with extra-terrestrial species," says Denise Herzing, founder and Director of the Wild Dolphin Project. Herzing has worked for three decades documenting the daily exchanges of a community of free-ranging Spotted dolphins off the coast of the Bahamas in hopes of finding a dolphin version of the Rosetta Stone.
Like humans, dolphins have societal rules, responsibilities, and alliances, says Herzing. They teach their young new skills and forming bonds with parents and siblings. And yet, "there is probably not a more alien social species."
Deciphering the language of their sounds and behavior could therefore give us insight into the evolution and expressions of a mind that is entirely unlike a human being's, shedding light on our own cognitive biases as well as, "potentially, how to overcome them." This, she believes, is the key to building a shared exchange across species.
What's the Significance?
In a paper titled "Dolphins as a model for real time interaction and communication with a sentient species,” Herzing asks, "Are there universals to communication that we might find looking at a species outside ourselves?"
But even more important than looking outward towards the stars is getting our collective act together here on Earth. "Humans need to put themselves back into nature and look at ourselves in the context of a larger world, which includes other sentient species and complex ecosystems," she says. "I think it will determine our own survival on planet Earth, not to mention millions of other species." It will also be the most critical test of our own intelligence.
What do you think? Will we ever meet intelligent beings in outer-space? What would an encounter with extraterrestrials be like?
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