Re: Alien Communication Re: Ethics of being a Creator

Anders Sandberg (
30 Apr 1998 11:07:49 +0200

Paul Hughes <> writes:

> Being completely non-technological and aquatic does not preclude language. There
> are several reasons to think that dolphins may have developed complex language.
> 1) They have brain sizes from 2 to 6 times ours.
> 2) Careful examination of cetacean brain tissue has show it to be as complex as
> ours at every level - from the number of average synaptic connections to the array
> of neurotransmitter activity.
> 3) They have had 30 millions years longer than us to develop and evolve a
> language.

None of these reasons hold water (pun not intended); brain size
doesn't correlate well with intelligence (ratio brain size / skin area
seems to work better, but it is still crude) and certainly not with
speech abilities (elephants vs some birds). That their brains are
complex and similar to ours isn't surprising, we are related after
all, but so are mice too - different parts of the brain have
developed. Finally, 3 is rather silly, since we have also had tens of
millions of years to develop languages (but we didn't).

Still, I think we all can agree that the signals whales send are
complex, have "cultural" properties and appear to affect the behavior
of other whales in the pod, so calling it a language isn't far
off. The main question is how much intelligence and culture is involved.

> What would they 'talk' about? Here is my guess:
> Since they can't write anything down, they like many other pre-literate cultures
> could have an extensive oral tradition of storytelling and history recounting.
> Knowing how extensive some tribal cultures oral tradition is with less than 10,000
> years history, imagine how much more complex cetacean's oral history could be, if
> they developed complex language even 1 million years ago; less than 1/30 of their
> history.

In that case we would notice repeating patterns which remained as the
whale songs changed over time (classic idioms, references to the whale
equivalent of the sacking of Troy etc). Have any such patterns been

While the idea of oceanic Homers is appealing, I'm not sure if it is
true. Especially since in order to sing epics you better have a
language able to deal with everyday experiences too (currents, social
relations, food, dangers etc), and experiences worth retelling. So
another prediction would be quick communications between individuals
("Honey, have you seen that school of fish? I'm sure I left it here
somewhere...") and long "epic" communications ("May the muses lend me
their fins..."); this should be possible to check on a cetacean

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y