Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Dolphins — Not the supergeniuses we thought

arroba Email

Scientist: Dolphins are stupid
Thursday 17 August 2006 12:29 PM GMT

Dolphins are not as clever as previously thought. Dolphins may have big brains, but a South African-based scientist says laboratory rats and even goldfish can outwit them.

Paul Manger of Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand says the super-sized brains of dolphins are a function of being warm-blooded in a cold water environment and not a sign of intelligence.

“We equate our big brain with intelligence. Over the years we have looked at these kinds of things and said the dolphins must be intelligent,” he said.

“The real flaw in this logic is that it suggests all brains are built the same… When you look at the structure of the dolphin brain, you see it is not built for complex information processing,” he said.

A neuroethologist who looks at brain evolution, Manger’s views are sure to cause a stir among a public which has long associated dolphins with intelligence, emotion and other human-like qualities.

They are widely regarded as one of the smartest mammals.

Too few neurons

But Manger, whose peer-reviewed research on the subject has been published in Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, says the reality is different.

Brains, he says, are made of neurons and glia. The latter create the environment for the neurons to work properly and producing heat is one of glia’s functions.

“Dolphins have a superabundance of glia and very few neurons… The dolphin’s brain is not made for information processing it is designed to counter the thermal challenges of being a mammal in water,” Manger said.

Manger said observed behaviour supports his iconoclastic take on dolphins as dim-wits.

“You put an animal in a box, even a lab rat or gerbil, and the first thing it wants to do is climb out of it. If you don’t put a lid on top of the bowl a goldfish it will eventually jump out to enlarge the environment it is living in,” he said.

“But a dolphin will never do that. In the marine parks, the dividers to keep the dolphins apart are only a foot or two above the water between the different pools,” he said.

Manger says the thought to jump over would simply not cross their unsophisticated minds.

Jump through hoops

They jump through hoops only because they have been conditioned to do so for a food reward – which may suggest the brain of a single-minded predator rather than a reasoned thinker.

“Dolphins can actually chain up to 16 stimulus response events, but this is indicative of good trainers and not intelligent animals. Stimulus-response conditioning is thought to be a low level of intelligent behaviour,” Manger said.

Manger also points to the tuna industry, which under consumer pressure has gone to great lengths to prevent dolphins from being caught and killed by accident in nets.

“If they were really intelligent, they would just jump over the net because it doesn’t come out of the water,” he said.

Source: http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/7FF1A9D2-FEEB-4340-A0DA-DE92AF6C49EC.htm

From a news article - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4034383.stm - We find dolphins protecting humans from a 10 foot long great white shark. This process is probably a few grades above jumping out of a fish bowl; and the idea of altruism is not an evolution friendly concept. Perhaps this is just one reason why evolutionists find dolphins a conundrum that they want to explain away..and so attack them by claiming their intelligence is lacking compared to that of a goldfish. The news article: "Dolphins prevent NZ shark attack A group of swimmers has told how a pod of dolphins protected them from a great white shark off New Zealand's coast. The lifeguards were training at a beach near Whangarei on the North Island when they were menaced by a 3-metre shark, before the dolphins raced in to help. The swimmers were surrounded by the dolphins for 40 minutes before they were able to make it safely back to the beach. Marine biologists say such altruistic behaviour is not uncommon in dolphins. Lifeguard Rob Howes was in the water with two colleagues and his teenage daughter. It was an uncomfortable experience, as they were circled by a great white shark, which came within a couple of metres. He said around half a dozen dolphins suddenly appeared and herded the swimmers together. The mammals swam in tight circles to create a defensive barrier as the great white lurked under the surface. The swimmers said the dolphins were extremely agitated and repeatedly slapped the water with their tails, presumably to try to deter the predator as it cruised nearby. The drama happened in New Zealand three weeks ago, but only now are the lifeguards telling their story. It is a day they will never forget, especially for one of the swimmers, who was on her first day as a volunteer. They have no doubt that the dolphins acted deliberately to protect them. Researchers have said they are not surprised. A marine biologist insisted that dolphins, which are considered to be one of the most intelligent mammals, "like to help the helpless". " JGuy
An information theory study showed that Humpback Whales have a heirarchical language structure, like humans. I suppose that Dolphins could as well. But wouldn't heirarchical language arising twice be cause to doubt darwinism instead? How could two mammals derive it independently of each other without intervention? I agree that this professor seems to be claiming more than can be supported. Still, it would be funny to know that the SeaQuest dolphin, Darwin, was a dummy. :) We define "design" differently than many people use it. This scientist, unfortunately, seemed to be using it in the sense that evolution is supposed to design traits. We use it to refer to the result of intelligent agency. So we shouldn't take the use of design by someone else to mean the same thing as how we use it - in other words, the defeat of darwinism should be accomplished without resorting to equivocation. Or ad-hominem, as I've observed in other threads... EJ Klone
OK wait- peacefully living in calm and well fed comfort is stupid but jumping out of the bowl which holds your life-requiring water is smart? I say the dolphins weighed the options and decided to play nice. Even though I don't agree with everything he says I will side with Doug Adams when it comes to the intelligence of dolphins- "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" (as for the tuna nets- I once thought that also. However ignorance is not a measure of intelligence. Ignorance means you just don't know something. So the dolphins, in this case, just don't know/ understand that the net = death. By he time they find out it's a bit too late. We could do the same to a nerdy white scientist by having him walk to a 7-eleven in a south central LA neighborhood. IOW even smart people can do really stupid (in hindsight) things. Perhaps we should learn how to speak "dolphin" and have the tuna boats make announcements to swim to the edge of the net and jump out. Or are we afraid the tunas may catch on? ;) ) Joseph
The source of mind is always pertinent in the controversy between ID and materialism. Ultimately, I suspect, the real controversy has to do with whether agency “supervenes on” material processes or whether it is a fundamental component of the cosmos (which I assume is the position of animists as well as theists). The question arises not only with respect to origins but also with respect to the agency and consciousness of beings such as ourselves. If mind is really only a product of the brain, then agency is not fundamental, and perhaps could arise naturally (via chance and necessity). The materialist wants to see only a quantitative difference between human and beast, and surely all can see that there are similarities. But “intelligence” and its spin-off in technology are not everything, for there have been societies which, aside from the use of fire, were hardly advanced beyond that of a wolf pack. Yet all possessed language. After Darwin (and before Multiculturism) it was in vogue to speak of “primitive” languages. But now we know that there was really no such thing—why? This I have often asked in my linguistics classes. The answer is that language is not created in centers of academic learning. Rather it is created anew with each generation of babies. The human baby—as opposed to the ape or dolphin—seeks to speak. When an adult learns a language he typically wants to memorize phrases and sentences and hates to be told about grammar—exactly the opposite of what we see in children. Children do not memorize sentences, rather little Johnny struggles to master a system. He says, “Mommy goed to the store.” Not what you’d expect were he parroting what he’d heard. No, the little child is puzzling over questions like, "How in the world do these people code for the past participle?" So we talk about biological innatism or “hard wiring”—meaning, I guess, that we’re born with language embedded somewhere in the brain. But if the mathematical realists are correct (physicists almost by definition are mathematical realists—at least if they’ve thought about it) then the brain is only a receptor for logic (and esthetics and Natural Law) that is “out there”—somewhat like a radio receiver. But lurking around this delightful blog it's apparent that quite a few critics of Darwin are not so much oriented toward animism or theism but rather toward a strong determinism. Perhaps mathematical realism (as also the universals of linguistic realism) is where they are headed. But if you ask me (you don’t ask me?!) the world is made of three things: chance (where EVERYTHING originates for the Darwinist), necessity (where EVERYTHING originates for the strong determinist), and agency (which heads the hierarchy of reality for the animist and theist). ID begins with anyone who doubts Darwin, but there are those who will get off the ID train short of seeing agency as elemental. But that’s OK. Just as long as we keep talking. By the way—off subject here (sorry!): Just last week I returned from an academic conference (my first in a while) where folks were constantly bringing up ID (not from the lecturn but rather in conversation). Evidently we really are making headway! But quite disconcerting was how many also expressed a desire to kill the US president and all fundamentalist Christians. I'm no fundamentalist Christian (I doubt any Christian sect would have me), but I was astonished. Can't people see that this brave new world of secularism requires balance from moralists? What is it the haters want? The 1930s all over again? Let’s hope not! Yours truly, Noel Rude Rude
He makes a speculation and presents it as a fact i.e information processing is done by neurons. The present state of actual provable theories on mind (information processing) brain relationship is almost nil. Presenting a theory as a fact and then claiming using that "fact" as the basis for another controversial theory seems to be not of much value. In fact people with almost no brain have been proven to have high intelligence see http://www.flatrock.org.nz/topics/science/is_the_brain_really_necessary.htm Which just helps to prove my idea on the mind brain relationship i.e. the brain does not "process mental information" because the brain has no capability to process what your mind experiences, it has no way to interface with thought nor is it able to process thought, rather the mind operates on an entirely different principle, see http://groups.msn.com/EarthComesAlive/general.msnw?action=get_message&mview=0&ID_Message=78&LastModified=4675577207414473105 mentok
He can study the cellular structure of the dolphin brain all he wants... ive still heard report of them doing things that require some moderately impressive feats of inteligence. Coordinating multible dolphins to round up schools of fish, things like that. Managing a fairly elaborate social life - its not primate-level, but its still a lot better than any fish I know of. And those are confirmable observations, not just the reports of semi-mystic encounters. I do think dolphin inteligence may have been exagerated a bit, but there is clearly something there to exagerate that is at least on a par with any other highly-social pack-hunting mammal such as, say, wolves. SuricouRaven
I have done some interesting reading on the subject of the cerebellum recently. Its starting to look like the cerebellum is more important than once thought in all aspects of cognitions. The most recent abstract I read called the activity of the cerebellum the strongest evidence for and "embodied mind": the gist was that the "higher" functions of the cerebral cortex are actually pre-informed about what to anticipate by the cerebellum which throws up schemas for it to work with. Its almost as if the cerebellum knows instantly, and helps the cerebrum 'figure it out' . I am not a neuroscientist, but it intrigued me because I definitely love the idea of material support for the idea of an "embodied mind". This is relevant to the thread only because I seem to remember reading one time that dolphins have huge cerebellums. tinabrewer
trrll has a great point. Paul Manger is making too many bold claims that aren't necessarily supported by the results of the study. Doug
I wonder if you noticed a key word in the article:
The dolphin’s brain is not made for information processing it is designed to counter the thermal challenges of being a mammal in water,” Manger said
*gasps* This paper passed peer-review?!! Where is the ID disclaimer? ("This paper in no way endorses Intelligent Design") Mats
This is no reason to treat them any less humane. Doug
He's saying some pretty weird things. The notion that glia are there to compensate for the "thermal challenges" of being a mammal in water seems very strange. And not all aquatic mammals have large, highly convoluted brains like cetaceans--the brain of a manatee does not look particularly impressive. And glia seem like a funny choice as a way to heat the brain. Some other animals use specialized fat cells to generate heat, which makes more sense, since they have a store of high-energy lipid to metabolize. I imagine that a neuron generates more heat than a glial cell, because a neuron requires a high metabolic rate to run its ion pumps. Also, it is by no means clear that glia don't participate in cognition. They certainly have some neurotransmitter receptors. As for trying to escape, that may have as much to do with motivation than intelligence. A fish likely has an instinctive reaction to attempt to escape if confined. A more intelligent animal would have to decide whether it wants to escape, taking into account such factors as risk and likelihood of success. trrll
Interesting News source ;) (and I don't mean Biological Reviews) ofro
“You put an animal in a box, even a lab rat or gerbil, and the first thing it wants to do is climb out of it. If you don’t put a lid on top of the bowl a goldfish it will eventually jump out to enlarge the environment it is living in,” he said.
And how is that a sign of intelligence? Jumping out of their bowls is generally a bad career move for goldfish. It sounds like dolphins are the smart ones. I think he needs to watch a few episodes of Flipper... They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning, No-one you see, is smarter than he, And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder, Flying there under, under the sea! sagebrush gardener
Mr. Dolphin McFalconer (a.k.a. Elsy Welsberry) isn't going to pleased to hear this. Scott
On a side note, South African scientists have been less influenced by the Darwinian Dogma and I guess it shows :) vpr

Leave a Reply