Grunion Moon (grunionmoon) wrote,
Grunion Moon

The light of ruins / Dolphins and the Tandem Creative

It's a sunny winter-end day - which makes such a break in the sequence of gray days that it alters the mood remarkably. This is one of my increasingly erratic days off, with my mom off at work instead of being home and getting me up to help her in the garden, so, after sleeping my fill, I have been up wandering or capering around the house, energized by blazing slanting sunbeams, intoning such things (at the top of my lungs) as, "I am the Napunda!!! I am the Napunda!!! I am the Napunda!!!" or "I am Dunderplunkennnnnn!!!! ...and Dunderplunken means MEEEEEEE!!!!" or "Won't you bring back / won't you bring back / Mrs. Murphy's chowderrrrrr..."

(On some future date I am going to get caught at this by unsympathetic souls, and I will end up plaintively arguing to a police-designated shrink that, "look, darn it, there is no such thing as 'sane behavior' when you are by yourself!")

I have not yet shrugged off this lingering cough, my usual difficulty, and so I guess no plasma donation at all this week too.

Any ambitions I had for Christmas gifts - already shamefully reduced by my failure to actually start saving and collecting in June when I thought of it - are going to have to wait for February at the earliest. Such lateness wouldn't be unprecedented. I've done 'em that late, happily.

My spirit could stand to do a gift-crate or two, it really could. It's not just the pleasure at mailing a delight-bomb full of possibilities. In the composition and the searching, I open myself to the whole world of value and potential and goodness. Doing it feeds me.


Other nonstandard things feed a person too, and the same nutrition or stimulation may not be gotten without them.

A friend is brainstorming places to go on a world-spanning trip, and I first thought of the beauty of the Greek isles - I still remember the curious light...

... but then I went from that to thinking of the ruins I have been to.

There are thoughts, feelings, awarenesses, even selves that one touches in oneself when one stands in or by a ruined ancient building, seeing the visible bones and traces of a world gone. If you do not find yourself at such a place at some point, you will not automatically touch the same things, or not in the same way. The present contexts, and one's own specialties and special homes amidst them, tend to succeed in cocooning a person. And then there will be parts of yourself, or breadths or depths of yourself, or possible extents of your sanity that you do not succeed in meeting. There are thoughts that you should have - thoughts you alone will know, that no one else can specify - that may meet you and join your perspective if you... well, you cannot step outside time, but if you go to a place that reminds you that the human context is not just the time-scales and the things now talked about and the present enthusiasms and civilizations that made you. It is something to see how other present days, as real and busy and vocal and secure as this one, faded and succumbed and left nothing but neglected bones. Perhaps with a face that resembles your own looking back at you, literally in stone, or somehow in spirit. The real size of the human story can be in front of you.

What would you leave behind?

But this is just me talking. The real thing is something right-brained, wordless, that just happens, or may happen, when you are there, if you are there.

I like ruins.


We do not cover everything. We never cover anything. No matter what we do, no matter how aware or knowledgeable we get (and isn't there a limit to this, with complexity, with people specializing, and with book-reading declining or uncertain?), there will always be certain truths, even very important truths, that always stay off in the fringes, in second-hand books that have not been reprinted.

(The Internet does not change this. Not everything bubbles up to clarity and familiarity. And there are stabilities of consensus and partisan opinion. And isn't the creeping confidence that "if it's there or if it's important it'll come up in a search engine" a confidence that shouldn't be there?)

I was thinking about the tandem creative.

The tandem creative isn't even buried in an obscure book. If you go to the right place, you can see it demonstrated in front of you, without controversy.

And it shows how investigation can coast to a stop, no matter the topic or substance or significance, if the way forward is unclear.

The "tandem creative" command tells two dolphins, "Do something that you have never done before - in unison":
In a sun-dappled pool not far from the clamor of Waikiki Beach, two female dolphins poke their heads out of the water, waiting for a command. "O.K.," says Louis Herman, founder and director of the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory, "now let's try a tandem creative." Two graduate students, positioned at opposite ends of the 50-ft. tank, throw full body and soul into communicating this message to the animals, Phoenix and Akeakamai. First the humans ask the dolphins to pay attention by holding a finger high in the air. Then they tap the index fingers of each hand together, forming the gesture that has been taught to mean tandem. Next they throw their arms up in an expansive gesture that signifies creative. The dolphins have just been told, "Do something creative together."

The dolphins break away from their trainers and submerge in the 6-ft.-deep water, where they can be seen circling until they begin to swim in tandem. Once they are in synch, the animals leap into the air and simultaneously spit out jets of water before plunging back into the pool. The trainers flash huge smiles at their flippered pupils and applaud wildly. The animals also seem delighted and squeak with pleasure.

Here is another discussion of the "tandem creative", from an excerpt out of the book Dolphins, by Chris Catton:
Another route for examining dolphin language may turn out to be via the study of how the animals coordinate their behavior. Among the 'words' understood by Phoenix and Akeakanial at the Kewalo marine laboratory are 'creative' and 'tandem'. While being trained to respond to the 'creative' command, the dolphins were given a fish every time they did something new. The concept is difficult for animals to grasp, since it seems at first as if they are just being teased - what was right yesterday is wrong today. But once they learn the rules, a spectacular sequence of jumps, fin slaps, rolls, twists, and so on follows. 'Tandem' requires that the two dolphins perform the same action in synchrony. The interesting command is 'Tandem Creative'. An acceptable response to this might be that the dolphins swim around the tank together, leap out of the water, each doing, a clockwise spin, and fall back in head first. It is the sort of display the males of a coalition might put on to impress a female they are herding. The question is, how do they do it? How do they each know what the other is planning?

One possibility is that they do not, but that one animal leads the way while the other follows so closely behind that it appears they are moving together. Dolphins are indeed incredibly good mimics, and have been seen copying the swimming patterns of seals, turtles, skates and rays, and, of course, humans. But if this sort of mimicry is really the source of the synchrony in tandem-creative performances, it is truly astounding. In a recent study, out of 467 observed tandem-creative displays, a leader could be detected by human observers in only thirty. Another possibility is that one of the dolphins can simply predict what the other is going to do as it swims around the tank at the start of its routine, but with over forty possible behavior patterns to choose from, the chances of this being feasible are remote. It is certainly conceivable that the dolphins are using sound to communicate their intentions to each other, and if so this would provide a fascinating experimental context in which to study dolphin communication.

The crucial line I would like to point to in the preceding is the line:
"In a recent study, out of 467 observed tandem-creative displays, a leader could be detected by human observers in only thirty."
You'll never actually totally disprove the mimicry theory this way - you could always say that the dolphins are better observers of dolphins than humans are (seeing, and following, an increasingly microscopic human-invisible lead?) - but you'll notice that doing this leaves the required power of observation so wide open as an explanation that it could cross the threshold of requiring telepathy without saying so. (Telepathy would of course be communication, and if we're effectively assuming it we should notice and say so.)

In the absence of making a mimicry explanation work, the tandem creative appears to be, not just proof, but blatant proof of real and practical communication that you could describe as "of speech quality". They have to conspire under the water. "Here's what we'll do."

But what then?

Well, "when then" is fog - in the context of which the "tandem creative" can recede in its impact until people can refer to it and just say "wow!"

A question I have is whether we have been handicapping our investigation because the only high-grade communication we know anything about is human communication. I remember, way back when, I read of researchers who said that they had been looking for phonemes in dolphin vocalizations and hadn't found any. I always had problems with that, in light of a supposition I had had in mind. Dolphins receive "visual" (3-D "visual, in fact) impressions of their surroundings through sound. I had thought that dolphins might have evolved a way of vocalizing short-hand for sonar pictures. If they could then send hypothetical or imaginary picture-shorthands, this would be useful as speech. Now, I have no idea of whether this actually happens, and I can't say whether the picture-shorthand would bear any resemblance to the human mechanical row-by-row way of sending pictures or not; I don't want to say how many ways there can be of skinning a cat, especially if evolution is skinning one. But it seems to me that you could search such communication-sounds for phonemes or "parts of speech" forever and you quite accurately wouldn't find anything. (You could also pursue the question of dolphin communication by studying the capacity and propensity of dolphins for learning human language or learning sign-language comprehensible by us, and, even if you did so very well, the results wouldn't give a real idea of the dolphins' true communication capabilities - because a radically different facility would be being studied, which the dolphins might or might not be good at.)

(How would the minds and cultures differ with such a system? They might. All of our own species' abstract development, or a huge part of it, has been because we use these clumsy bizarre things called "words", sounds backed only with cloudlike associated implications, and we have stumblingly had to discuss and work out when to use them, what they should mean, which words to use when, etc. Using something closer to pictures, so much more efficient for many things, what levels of abstraction would be slower or harder to come up? Which ones would; which ones wouldn't? Might not some signal-patterns closer to the human style be invented anyway, for numbers for example? But then, how well could they be popularized or retransmitted? I think I am talking of probability as applied to historical development, not of basic capacity... But I am side-speculating.)

The other side of the fog is of course moral.

People sometimes eat dolphins. People have certainly frequently killed them, and still do here and there.

It seems to me that we are - all our cultures are - still fundamentally unready for this question, although you'd never know it from us. In our science fiction we have endlessly explored the idea that we might meet talking non-humans who would have built spaceships, and in these stories we would immediately recognize these creatures as thinking beings like ourselves. We might not call them "human beings", and we might not be friends with them (in fact we might have them as deadly enemies), but we wouldn't call them mere animals, and we certainly wouldn't kill them for food. But the thing is, that kind of situation is a very clean and clear case - and it is an imaginary case. With the subject as we really encounter it, it's not just that the real subject has "a lot of fuzzy edges" - the subject is 100% fuzzy edge. In the absence of spaceships and so on, there is a real uncertainty as to whether our evaluation of the minds of the cetacea is much less thumbfingered and naive than it would be if we were asking, as our test, whether dolphins make fires.

And riding along with this is the uncertainty - still completely untested - about whether we would change the status of cetaceans or of other creatures no matter what we happened to find out about them. We like the notional idea that we would... but there are no confirmations, and there are a lot of counterindications. Whales are protected, but for the same sentimental or intrinsic or ecological reasons that many other animals are protected, despite the presence of these questions. (And of course whaling still continues despite the presence of these questions.) The demonstrated brightnesses of octopi and pigs hasn't depressed the appeal of calamari or pork. And many people and peoples, back through history, have believed that certain animals had minds and were aware and thought in the same way that humans did, "the hunting wolf knows as much as the human hunter"... and it merely made those people (sometimes) a little more respectful as they killed them.

We may turn out to make no real adjustments no matter what (who?) proves to be thinking well, or even no matter what (who?) proves to have been talking all this time. It's possible.

This, while the "tandem creative" is an undisputed fact, replicable at your convenience and request.
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