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Science

Should Dolphins Be Treated As Non-Human Persons? 785

Posted by Soulskill
from the as-long-as-cows-are-still-treated-as-delicious dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Dolphins have long been recognized as among the most intelligent of animals, but now the Times reports that a series of behavioral studies suggest that dolphins, especially species such as the bottlenose, have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self, can think about the future and are so bright that they should be treated as 'non-human persons.' 'Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,' says Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University. 'The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions.' For example, one study found that dolphins can recognize their image in a mirror as a reflection of themselves — a finding that indicates self-awareness similar to that seen in higher primates and elephants. Other studies have found that dolphins are capable of advanced cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, artificial language comprehension, and complex social behavior, indicating that dolphins are far more intellectually and emotionally sophisticated than previously thought. Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, has written a series of academic studies suggesting dolphins should have rights, claiming that the current relationship between humans and dolphins is, in effect, equivalent to the relationship between whites and black slaves two centuries ago."
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Should Dolphins Be Treated As Non-Human Persons?

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  • by Omnifarious (11933) * <eric-slashNO@SPAMomnifarious.org> on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:19PM (#34797664) Homepage Journal

    I think we should have standards for how we treat them, but I think that comparing the situation to slavery is somewhat over-the-top. Though it's really hard to think of some objective way of deciding just what rights they should have.

    I think, maybe, we should just ask, if we can figure out how. Of course, then there's the morass of objectively identifying and interpreting communication. :-)

    • I agree that the comparison to slavery is over the top. We knew blacks were human, for instance. Our knowledge of what dolphins can do is a fairly recent thing.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:30PM (#34797848)

        I have an easy solution! When dolphins (and dolphins alone) can create tools and devices such that they are able to wage war for their freedom, it should be granted. Until then, they're screwed.

        • by regular_gonzalez (926606) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @12:38AM (#34801562)
          Well that's kind of a silly standard. Most technology is ultimately based on at least one of two things: the opposable thumb (needed for dextrously manipulating one's environment, exceptions such as an elephant's nose notwithstanding) and fire (and its natural descendent electricity).

          By your standard, a person in a coma or an infant are not to be granted rights.
          • by Peeteriz (821290)

            Persons in coma and infants have behind them a lot of humans that like them and want to give them rights.

            It's very simple with dolphins. They will get rights right when either:
            a) When we humans will just give them rights because it's no big deal/cost for as and we'll just feel like it;
            b) They successfully fight for them.

            Just as for any other rights-gaining example in the history - rights of different ethnicities and races, rights of women, rights of lower social classes. Any 'universal' or 'natural' or 'una

          • Well that's kind of a silly standard.

            Aren't most "standards" silly these days anyhow?

            Most technology is ultimately based on at least one of two things: the opposable thumb

            Opposable thumb: Dolphins- Nope

            (needed for dextrously manipulating one's environment, exceptions such as an elephant's nose notwithstanding)

            Infants and people in comas can't use them to manipulate their environment either.

            and fire (and its natural descendent electricity).

            Fire: Dolphins: a bit hard to rub two sticks together underwater to create fire, so nope.

            By your standard, a person in a coma or an infant are not to be granted rights.

            I'm not seeing much difference in the end result between your your definition and the parents.

      • by camperdave (969942) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:32PM (#34797862) Journal
        What can they do? All the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. Mankind, on the other hand, has achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on. Clearly, we are much more intelligent.
        • The dolphins think they're more intelligent for the same reason.

          • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewk@NOSpaM.gmail.com> on Friday January 07, 2011 @09:02PM (#34800010)

            I'll consider accepting dolphins as persons if and only if that means I'm allowed to put them on trial for rape.

            • by aevan (903814)
              Of all the starfish in the ocean, why did it have to choose mine...
            • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday January 08, 2011 @04:35AM (#34802410) Homepage Journal

              This. A hundred times this.

              People seem to think dolphins are happy smiling human-equivalents that spend all day frolicking in the water and occasionally hunt for fish. Similarly, apes are just peaceful vegetarians who live in the trees and pick nits out of each other's hair.

              In reality, both dolphins and apes (and chimpanzees) are - as they'd say in the old days - brutes and spend their days waring with each other, pillaging for spoils and that includes the females.

              In short, the concept of "human rights" makes no sense in a world without law. What's law? In my best Spock voice: To bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, so that the strong should not harm the weak. If you want your favorite higher mammals to have the same rights as us, then guess what, they have the same responsibilities as us too.
                 

        • by GooberToo (74388) on Friday January 07, 2011 @07:41PM (#34799040)

          Dolphins: "muck about"
          Humans: "New York"

          Score one for the dolphins.

          Seriously though, the the thing that created New York was our opposable thumbs. Without them, New York would likely be muck. And despite having limited appendages, dolphins do hunt in groups, even ON LAND (shore lines). They even have oral history and tribal (pods) dialects for communication. Dolphins are surprisingly complex and intelligent animals, seemingly limited by their physical shape and lack of digits; specifically thumbs.

          For what its worth, some research seems to hint that octopi are nearly as intelligent as dolphin. Yet, what sets them apart in a human's mind is a dolphin's physical ability to vocalize. Which basically makes them more accessible for research and easier to relate.

          • by T Murphy (1054674)

            For what its worth, some research seems to hint that octopi are nearly as intelligent as dolphin. Yet, what sets them apart in a human's mind is a dolphin's physical ability to vocalize. Which basically makes them [...] easier to relate.

            Or maybe it's just that octopi don't look like they're smiling all the time.

    • by mcvos (645701) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:28PM (#34797794)

      If you grant dolphins "personhood" (whatever that means), then you've got to do the same thing with chimps. And probably orang-utans. And then maybe whales and elephants too.

      My suggestion is that we grant them this personhood when they ask for it. When they're able to ask for it, then it's obvious they deserve it. Until then, there's a huge gap between what humans are capable of and what various smart animals are capable of.

      • by Cruciform (42896) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:34PM (#34797908) Homepage

        Some human "persons" don't understand that they have that right until you explain it to them.
        Look at the caste systems.

      • by INeededALogin (771371) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:37PM (#34797984) Journal
        When they're able to ask for it, then it's obvious they deserve it.

        This is awfully absurd. Maybe they are already asking to be let out of Seaworld and all the other cages we keep them in. Perhaps we aren't capable of understanding them? Does one simply ignore all signs of intelligence because we simply enjoy their tricks? Your suggestion in many ways is how slavery was justified by stating that the slaves were somehow an inferior animal.
        • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:49PM (#34798228) Homepage

          This is awfully absurd. Maybe they are already asking to be let out of Seaworld and all the other cages we keep them in. Perhaps we aren't capable of understanding them? Does one simply ignore all signs of intelligence because we simply enjoy their tricks? Your suggestion in many ways is how slavery was justified by stating that the slaves were somehow an inferior animal.

          Indeed. So are you really surprised that someone should suggest that some other being doesn't deserve rights because of their own ignorance?

        • by mcvos (645701) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:53PM (#34798294)

          Your suggestion in many ways is how slavery was justified by stating that the slaves were somehow an inferior animal.

          No. Slaves were fully human, and humans already had "personhood". Not just that, but slaves have asked for freedom. And even when they didn't speak the same language, they were still able to express their displeasure over their captivity. (Although I seem to recall a story about a circus with African elephants that were also clearly unhappy about their captivity, no matter their treatment. And yes, that means they tore the place down, and probably got shot.)

          In any case, I'm all for treating animals with respect, and letting them live in their own habitats rather than captivity. But giving them human rights simply because they might be slightly smarter than some other animals is just silly.

          • Slaves were fully human, and humans already had "personhood".

            True, but what GP says is also true.

            This is not meant as a troll...
            My grandmother from South Africa went to a town meeting (many decades ago). After the town meeting there was some socialising. One white woman had a proper conversation with a black woman for the very first time in her life... and ended up very shocked and traumatised. The black woman was talking about how she was worried that her son wasn't studying hard enough at school and other such things. Just like (shock, horror) ... a real per

      • Grant personhood only to those who ask for it? The protectors of the coma wards and unborn human fetuses are going to hate that.

        That's the problem with personhood tests: not all humans can pass them, unless you set the bar so low that even most chickens can pass it. The only patch is to add unsatisfying arbitrary clauses, like whitelisting anything with human DNA. (Wait, how much human DNA?) But if you're going to arbitrarily whitelist some species, then you might as well throw out the test altogether, a

    • by RsG (809189) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:45PM (#34798150)

      I should probably preface this by stating that I am thoroughly omnivorous, fine with testing on lab rats, can't stand PETA and generally hold that most people's preconceptions about animal rights have far more to do with "cute vs ugly" than they do with "right vs wrong".

      So it may sound strange that I'm all for dolphins being recognized as near-human level intelligent life, and accorded legal protection befitting said status. Actually I'd go as far as extending such status to most other cetaceans and all apes.

      What is the measure of a human being? I don't believe in souls, nor should religion be invoked in temporal debates. Human genetics are no more complex than any other mammal. Human anatomy, while distinct from other apes in a few areas, is mostly unremarkable from the neck down. We're animals ourselves, vertebrate, tetrapod, primate, ape, hominid. We like to imagine ourselves as special, as evidenced by the way we write our mythologies and philosophy, but that's ego talking, not evidence.

      All that distinguishes us from the other apes is brain size to body mass ratio. And even then, the gulf isn't vast. We can safely assume that any mammal with a similarly large brain in relation to body mass has the same range of emotions, capacity for complex thought, self-awareness, creativity, what-have-you. Language and communication isn't uniquely human. Nor is art. Hell, even tool use isn't unique to us.

      If the only measure of value is sapience, and it can be demonstrated that a non-human of any stripe shares that characteristic with us, than damn straight we ought to treat them the way we treat humans.

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        Agreed, but we need a test for that. And :

        If the only measure of value is sapience, and it can be demonstrated that a non-human of any stripe shares that characteristic with us, than damn straight we ought to treat them the way we treat humans.

        1. we really need a test for that.
        2. we need to be prepared for the implication of some humans failing at these tests.
        3. we need to be prepared for the implication of some software programs succeeding at these tests.

      • by mcvos (645701) on Friday January 07, 2011 @07:15PM (#34798654)

        We like to imagine ourselves as special, as evidenced by the way we write our mythologies and philosophy, but that's ego talking, not evidence.

        What? You don't think the fact that we write mythologies and philosophy at all makes us special among animals?

        All that distinguishes us from the other apes is brain size to body mass ratio. And even then, the gulf isn't vast.

        No, it's the fact that we write mythologies and philosophy that distinguishes us from other apes. And that gulf is vast.

        We can safely assume that any mammal with a similarly large brain in relation to body mass has the same range of emotions, capacity for complex thought, self-awareness, creativity, what-have-you.

        No we can't. That's pure speculation. In fact, it's not so much the size of the brain that matters, but the structure.

  • It depends (Score:5, Funny)

    by jbeaupre (752124) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:21PM (#34797678)

    How do they taste?

  • I agree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mswhippingboy (754599) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:21PM (#34797692)

    they should be treated as 'non-human persons.'

    Corporations are, so why not dolphins...

  • by operagost (62405) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:22PM (#34797700) Homepage Journal
    Why don't we just leave them to their business, and keep to our own? Otherwise, we'll have community organizers signing up dolphins to vote in elections and lobbying for tax dollars to fund flipper-accessible housing.
    • Otherwise, we'll have community organizers signing up dolphins to vote in elections and lobbying for tax dollars to fund flipper-accessible housing.

      It's depressing how accurate this is.

  • the Uplift begins...

    Not that I mind it much. As long as they remain conscientious objectors to war.

  • Why just dolphins? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haedrian (1676506) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:23PM (#34797714)

    Lots of creatures exhibit some form of intelligence. Should they have rights too? And why is intelligence the only factor? Should a stupid person have less rights than a dolphin? What about faster? or stronger? Should animals which have those traits be given rights too?

    Why do we have the right to give other creatures rights?

    And do you think tuna fishermen are going to stop using nets because they might catch something which has rights?

    • by Captain Splendid (673276) * <capsplendid.gmail@com> on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:30PM (#34797840) Homepage Journal
      Should a stupid person have less rights than a dolphin?

      FUCK YES.

      And in response to the obvious question, I'll happily eat Long Pig.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:35PM (#34797932)

      Lots of creatures exhibit some form of intelligence. Should they have rights too? And why is intelligence the only factor? Should a stupid person have less rights than a dolphin? What about faster? or stronger? Should animals which have those traits be given rights too?

      Why do we have the right to give other creatures rights?

      You can grant "rights" to any species you like... Dolphins have the same intrinsic rights as humans. i.e. none.

    • by TeethWhitener (1625259) on Friday January 07, 2011 @07:49PM (#34799114)
      Okay, I'll bite.

      Granting a right to one party is essentially imposing a duty on one or more other parties. For example, if we as humans grant dolphins a right to life, then we are basically saying "We (humans) will try not to kill you (dolphins) on purpose." Thus, by granting them this right, we are imposing upon ourselves the duty to not purposefully kill any dolphins. You can view it, if you wish, as a type of contract, though I'll be quick to point out that the concept of rights and duties extends beyond the legal realm into the moral one.

      Why would we grant dolphins rights? Possibly because of what we feel to be a collective moral obligation. Granting rights to animals on the basis of moral obligation is not unprecedented. For instance, most animals for whom there is significant evidence that they can feel pain are granted the legal (and moral) right not to be abused. There's nothing physical stopping me from beating the ever living shit out of my dog, but I don't, because I think that inflicting unnecessary pain is immoral. Thus, I have implicitly granted my dog the right not to have the ever living shit beaten out of him.

      Why would we grant dolphins a right to life specifically? This is akin to the question of why we would grant, for example, Homeless Joe with no friends or family a right to life specifically. If you approach the question from a secular viewpoint, it's kind of tricky. After all, there's no one to mourn the homeless person if I kill him, and he certainly won't care if I do it painlessly (in fact, he can't care; he's dead). Most ethicists working in this field approach the problem by appealing to the human traits of foresight and planning. Killing Homeless Joe thwarts his plans and deprives him of the possibility of making his life better in the future. (Interestingly, a very similar argument is used to justify euthanasia in terminal patients). Assuming that the scientific studies that we've done on dolphins show that they share the traits of foresight and planning with humans, denying them the right to life while granting it to Homeless Joe is simply drawing a line arbitrarily and discriminating against dolphins simply because they are a different species. The discrimination has no underlying rational basis.

      I think that at least begins to explain why intelligence is an important factor in granting rights to non-human animals and why other traits are not as important. As for the stupid people comment, see the above argument. Consistency would dictate that if a human is so severely mentally handicapped that they do not exhibit foresight (nor will they ever--otherwise it would be totally cool to kill babies), then they wouldn't have a specific right to life under this reasoning (similar to the euthanasia argument above). However, I doubt they would be in much danger. After all, most people would need a reason to kill them (otherwise, why would they expend the effort), and even then, based on the discussion above about non-human animals, it would still have to be done painlessly. Remember, we grant the right not to be abused to most animals anyway, so this case would be no different.

      As for your last statement, you bet your ass if a tuna fisherman caught a SCUBA diver in their net and drowned him, they'd be in deep shit. But we've also seen that, unfortunately, commercial interests often trump even well-established human rights, so there's really no telling.

  • False equivalence (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:23PM (#34797716)
    ...the current relationship between humans and dolphins is, in effect, equivalent to the relationship between whites and black slaves two centuries ago.

    Right, because everybody knows that humans and dolphins can interbreed.
  • by CannonballHead (842625) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:24PM (#34797726)

    ... but they don't appear to develop* at all? I haven't seen any dolphin civilizations or "dolphin science" or "dolphin inventions" lately...

    * Develop not referring evolutionary development or something like that, but developing things to help them survive better, live better, enjoy life better.

    • by mswhippingboy (754599) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:33PM (#34797884)
      I might remind you that humans didn't develop these capabilities until the last 10,000 years or so after around 2 billion years of evolution. Dolphins are/were quite content with their lives in the ocean being at the top of the food chain. What need did they have to develop civilization (although they are social animals), science or inventions? Humans were forced to come up with these to survive. That doesn't make humans better, just different.
  • Interesting (Score:2, Informative)

    by wzinc (612701)

    My cat can tell it's his own reflection in a mirror; he uses it to see his face while grooming. If he sees carpet fuzz or something, he'll wipe it off. I didn't know animals, other than apes, could reason this well.

  • well, there goes my evil project of using trained dolphins to solve captchas. Oh well, I can still use chimps. Outside of Spain at least.
  • But they're so delicious! Why would we risk the world's most epic source of food?

  • More Protection (Score:3, Interesting)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:29PM (#34797822)

    Dolphins do deserve a more vigorous protection even though they will never be any good at playing the piano.

  • We can't do this! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:29PM (#34797826) Homepage Journal

    If dolphins have rights, we won't be able to use them in genetic experiments to make them smarter.

    And if we can't make them smarter, then who is going to pilot our starships?

  • That is as such. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by unity100 (970058) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:31PM (#34797850) Homepage Journal
    dolphins have the capability to differentiate in between a human struggling due to drowning in the sea, and someone flapping, blabbing, attempting to swim in the sea for fun, and from a long distance. not even humans have that capability. and this is only one of the capabilities they can field.

    the difference in between humans and dolphins is that, humans are loaded on the iq side, and dolphins, are on the eq side. practically, human and dolphin populations are basically opposite twins of each others, when it comes to social interaction. of course humans are able to field some eq, as well as dolphins are able to field considerable iq. (the mind blobbing 'creating rings and blobs underwater play' pastime of dolphins, what they can do in research centers etc).

    i think it is time we have dropped the late 19th century standards and concepts for sentience (most of which depend on iq, not even basic cognition), and adapt something that is more appropriate with the level of science our civilization has.
  • by unity100 (970058) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:33PM (#34797896) Homepage Journal
    cognitive abilities are just a part of the concept of sentience. yet, we even tend to categorize humans according to their cognitive process. sentience is not only comprised of particular aspects of cognitive perception and processing. emotion concept is always left out of the definition of sentience, maybe unconsciously. it is wrong. sentience comes in a package.
  • by SlideRuleGuy (987445) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:35PM (#34797944) Journal
    Because they live in a colder environment, their brains contain a higher percentage of glial cells, to generate warmth. We have fewer, as a percentage, but more of the neurons that actually process information. So bald comparisons of their brain size with ours are meaningless.
  • by cheekyjohnson (1873388) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:36PM (#34797968)

    I really don't see why something as petty as intelligence should affect this decision. Everything dies, and in the end, ones intelligence means nothing. Elevating yourself above another entity simply for that reason is incredibly arrogant.

  • Rapists (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrQuacker (1938262) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:37PM (#34797976)
    Male dolphins will separate a female from her pod and deny her food or sleep until she lets them mate with her.

    They kidnap females so they can rape them.

    Yup, they sure act human-like.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Haedrian (1676506)

      Humans will kill thousands and millions of their own species because the members of the other species did not share the same religion, culture, ideas or political ideals.

      Humans will attempt to draw more 'wealth' for themselves by getting human children to work in their factories - in order to gain more profits on their sales.

      Humans will dump dangerous materials into the air, sea or land and deny the effects of these materials. Humans will also destroy large ecosystems in order to farm non-native animals in

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Male dolphins will separate a female from her pod and deny her food or sleep until she lets them mate with her.

      They kidnap females so they can rape them.

      Yup, they sure act human-like.

      Don't worry, once Dolphins have 'human rights', any dolphin which rapes another dolphin will be sent to dolphin jail, and any dolphin which kills another dolphin will be sent to the electric chair.

    • by digsbo (1292334)
      Right...so then if we grant dolphins personhood, we should imprison them for criminal behavior. But how do we find a jury of peers?
  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:38PM (#34797996)

    I support limited rights for animals, in parallel with the level of legal responsibility that they have. Already many animals are granted a few very limited rights, like the right to not be tortured (even if it is legal to kill them). This goes along with their legal responsibilities as in they are not held accountable for their actions like theft or even murder, which is the responsibility of the owner (if there is one). The courts might order an animal put down, but only as a protection for the community, not as a punishment.

    So, what level of rights should dolphins be granted? What level or responsibility? Should we make it illegal to kill them? Should we convict them of murder if they kill another person or dolphin? Should it be illegal to confine them? Should they be held responsible if they steal fish from a net?

    I suspect much of the problem is one of communication. Dolphin are simply so alien to humans that we may not think similarly enough to communicate richly enough to make sense of this sort of ethical issue. (It also shatters all those awesome sci-fi fantasies about meeting cool alien species who are similar to us, but different, but we communicate and get along. Likely any alien would be so alien communication would be an even bigger issue than with dolphins.)

  • by BlackSupra (742450) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:46PM (#34798174)

    http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/75068 [mentalfloss.com]

    4. For the Love of Dolphins

    Perhaps the most troubling experiment in recent history is the dolphin-intelligence study conducted by neuroscientist John C. Lilly in 1958. While working at the Communication Research Institute, a state-of-the-art laboratory in the Virgin Islands, Lilly wanted to find out if dolphins could talk to people. At the time, the dominant theory of human language development posited that children learn to talk through constant, close contact with their mothers. So, Lilly tried to apply the same idea to dolphins.

    For 10 weeks in 1965, Lilly's young, female research associate, Margaret Howe, live with a dolphin named Peter. The two shared a partially flooded, two-room house. The water was just shallow enough for Margaret to wade through the rooms and just deep enough for Peter to swim. Margaret and Peter were constantly interacting with each other, eating, sleeping, working, and playing together. Margaret slept on a bed soaked in saltwater and worked on a floating desk, so that her dolphin roommate could interrupt her whenever he wanted. She also spent hours playing ball with Peter, encouraging his more "humanoid" noises and trying to teach him simple words.

    As time passed, it became clear that Peter didn't want a mom; he wanted a girlfriend. The dolphin became uninterested in his lessons, and he started wooing Margaret by nibbling at her feet and legs. When his advances weren't reciprocated, Peter got violent. He started using his nose and flippers to hit Margaret's shins, which quickly became bruised. For a while, she wore rubber boots and carried a broom to fight off Peter's advances. When that didn't work, she started sending him out for conjugal visits with other dolphins. But the research team grew worried that if Peter spent too much time with his kind, he'd forget what he'd learned about being human.

    Before long, Peter was back in the house with Margaret, still attempting to woo her. But this time, he changed his tactics. Instead of biting his lady friend, he started courting her by gently rubbing his teeth up and down her leg and showing off his genitals. Shockingly, this final strategy worked, and Margaret began rubbing the dolphin's erection. Unsurprisingly, he became a lot more cooperative with his language lessons.

    Discovering that a human could satisfy a dolphin's sexual needs was the experiment's biggest interspecies breakthrough. Dr. Lilly still believed that dolphins could learn to talk if given enough time, and he hoped to conduct a year-long study with Margaret and another dolphin. When the plans turned out to be too expensive, Lilly tried to get the dolphins to talk another way--by giving them LSD. And although Lilly reported that they all had "very good trips," the scientist's reputation in the academic community deteriorated. Before long, he'd lost federal funding for his research.

    This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine
    http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/75068 [mentalfloss.com]

  • by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Friday January 07, 2011 @06:47PM (#34798180) Homepage

    So long, and thanks for all the fish!

  • by B5_geek (638928) on Friday January 07, 2011 @07:03PM (#34798460)

    Good. I honour all living creations (exception being humans), and I very happily endorse any effort that will stop the needless slaughter of non-domesticated flora/fauna.

    But on the other hand, if they are so smart; why can't they overcome instinct and jump out of the tuna nets? =)

    The lyrics from an Enigma song seem appropiate right now:

    "Remember the Shaman, when he used to say: Man is the dream of the Dolphin." ~'Dream of the Dolphin' - Enigma - Cross of Changes - 1994

  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Friday January 07, 2011 @07:04PM (#34798472) Homepage

    ... be treated as non-persons?
    It seems pretty ridiculous to use intelligence to decide if we should treat something else well or not.

  • by macraig (621737) <mark...a...craig@@@gmail...com> on Friday January 07, 2011 @07:34PM (#34798926)

    ... than not allowing dolphins such rights to personage would be to simply stop there, when there are hundreds of millions - billions? - of feline and canine "pets" WHO are routinely denied those same rights and often subjected to serfdom and slavery. Since cats and dogs are reported to have intelligence equivalent to at least a one-year-old human child (and I observe behavior myself every day that seems to confirm it) and we normally treat those children as persons, the bigger crime is that we have this huge population IN OUR MIDST that is often treated worse than the dolphins. Hell, for that matter humans routinely still treat other humans as non-persons: when people use mental trickery like racism, tribalism, demonization, and marginalization, they do it specifically so they can then justify to themselves treating other humans as non-persons or sub-human and thus not deserving of the ethics accorded to persons or the Golden Rule.

    "Freeing Willie" is the infinitesimal tip of the ethical iceberg.

  • by LongearedBat (1665481) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @12:50AM (#34801636)
    "Human" is a type of animal that walks on it's hind legs and can pick things up with it's front "paws". Other animals that resemble humans are humanoid (a bit like saying "human-ish").
    "Person" is some being that has a personality. In my understanding, a personality requires self awareness, unique character (behavioural habits) and a capacity for emotions (beyond the obvious instinctive). I would say that sufficient intelligence is required for self awareness, but not necessarily very much.

    All mammals and birds that I've ever got to know (my own pets and friends' pets) have all had their own personality and feelings. But none of them were human. They were feline, canine, parrot, parakeet, rodent, etc. I have never observed personality in reptiles or fish. That's not to say it doesn't exist, but I personally believe their intelligence is below the threshold for self awareness.

    Comparing personality with intelligence:
    My cat is not a human. He is a cat. However...
    My cat is a person, in that he clearly has self awareness and his own character and feelings.
    Sure, he will never have the mental capacity to understand differential calculus or fine art. He understands very few spoken words and still struggles with the idea of backing away from a door that opens inwards.
    But, we do communicate using body language. He tells me when he is hungry, or when he wants to go for a walk with me. He told me that the cat food I used to feed him tasted like shit, so now I only feed the spoilt cat fresh meat and fish. (Seriously, he sniffed the food, then stood over it and scratched the ground imitating the way he buries his poo. Then he walked past me conspicuously as if to say "just so you know". It was pretty bloody evident what he was saying.)
    Also, anyone with higher lever pets knows that they have feelings/emotions. Aside from contentment, fear and hostility, higher level animals also can be sad, happy and genuinely caring.

    Also, some mentally handicapped humans seem less intelligent than some non-humans (esp. dogs). But those humans are still thinking, feeling, self aware people, trapped in dysfunctional bodies.

    The question is not whether "higher" animals have personality or feeling. They clearly do.
    The question is where we put the threshold of "human rights". Should the threshold be put at "person rights"? Some other types of animals clearly possess good enough communication skills, caring, personality, intelligence and so on that they clearly qualify as people. But are we humans prepared to accept non-humans as equal status members into our elitist society? I doubt we're ready for that.

    We are snobs (to put it bluntly). "We are the only ones worthy of our own respect because of our accomplishments and our ability to communicate with us." Perhaps that snobbery is warranted. Is it?

    So, if we're not able to accept non-humans as equal to humans, then how far can we suppress other animals? Well, for starters, we are omnivores, so at least we should have the right to kill to eat. But at at he same time we can bear in mind that these are people (with self awareness and feelings), so we should not be unneccessarily cruel. Farming (a form of slavery) will have to be acceptable, as currently we have little other choice. But cruel farming is not neccessary and is should never be seen as acceptable.

    Japanese farm cetaceans. Is that inherently wrong? I think that if we managed to communicate with cetaceans using their own languages, then peoples' attitudes would change. But killing to eat is a fundamental part of life on this planet, so... would it still be wrong to kill them?

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis

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