Puts a whole new spin on Max for CatsCan animals talk? What meaning does their song convey? Will we ever be able to understand them?
The idea of complex animal sentience has been gaining strength within the scientific community. A growing number of researchers and academics are exploring the idea that animals enjoy music on a similar level to human beings.
Discussion of anything not related to audio or music production
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From: Steps To An Ecology Of Mind - Collected Essays In Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, And Epistemology - Gregory Bateson (1972):
(This text is VERY old, so much of it might be completely outdated / falsified etc… Still fascinating stuff. Would love to get updated on that. Anybody???)
(This text is VERY old, so much of it might be completely outdated / falsified etc… Still fascinating stuff. Would love to get updated on that. Anybody???)
5.3 Problems in Cetacean and Other Mammalian Communication*
5.3.1 The Communication of Preverbal Mammals*
Of the Cetacea I have had little experience. I once dissected in the Cambridge Zoological Laboratories a specimen of Phocoena bought from the local fishmonger, and did not really encounter cetaceans again until this year, when I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Lilly’s dolphins. I hope that my discussion of some of the questions that are in my mind as I approach these peculiar mammals will assist you in examining either these or related questions.
My previous work in the fields of anthropology, animal ethology, and psychiatric theory provides a theoretical framework for the transactional analysis of behavior. The premises of this theoretical position may be briefly summarized: (1) that a relationship between two (or more) organisms is, in-fact, a sequence of S-R sequences (i.e.,. of contexts in which proto-learning occurs) ; (2) that deuterolearning (i.e., learning to learn) is, in fact, the acquiring of information about the contingency patterns of the contexts in which proto-learning occurs; and (3) that the “character” of the organism is the aggregate of its deutero-learning and therefore reflects the contextual patterns of past protolearning.
These premises are essentially a hierarchic structuring of learning theory along lines related to Russell’s Theory of Logical Types. The premises, following the Theory of Types, are primarily appropriate for the analysis of digital communication. To what extent they may be applicable to analogic communication or to systems that combine the digital with the analogic is problematic. I hope that the study of dolphin communication will throw light on these fundamental problems. The point is not either to discover that dolphins have complex language or to teach them English, but to close gaps in our theoretical knowledge of communication by studying a system that, whether rudimentary or complex, is almost certainly of a totally unfamiliar kind.
Let me start from the fact that the dolphin is a mammal. This fact has, of course, all sorts of implications for anatomy and physiology, but it is not with these that I am concerned. I am interested in his communication, in what is called his “behavior,” looked at as an aggregate of data perceptible and meaningful to other members of the same species. It is meaningful, first, in the sense that it affects a recipient animal’s behavior, and, second, in the sense that perceptible failure to achieve appropriate meaning in the first sense will affect the behavior of both animals. What I say to you may be totally ineffective, but my ineffectiveness, if perceptible, will affect both you and me. I stress this point because it must be remembered that in all relationships between man and some other animal, especially when that animal is a dolphin, a very large proportion of the behavior of both organisms is determined by this kind of ineffectiveness.
When I view the behavior of dolphins as communication, the mammalian label implies, for me, something very definite. Let me illustrate what I have in mind by an example from Benson Ginsburg’s wolf pack in the Brookfield Zoo.
Among the Canidae, weaning is performed by the mother. When the puppy asks for milk, she presses down with her open mouth on the back of his neck, crushing him down to the ground. She does this repeatedly until he stops asking. This method is used by coyotes, dingoes, and the domestic dog. Among wolves the system is different. The puppies graduate smoothly from the nipple to regurgitated food. The pack comes back to the den with their bellies full. All regurgitate what they have got and all eat together. At some point the adults start to wean the puppies from these meals, using the method employed by the other Canidae; the adult crushes the puppy down by pressing its open mouth on the back of the puppy’s neck. In the wolf this function is not confined to the mother, but is performed by adults of both sexes.
The pack leader of the Chicago pack is a magnificent male animal who endlessly patrols the acre of land to which the pack is confined. He moves with a beautiful trot that appears tireless, while the other eight or nine members of the pack spend most of their time dozing. When the females come in heat they usually proposition the leader, bumping against him with their rear ends. Usually, however, he does not respond, though he does act to prevent other males from getting the females. Last year one of these males succeeded in establishing coitus with a female. As in the other Canidae, the male wolf is locked in the female, unable to withdraw his penis, and this animal was helpless. Up rushed the pack leader. What did he do to the helpless male who dared to infringe the leader’s prerogatives? Anthropomorphism would suggest that he would tear the helpless male to pieces. But no. The film shows that he pressed down the head of the offending male four times with his open jaws and then simply walked away.
What are the implications for research from this illustration? What the pack leader does is not describable, or only insufficiently described, in S-R terms. He does not “negatively reinforce” the other male’s sexual activity. He asserts or affirms the nature of the relationship between himself and the other. If we were to translate the pack leader’s action into words, the words would not be “Don’t do that.” Rather, they would translate the metaphoric action: “I am your senior adult male, you puppy!” What I am trying to say about wolves in particular, and about preverbal mammals in general, is that their discourse is primarily about the rules and the contingencies of relationship.
Let me offer a more familiar example to help bring home to you the generality of this view, which is by no means orthodox among ethologists. When your cat is trying to tell you to give her food, how does she do it? She has no word for food or for milk. What she does is to make movements and sounds that are characteristically those that a kitten makes to a mother cat. If we were to translate the cat’s message into words, it would not be correct to say that she is crying “Milk!” Rather, she is saying something like “Ma-ma!” Or, perhaps still more correctly, we should say that she is asserting “Dependency! Dependency!” The cat talks in terms of patterns and contingencies of relationship, and from this talk it is up to you to take a deductive step, guessing that it is milk that the cat wants. It is the necessity for this deductive step which marks the difference between preverbal mammalian communication and both the communication of bees and the languages of men.
What was extraordinary—the great new thing—in the evolution of human language was not the discovery of abstraction or generalization, but the discovery of how to be specific about something other than relationship. Indeed, this discovery, though it has been achieved, has scarcely affected the behavior even of human beings. If A says to B, “The plane is scheduled to leave at 6.30,” B rarely accepts this remark as simply and solely a statement of fact about the plane. More often he devotes a few neurons to the question, “What does A’s telling me this indicate for my relationship to A?” Our mammalian ancestry is very near the surface, despite recently acquired linguistic tricks.
Be that as it may, my first expectation in studying dolphin communication is that it will prove to have the general mammalian characteristic of being primarily about relationship. This premise is in itself perhaps sufficient to account for the sporadic development of large brains among mammals. We need not complain that, as elephants do not talk and whales invent no mousetraps, these creatures are not overtly intelligent. All that is needed is to suppose that large-brained creatures were, at some evolutionary stage, unwise enough to get into the game of relationship and that, once the species was caught in this game of interpreting its members’ behavior toward one another as relevant to this complex and vital subject, there was survival value for those individuals who could play the game with greater ingenuity or greater wisdom. We may, then, reasonably expect to find a high complexity of communication about relationship among the Cetacea. Because they are mammals, we may expect that their communication will be about, and primarily in terms of, patterns and contingencies of relationship. Be-cause they are social and large-brained, we may expect a high degree of complexity in their communication.
5.3.2 Methodological Considerations
The above hypothesis introduces very special difficulties into the problem of how to test what is called the “psychology” (e.g., intelligence, ingenuity, discrimination, etc.) of individual animals. A simple discrimination experiment, such as has been run in the Lilly laboratories, and no doubt elsewhere, involves a series of steps:
(1) The dolphin may or may not perceive a difference between the stimulus objects, X and Y.
(2) The dolphin may or may not perceive that this difference is a cue to behavior.
(3) The dolphin may or may not perceive that the behavior in question has a good or bad effect upon reinforcement, that is, that doing “right” is conditionally followed by fish.
(4) The dolphin may or may not choose to do “right,” even after he knows which is right. Success in the first three steps merely provides the dolphin with a further choice point. This extra degree of freedom must be the first focus of our investigations.
It must be our first focus for methodological reasons. Consider the arguments that are conventionally based upon experiments of this kind. We argue always from the later steps in the series to the earlier steps. We say, “If the animal was able to achieve step 2 in our experiment, then he must have been able to achieve step 1.” If he could learn to behave in the way that would bring him the reward, then he must have had the necessary sensory acuity to discriminate between X and Y, and so on.
Precisely because we want to argue from observation of the animal’s success in the later steps to conclusions about the more elementary steps, it becomes of prime importance to know whether the organism with which we are dealing is capable of step 4. If it is capable, then all arguments about steps 1 through 3 will be invalidated unless appropriate methods of controlling step 4 are built into the experimental design. Curiously enough, though human beings are fully capable of step 4, psychologists working with human subjects have been able to study steps 1 through 3 without taking special care to exclude the confusions introduced by this fact. If the human subject is “cooperative and sane,” he usually responds to the testing situation by repressing most of his impulses to modify his behavior according to his personal view of his relationship to the experimenter. The words cooperative and sane imply a degree of consistency at the level of step 4. The psychologist operates by a sort of petitio principii: if the subject is cooperative and sane (i.e., if the relational rules are fairly constant), the psychologist need not worry about changes in those rules.
The problem of method becomes entirely different when the subject is noncooperative, psychopathic, schizophrenic, a naughty child, or a dolphin. Perhaps the most fascinating characteristic of this animal is derived precisely from his ability to operate at this relatively high level, an ability that is still to be demonstrated.
Let me now consider for a moment the art of the animal trainer. From conversations with these highly skilled people —trainers of both dolphins and guide dogs—my impression is that the first requirement of a trainer is that he must be able to prevent the animal from exerting choice at the level of step 4. It must continually be made clear to the animal that, when he knows what is the right thing to do in a given context, that is the only thing he can do, and no non-sense about it. In other words, it is a primary condition of circus success that the animal shall abrogate the use of certain higher levels of his intelligence. The art of the hypnotist is similar.
There is a story told of Dr. Samuel Johnson. A silly lady made her dog perform tricks in his presence. The Doctor seemed unimpressed. The lady said, “But Dr. Johnson, you don’t know how difficult it is for the dog.” Dr. Johnson re-plied, “Difficult, madam? Would it were impossible!”
What is amazing about circus tricks is that the animal can abrogate the use of so much of his intelligence and still have enough left to perform the trick. I regard the conscious intelligence as the greatest ornament of the human mind. But many authorities, from the Zen masters to Sigmund Freud, have stressed the ingenuity of the less conscious and perhaps more archaic level.
5.3.3 Communication About Relationship
As I said earlier, I expect dolphin communication to be of an almost totally unfamiliar kind. Let me expand on this point. As mammals, we are familiar with, though largely unconscious of, the habit of communicating about our relationships. Like other terrestrial mammals, we do most of our communicating on this subject by means of kinesic and paralinguistic signals, such as bodily movements, involuntary tensions of voluntary muscles, changes of facial expression, hesitations, shifts in tempo of speech or movement, overtones of the voice, and irregularities of respiration. If you want to know what the bark of a dog “means,” you look at his lips, the hair on the back of his neck, his tail, and so on. These “expressive” parts of his body tell you at what object of the environment he is barking, and what patterns of relationship to that object he is likely to follow in the next few seconds. Above all, you look at his sense organs: his eyes, his ears, and his nose.
In all mammals, the organs of sense become also organs for the transmission of messages about relationship. A blind man makes us uncomfortable, not because he cannot see that is his problem and we are only dimly aware of it—but because he does not transmit to us through the movement of his eyes the messages we expect and need so that we may know and be sure of the state of our relationship to him. We shall not know much about dolphin communication until we know what one- dolphin can read in another’s use, direction, volume, and pitch of echolocation.
Perhaps it is this lack in us which makes the communication of dolphins seem mysterious and opaque, but I suspect a more profound explanation. Adaptation to life in the ocean has stripped the whales of facial expression. They have no external ears to flap and few if any erectile hairs. Even the cervical vertebrae are fused into a solid block in many species, and evolution has streamlined the body, sacrificing the expressiveness of separate parts to the locomotion of the whole. Moreover, conditions of life in the sea are such that even if a dolphin had a mobile face, the details of his expression would be visible to other dolphins only at rather short range, even in the clearest waters.
It is reasonable, then, to suppose that in these animals vocalization has taken over the communicative functions that most animals perform by facial expression, wagging tails, clenched fists, supinated hands, flaring nostrils, and the like. We might say that the whale is the communicational opposite of the giraffe; it has no neck, but has a voice. This speculation alone would make the communication of dolphins a subject of great theoretical interest. It would be fascinating, for example, to know whether or not, in an evolutionary shift from kinesics to vocalization, the same general structure of categories is retained.
My own impression—and it is only an impression unsupported by testing—is that the hypothesis that dolphins have substituted paralinguistics for kinesics does not quite fit in with my experience when I listen to their sounds. We terrestrial mammals are familiar with paralinguistic communication; we use it ourselves in grunts and groans, laughter and sobbing, modulations of breath while speaking, and so on. Therefore we do not find the paralinguistic sounds of other mammals totally opaque. We learn rather easily to recognize in them certain kinds of greeting, pathos, rage, persuasion, and territoriality, though our guesses may often be wrong. But when we hear the sounds of dolphins we cannot even guess at their significance. I do not quite trust the hunch that would explain the sounds of dolphins as merely anelaboration of the paralinguistics of other mammals. (To argue thus from our inability is, however, weaker than to argue from what we can do.)
I personally do not believe that the dolphins have any-thing that a human linguist would call a “language.” I do not think that any animal without hands would be stupid enough to arrive at so outlandish a mode of communication.
To use a syntax and category system appropriate for the discussion of things that can be handled, while really discussing the patterns and contingencies of relationship, is fantastic. But that, I submit, is what is happening in this room. I stand here and talk while you listen and watch. I try to convince you, try to get you to see things my way, try to earn your respect, try to indicate my respect for you, challenge you, and so on. What is really taking place is a discussion of the patterns of our relationship, all according to the rules of a scientific conference about whales. So it is to be human.
I simply do not believe that dolphins have language in this sense. But I do believe that, like ourselves and other mammals, they are preoccupied with the patterns of their relationships. Let us call this discussion of patterns of relationship the t function of the message. After all, it was the cat who showed us the great importance of this function by her mewing. Preverbal mammals communicate about things, when they must, by using what are primarily ?-function signals. In contrast, human beings use language, which is primarily oriented toward things, to discuss relationships. The cat asks for milk by saying “Dependency,” and I ask for your attention and perhaps respect by talking about whales. But we do not know that dolphins, in their communication, resemble either me or the cat. They may have a quite different system.
5.3.4 Analogic versus Digital Communication
There is another side of the problem. How does it happen that the paralinguistics and kinesics of men from strange cultures, and even the paralinguistics of other terrestrial mammals, are at least partly intelligible to us, whereas the verbal languages of men from strange cultures seem to be totally opaque? In this respect it would seem that the vocalizations of the dolphin resemble human language rather than the kinesics or paralinguistics of terrestrial mammals.
We know, of course, why gestures and tones of voice are partly intelligible while foreign languages are unintelligible. It is because language is digital and kinesics and paralinguistics are analogic (150). The essence of the matter is that in digital communication a number of purely conventional signs -1, 2, 3, X, Y, and so on—are pushed around according to rules called algorithms. The signs themselves have no simple connection (e.g., correspondence of magnitude) with what they stand for. The numeral “5” is not bigger than the numeral “3.” It is true that if we remove the crossbar from “7” we obtain the numeral “1”; but the crossbar does not, in any sense, stand for “6.” A name usually has only a purely conventional or arbitrary connection with the class named. The numeral “5” is only the name of a magnitude. It is non- sense to ask if my telephone number is larger than yours, because the telephone exchange is a purely digital computer. It is not fed with magnitudes, but only with names of positions on a matrix.
150 The difference between digital and analogic modes of communication may perhaps be made clear by thinking of an English-speaking mathematician confronted with a paper by a Japanese colleague. He gazes uncomprehendingly at the Japanese ideographs, but he is able partly to understand the Cartesian graphs in the Japanese publication. The ideographs, though they may originally have been analogic pictures, are now purely digital; the Cartesian graphs are analogic.
In analogic communication, however, real magnitudes are used, and they correspond to real magnitudes in the subject of discourse. The linked range finder of a camera is a familiar example of an analogue computer. This device is fed with an angle that has real magnitude and is, in fact, the angle that the base of the range finder subtends at some point on the object to be photographed. This angle controls a cam that in turn moves the lens of the camera forward or back. The secret of the device lies in the shape of the cam, which is an analogic representation (i.e., a picture, a Cartesian graph) of the functional relationship between distance of object and distance of image.
Verbal language is almost (but not quite) purely digital. The word “big” is not bigger than the word “little”; and in general there is nothing in the pattern (i.e., the system of interrelated magnitudes) in the word “table” which would correspond to the system of interrelated magnitudes in the object denoted. On the other hand, in kinesic and paralinguistic communication, the magnitude of the gesture, the loudness of the voice, the length of the pause, the tension of the muscle, and so forth—these magnitudes commonly correspond (directly or inversely) to magnitudes in the relationship that is the subject of discourse. The pattern of action in the communication of the wolf pack leader is immediately intelligible when we have data about the weaning practices of the animal, for the weaning practices are themselves analogic kinesic signals.
It is logical, then, to consider the hypothesis that the vocalization of dolphins may be a digital expression of ? functions. It is this possibility that I especially have in mind in saying that this communication may be of an almost totally unfamiliar kind. Man, it is true, has a few words for ? functions, words like “love,” “respect,” “dependency,” and so on. But these words function poorly in the actual discussion of relationship between participants in the relationship. If you say to a girl, “I love you,” she is likely to pay more attention to the accompanying kinesics and paralinguistics than to the words themselves.
We humans become very uncomfortable when somebody starts to interpret our postures and gestures by translating them into words about relationship. We much prefer that our messages on this subject remain analogic, unconscious, and involuntary. We tend to distrust the man who can simulate messages about relationship. We therefore have no idea what it is like to be a species with even a very simple and rudimentary digital system whose primary subject matter would be ? functions. This system is s
omething we terrestrial mammals cannot imagine and for which we have no empathy.
5.3.5 Research Plans
The most speculative part of my paper is the discussion of plans for the testing and amplification of such a body of hypotheses. I shall be guided by the following heuristic assumptions:
(1) The epistemology in whose terms the hypotheses are constructed is itself not subject to testing. Derived from Whitehead and Russell, it serves to guide our work. Should the work prove rewarding, the success will be only a weak verification of the epistemology.
(2) We do not even know what a primitive digital system for the discussion of patterns of relationship might look like, but we can guess that it would not look like a “thing” language. (It might, more probably, resemble music.) I shall therefore not expect the techniques for cracking human linguistic codes to be immediately applicable to the vocalization of dolphins.
(3) The first requirement, then, is to identify and to classify the varieties and the components of relationship existing among the animals through detailed ethological study of their actions, interactions, and social organization. The elements of which these patterns are built are doubtless still present in the kinesics and actions of the species. We there-fore begin with a listing of the kinesic signals of individual dolphins, and then try to relate them to the contexts in which they are used.
(4) No doubt, just as the pack leader’s behavior tells us that “dominance” among wolves is metaphorically related to weaning, so also the dolphins will tell us their kinesic metaphors for “dominance,” “dependency,” and other ? functions. Gradually this system of signals will fit together piece by piece to form a picture of the varieties of relationship existing even among animals arbitrarily confined together in a tank.
(5) As we begin to understand the metaphor system of the dolphin, it will become possible to recognize and classify the contexts of his vocalization. At this point the statistical techniques for cracking codes may conceivably become useful.
The assumptions regarding the hierarchic structure of the learning process— upon which this whole paper is based —provide the basis for various kinds of experimentation. The contexts of proto-learning may be variously constructed with a view to observing in what types of contexts certain types of learning most readily occur. We shall pay special attention to those contexts that involve either relationships between two or more animals and one person, or relationships between two or more people and one animal. Such contexts are miniature models of social organization within which the animal may be expected to show characteristic behaviors and to make characteristic attempts to modify the context (i.e., to manipulate the humans).
Mr. Wood: In the course of twelve years in Marine Studios in Florida, I spent a great deal of time watching what was perhaps the most natural assemblage of Tursiops in captivity, including animals of various ages, usually two or more of them in the process of growing up, and I saw remarkably little of what you are going to look for in a much more restricted group of animals in the Virgin Islands.
One time I saw something very interesting. Early one morning about six or six- thirty, over a period of at least half an hour, the adult male assumed a position next to one of the females in the tank who was hanging motionless in the cur-rent. He would go up occasionally and move away and then come back and assume a position beside her, and he would stroke her side with his right flipper repeatedly. There was no indication that this had sexual significance. There was no erection on the part of the male, and no observable response on the part of the female. But it was as clear-cut a nonvocal signal as I ever observed in the tank.
Mr. Bateson: I would like to say that the amount of signaling that goes on is much greater than is evident at first sight. There are, of course, the rather specific kinds of signals which are very important. I am not denying that. I mean the touching, and so on. But the shy individual, the traumatized female, staying almost stationary three feet be-low the surface while two other individuals fool around, is getting a great deal of attention just by sitting there and staying. She may not be actively transmitting, but in this business of bodily communication, you don’t have to be actively transmitting in order to have your signals picked up by other people. You can just be, and just by being she attracts an enormous amount of attention from these other two individuals who come over, pass by, pause a little as they pass, and so on. She is, we would say, “withdrawn,” but she is actually about as withdrawn as a schizophrenic who by being withdrawn becomes the center of gravity of the family. All other members of the group move around the fact of her withdrawal, which she never lets them for-get.
Dr. Ray: I tend to agree with Mr. Bateson. We are working at the New York Aquarium with the beluga whale, and I believe these animals are much more expressive than we like to suspect. I think one of the reasons they don’t do very much in captivity is that they are bored to tears most of the time. There is nothing much of interest in their tank environment, and I would like to suggest that we have to manipulate their captivity much more cleverly than we do. I don’t mean handling the whales. They don’t like that. But the introduction of different types of animals, or clever little things that we might do would get them to respond more. Captive cetaceans are like monkeys in a cage. They are highly intelligent and highly developed, and they are bored.
Another factor is our skill in observation, and in the beluga whale, at least, we have been able to notice visually the sounds they are making by watching the change in the shape of the melon, which is extremely marked in this animal. It can swell on one side or the other, or take several different shapes correlated with sound production. So, by very careful observation and/or skilled manipulation, I think a great deal can be done with these animals rather simply.
Mr. Bateson: I had meant to point out that all sense organs among mammals, and even among ants, become major organs for the transmission of messages, such as, “Where are the other fellow’s eyes focused?” and, “Are his pinnae focused in one direction or another?” In this way sense organs become transmitting organs for signals.
One of the things we must absolutely acquire if we are going to understand dolphins is a knowledge of what one animal knows and can read from another animals’ use of sonar. I suspect the presence of all sorts of courtesy rules in this business; it probably isn’t polite to sonar scan your friends too much, just as among human beings it is not polite, really, to look at another’s feet in detail. We have many
taboos on observing one anothers’ kinesics, because too much information can be got in that way.
Dr. Purves: It seems to me that the dolphin or the cetacean must suffer from an even greater disadvantage than man has in the past, because—I have forgotten the authority—it has been said that the origin of human speech is an analogue language. In other words, if you use the word “down,” you lower the hand and lower the lower jaw at the same time. If you say “up,” you raise the hand and raise the lower jaw. And if you use the word “table,” and, better still, pronounce it in French, your mouth widens out and you make a horizontal gesture. However complicated the human language is, it has its origin in an analogue language. The poor porpoise has nothing like this to start from. So he must have been highly intelligent to have developed a communication system completely de novo.
Mr. Bateson: What has happened to this creature is that the information we get visually and the other terrestrial animals get visually must have been pushed into voice. I still maintain that it is appropriate for us to start by investigating what is left of the visual material.
* This article appeared as Chapter 25, pp. 569-799, in Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises, edited by Kenneth S. Norris, University of California Press, 1966. Reprinted by permission of The Regents of the University of California.
148 J. Ruesch and G. Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry, New York, Norton, 1951.
149 A. N. Whitehead and B. Russell, Principia Mathematica, London, Cambridge University Press, 1910.
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