Monday, February 22, 2010
Dolphins are people (fish-people)
If you've ever read "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" you'll know that at least Douglas Adams thought dolphins were some pretty smart animals. Actually smarter than humans, since they knew what was coming to earth and ditched that doomed place before it was too late.
Now it seems Douglas Adams wasn't too far off (he probably was about the mice however). In an article over at sciencemag.org, it seems some scientists (and philosophers) are even starting to discuss whether or not we shouldn't be treating dolphins more like people. Many of us have heard that dolphins possess a really large brain compared to their body size, and have a brain-to-body-weight-ratio bigger even than human-like apes actually (but still smaller than humans)(... or maybe not smaller than some pugs I've had). Even more important is that they have a complex neocortex, the part of the brain linked to more "advanced" brain functions such as self-awareness, problem solving and other things we usually think of as traits of human intelligence.
The scientists argue that if the definition for "person" would be something like "being alive (duh), awareness of environment, display of personality and emotions, exhibition of self-controlled behavior and the possibility to treat other beings ethically", dolphins actually fit in the frame. This would in turn rise the need for us humans to treat dolphins more ethically. Such things as captivity for our amusement must then definitely be put under careful consideration (not to mention the mass slaughters of dolphins at some places of the earth, something I don't think should be done to anything though).
A finger must be raised in the air here however. We don't really know how the display of intelligent behavior is linked to actual intelligent thinking in any other animal than ourselves (and barely even then). Of course I'm not suggesting we should treat animals bad just because they're not intelligent (I'm not sure what the article is suggesting though...). But just because an animal is acting like people, doesn't mean it will react to the world around it like people, and might therefore have whole nother needs than people. Needs we might need to identify from their point of view instead of ours, if that's even possible.
In any case, I always find it really interesting to read about these kind of things because it makes you think about what intelligence is overall. With humans it seems our "amount" of intelligence has worked well (so far) for the species as a whole to survive, but less good actually for the individual to survive. With species like dolphins and apes, it seems to work better for individuals than for the specie. Less smart animals don't have the intellectual (?) capability to destroy their own surroundings and mass slaughter their neighbors. Then again, that could be a trait of humans that simply has nothing to do with their intelligence (not meaning that I think humans are inherently evil though :P).