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Carl Sagan: Learning dolphin language to talk to ET?


Further to Vince Torley’s “Are dolphins people too?: Torley quoted a Wall Street Journal piece, “No, Flipper Doesn’t Speak Dolphinese,”, in which we also learn:

In 1961, the great scientist Carl Sagan joined a semi-secret society called the Order of the Dolphin, which hoped to establish communication with intelligent extraterrestrials. Among the society’s members was a neuroscientist named John Lilly, who had made a name for himself popularizing the idea that dolphins have their own language, as well as a kind of super-intelligence that rivals our own. Crack the code of dolphinese, argued Lilly, and we will be able to decipher any alien language we might encounter.

The order’s members—including the astrophysicist Frank Drake, the evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane and the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Melvin Calvin —took Lilly’s idea about human-dolphin communication quite seriously. As the Princeton historian D. Graham Burnett has noted, they wore insignia shaped like bottlenose dolphins and sent each other coded messages to hone their dolphinese and alien-language-decoding skills.

Cute, but then Lilly started feeding the dolphins LSD.

Justin Gregg, author of the article and also of Are Dolphins Really Smart?: The Mammal Behind the Myth, views Sagan as a great scientist and tells the story like Lilly was the only one who was off the rails. Somehow I doubt that. Sagan (1934–1996) seems to have been a talented self-promoter with a genius for knowing what a large public, slowly embracing naturalism and scientism, would see as “science.” As if.

Nothing wrong in principle with getting ahead in life, but let’s keep our categories straight here.

Anyway, dolphins really are intelligent animals but notice how Darwinian thinking promotes two false ideas:

First, as noted earlier, it implies that there is some kind of “tree of intelligence,” akin to the now-toppled “tree of life,” with the primates at the top. Not really. Crows, we see, are “feathered primates.” Crocodiles use tools. Some reptiles are as smart as some birds and can solve problems not seen before. Octopuses are surprisingly smart molluscs. Slime molds can in fact “think”, as a temporary colony.

We really don’t know how independent intelligence gets instantiated to a great degree in one life form and a lesser degree in another. And second, none of it is much like specifically human intelligence.

It would surely be fun to research these things as they really are and not as the propaganda for dead theories makes them out to be.

– O’Leary for News

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Well, figuring out how the atmosphere of Venus works is surely a meaningful achievement. But clearly Sagan wasn't another Bohr or Einstein: everyone agrees that his public fame is due mainly to his educational/proselytising work.
Sagan (1934–1996) seems to have been a talented self-promoter with a genius for knowing what a large public, slowly embracing naturalism and scientism, would see as “science.”
I don't think Sagan felt as if the public was moving his way, though, at least in the mid-'70s when (afaict) he first went seriously into activism and public outreach. Remember, this was just after the late '60s-early 70's, when the occult, paranormal and what-have-you became mainstream and almost respectable: Sagan and his fellow CSICOP types seem to have felt they were fighting a new tidal wave of superstition, maybe even the threat of some kind of New Dark Age. anonym
A great scientist should do something great to justify the great thing. What did Mr Sagan do??? wiki fails to tell me. SAve some stuff in the space travel business. i think he is like Hawjings. They anoint these people as great scientists or even scientists because they are popular or great teachers. those who can't do TEACH! Well not always but you know. all credit is due but no credit due where not due. usually the better scientists are smarter people in their fields and this is why they accomplish things. The wrongly anointed ones later are found to have dumb ideas. I see lists of names besides accomplishments on the internet and so i judge things this way. Sagan or Hawkings are not worthy yet to be on these lists. Neither am i. dolphins are just dumb animals like the rest. Robert Byers
Perhaps Sagan deserves credit for having placed his imprimatur, despite his naturalism, on the argument for God's existence based upon religious experience. It really is remarkable that such an outspoken opponent of theism would have the heroine of the movie Contact, Ellie Arroway played by Jodie Foster, resort to just such an argument to justify her belief that she'd actually journeyed to the center of the galaxy. At the end of the movie she's being interrogated by a skeptic about her claim to have experienced a transcendent reality of sorts: Michael Kritz: "Wait a minute, let me get this straight. You admit that you have absolutely no physical evidence to back up your story." Ellie Arroway: "Yes." Michael Kitz: "You admit that you very well may have hallucinated this whole thing." Ellie Arroway: "Yes." Michael Kitz: "You admit that if you were in our position, you would respond with exactly the same degree of incredulity and skepticism!" Ellie Arroway: "Yes!" Michael Kitz: [standing, angrily] "Then why don't you simply withdraw your testimony, and concede that this "journey to the center of the galaxy," in fact, never took place!" Ellie Arroway: "Because I can't. I... had an experience... I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever... A vision... of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how... rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not, that none of us are alone! I wish... I... could share that... I wish, that everyone, if only for one... moment, could feel... that awe, and humility, and hope. But... That continues to be my wish." And of course, Arroway was correct, as the viewer of the movie knew. Who'd have thought that an atheist like Sagan would endorse one's believing in something - for which no empirical evidence could be adduced - on the basis of one's firm conviction that one's experience was veridical. Dick
Cute, but then Lilly started feeding the dolphins LSD.
ROTFLMAO. This is hilarious, O'Leary. It made my day. Note that Carl Sagan is no different than most Darwinists/materialists in promoting superstitious nonsense. Like Stephen Hawking and many others, Sagan believed in the possibility of crackpot fairy tales like time travel. In fact, Sagan was fascinated with time travel as much as he was with finding space aliens, having been raised on science fiction novels in his youth. So his joining a semi-secret "dolphin are people too" society does not come as a great surprise. :-D You can read all about Sagan's fascination with time travel at PBS.org. Mapou
It's the Frenchy sounding name. If his name had been Bert Higgins, he'd never have enjoyed the favour of the media or the public. Axel

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