Searching for alien intelligence and how dolphins can help

shutterstock x
Image credit: Shutterstock

The return to dolphins as a model for alien intelligence came in 1999, when SETI Institute astronomer Laurance Doyle proposed using information theory to analyze animal communication systems, particularly the whistle repertoire of bottlenose dolphins.

Since [John] Lilly’s initial experiments, researchers have found that a number of species communicate using something that approaches the complexity of human language. Whether it is appropriate to characterize animal communication systems as “languages,” in the same way that English or Mandarin are languages, is a matter of debate.

When [a language’s most frequently used] words are plotted logarithmically on a graph, the relationship among word frequencies yields a line with a slope of -1. [Linguist George] Zipf found that the -1 slope is common among most written and spoken languages, from Spanish to Mandarin.

ADVERTISEMENT

Related article:  Statistics’ dark past? History of eugenics still haunts American universities

If the dolphins engaged in meaningful communication with near-human complexity, the frequency of these sounds would yield a logarithmic slope of -1—just like most human languages. So Doyle and his colleagues plotted recordings from a group of captive bottlenose dolphins that had been observed from infancy to adulthood. The resulting slope had a gradient of -.95. This suggests that “dolphinese” may exhibit syntax.

As work by Doyle and his colleagues indicates, perhaps the best place to start is in the watery alien worlds of our own planet. Otherwise, we risk dismissing the first interstellar “hello” as meaningless noise.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Read full, original post: Dolphins Are Helping Us Hunt for Aliens

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
GLP Podcasts
Infographic: Here’s where GM crops are grown around the world today

Infographic: Here’s where GM crops are grown around the world today

Do you know where biotech crops are grown in the world? This updated ISAAA infographics show where biotech crops were ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

* indicates required
Email Lists
Send this to a friend