“Words are half who pronounces them, half who listens to them” the Gallic writer and philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne said, around the sixteenth century. Today, halfway through the twenty-first, that maxim acquires a new dimension, in spite of the agnostic detractors of the project, rooted from the technological finding that allows us to communicate with other species, concretely with dolphins. “The clicking, whistling, grunting, snorts and drumming belong to humans and cetaceans, to issuers and speakers” may have been affirmed in these future times. The magazine Future Times wanted to be present for the “chat” that the scientists of the Southeast Asian Oceanographic Institute (SAOI) had with two non human aquatic creatures, so far, so totally unconnected to any known cultural model. Within the following lines we have tried to gloss over such a complicated “interview”, recompiling diverse conversational fragments along these twelve minutes, eliminating non-decodable parts, “re-translating” generic concepts (the words in bold) in order to grant you a useable grammatical and semantic structure, to summarize, giving you a more adjusted linguistic written format to the traditionally known outline, because beneath the tempestuous waters of the Bay of the Chinese Sea something opposite to the logomachy happened, where only words mattered. One must keep in mind that the speakers, the most singular ones in the history of communication, had intelligent brains available but with patterns far from those of humans, we insist. The Spanish anthropologist and phonetician Arturo Pizarro, sub-director of the Zoointelligence Institute at the University of Navarra and collaborator on the project said: “Dolphins’ intelligence is seen as stagnant in the action field because of the inexistence of prehensile organs –like hands-that allow them to construct tools and with them, “sculpt” their culture, complex infrastructures and, summing up, a civilization.” The Australian geneticist Benjamin Clark, also an expert associated with the project, complemented his co-workers affirmation: “The genetic modifications of the two cetaceans try to “liberate” the functions of their already very developed neocortex, the headquarters of superior behavior, and “speed up” the synapses, thanks to the profusion of neuro-transmitters in the brain convolutions. It is about strengthening the already advanced learning capacity: If they need tools, we are going to give them to them….just let them ask us!”
Tweety and Omeron have never read Becquer or Hemingway and couldn’t coin gestures of their ancestors…until now. Welcome to the interior of their minds. Come on in…
SAOI: Tweety, hello.- the speakers bellowed, located within a enormous aquarium, in the language of marine animals. Other similar loudspeakers, out of the water, reverberated in perfect English the words of Fuzhou Rockwell, one of the teams’ sub-directors. The two parallelepiped would also be the heralds of the anthropomorphic miracle, meaning, two beings so far from homo sapiens acquiring their characteristics (the speech), in virtue of an unprecedented technological incantation. Fuzhou, the linguist would stay on the edge of the water so that the dolphins could see him and would be the spokesman, thanks to a wireless microphone, for the SAOI scientists’ questions. They reserved the possibility of directly intervening at any moment. The linguist would speak in a low voice so that the cetaceans couldn’t directly hear him and that way he could “vitiate” the results of the experiment. One must keep in mind that before the translator existed; animals already understood, to some measure, many human words.
TWEETY: Helloooo Fuzhou.
SAOI: Omeron, hello.
OMERON: Helllllllllo Fuzhou! I’m so happy you’re speaking with us. –His friend, also male, of almost three meters long starts the conversation by clarifying something about his mate.
TWEETY: Well, he doesn’t speak like us, but does speak our language. He speaks badly (he’s got a terrible accent)
SAOI: Ha ha ha.
TWEETY and OMERON: ha ha ha (laughter)
SAOI: Tweety, are you hungry? I’ve got four herrings and a bunch of squid (Fuzhou lifted his hands up so that both of them could see the delicious delicacies that he held in them, and the first trick that the team set up for the dolphins). The synthesizer let out some sounds and clicks that differentiated the species.
TWEETY: No Fuzhou.-the identitary concept was very present in the cetaceans. They were both perfectly conscious of “who was who” both in and out of the water. Under the surface, the precise information that the advanced eco-localization system gave out by ultrasonic sounds helped in an invaluable way in that direction. – I already ate. You have five herrings, not four.-He corrected him without falling in to SAOI’s betraying ambush. His mate, who was restricted to a calculated diet, went into the trap that the scientists put out, taking the initiative in the conversation:
OMERON: Fuzhou, I am hungry. I prefer squid.
SAOI: Omeron, here, but first tell me what you ate yesterday. –And the linguist kept his gloved hand full of the favorite food of the dolphin. He got closer and looked at Fuzhou laughingly. The time that passed between the question and the answer could be interpreted as necessary to search for the answer in the unintelligible hills of his mind, but also as a part of the game that the instructor laid out. The creature finally modulated the frequency of his whistle and emitted a long series of clicks that were translated by the computer:
OMERON: Yesterday I ate delicious squid, Fuzhou.- The marine biologists, phoneticians, linguists and other experts on communication seemed to congratulate themselves through the laboratory windows; that animal seemed to have some fundamental concepts clear, like chronological ones. A dolphin having temporal perception had some extraordinary implications and contradicted the theses that pointed to an “eternal present” for all species except man. Remembering implicated learning, being conscious of a future, a possibility to plan it or foresee it. They still had to investigate this last direction-“tomorrow”-with the cetaceans, the scientists had foreseen and captured a “friendly formula” that would Fuzhou Rockwell would slowly let out.
SAOI: Very good Omeron. –And the animal got his prize in the form of a succulent cephalopod cut up into rings. Now it was time to question the other dolphin, so that in no moment would he feel jealous of his mate. With his hands behind his back so that no gesture would give away any clues…: Tweety, bring me the green ball. This is where the first problem could arise: The dolphin could perfectly understand what was being asked of him but simply choose to ignore it. The animal, satisfied by the experiment, could question the principle of authority. Why would he do it if it wasn’t in exchange for some food? Nevertheless, Tweety meekly obeyed. Maybe he thought that his prize would be the game.
TWEETY: Fuzhou, here, -and he threw the toy towards the Taiwanese man’s hands. Fuzhou waited a few seconds, like dog owners do daily in thousands of parks across the world. The delay had its’ compensation which was none other than Tweety taking the initiative in the conversation. –Fuzhou, throw the ball-he indicated impatiently. But he still had to wait, because a new plot from the team awaited him. The man took another identical ball out of his coat, but bright red, and lifting them up with each hand questioned the cetacean.
SAOI: Tweety, Which ball did you throw? –Here the dolphin would have to choose a differentiating characteristic between the two rubber balls. Color or location.
TWEETY: I threw the one on my right. –correctly answered the animal, being that Fuzhou had the green sphere in his left hand.
SAOI: And which one do you want me to throw? –Flatteringly asking the man, following the advice that was given to him through a little ear piece.
TWEETY: Fuzhou, throw the red one, the one on my left-finished off the animal, surprising everyone and aborting bets. In opposition to the expectation of the team, the other dolphin seemed bored with the childish game with his mate, after having eaten a kilo and a half of squid. Once again he took the initiative in the conversation.
OMERON: Fuzhou, who is back there? –the animal, upon picking his head up out of the water, saw shadows behind the laboratory windows.
SAOI: Omeron, they are my friends and also yours. You know everybody: Doctor Almeida and Delacroix, my bosses, professors Xiao and Toto, the experts Pizarro, Higgins and Clark.- At that time the translator warned that Fuzhou had introduced in his sentence two concepts that the dolphins didn’t know about and asked if he should break them up by defining them based on known ones or not. The highest manager of the project, doctor in marine biology Andreas Delacroix, shook his head through the window and the geneticist Clark activated a control from his panel so that Fuzhou’s answer wouldn’t confuse the dolphins. The translator was going to be subjected to its’ hardest test until now.
OMERON: Fuzhou, what does boss mean?
TWEETY: Fuzhou, what does expert mean?-The synthesizer adjusted both of their voices with different ringing registers to avoid confusion. Omeron sounded like a perfect English baritone. Tweety like a high pitched Texan tenor.
SAOI: Omeron, boss means that hierarchically she is above me, professionally, and moreover, she’s a woman. –Again the double beep.
TWEETY: Fuzhou, what do expert, hierarchically, and professionally mean? –The animals didn’t even let one go. From the data obtained in the test they derived many conclusions, like that a dolphin could pay attention to the conversation with his speaker and to another parallel one (Fuzhou-Omeron). Multitasking brain, undoubtedly.
SAOI: Omeron, Tweety, allow me to explain to you in another way what “boss” means: It’s the woman that tells me at work what I have to do, do you both understand?
TWEETY: Yes Fuzhou.
OMERON: Yes Fuzhou. But like Tweety asks, what does “expert”, “hierarchically” and “professionally” mean? –Fuzhou Rockwell, the linguist, made a face like he was stuck in a tight spot. Through the glass his co-workers were victims of a sudden laugh attack. The dolphins communicated between themselves by calling each other by their names, recognizing themselves, which is why nobody was surprised by Omeron mentioning his comrade in arms.
SAOI: Good guys, “Experts” are people that know a lot about a certain subject. I will explain the words “hierarchically” and “professionally” to you tomorrow. –Piii. Piii Piii. Three beeps again. One of the key points of the questionnaire was found right on the table, or better said, under water in the form of clicks, whistles and ultrasonic emissions articulated by underwater loudspeakers.
TWEETY: Fuzhou, what does “tomorrow” mean? –the other dolphin opened his mouth to ask the same question but learned that it wasn’t necessary. He closed his jaws again in an intelligent gesture that made the linguist shiver. :
SAOI: Tweety, Omeron, tomorrow means the day after today. –After his answer both cetaceans became silent, as if they were assimilating the new information. It isn’t every day that an intelligent being “processes” the concept of what the future is. Omeron became surprised again. It seemed to be proved that the biogenetic manipulation of his brain had gone farther than that of his mate.
OMERON: Fuzhou, where is tomorrow? –They had arrived at a crossroad. They knew that this could happen with abstact concepts, love, happiness, etcetera, but they didn’t think that it would happen so quickly, in the first conversation. The anthropologist, Fermina Almeida told her co-worker, sitting on the edge of the marine pond, not to even think about trying to explain to the animal the philosophical concept of what tomorrow was. A white lie would be enough, in order not to disorient the animal. But they had a surprise waiting for them:
SAOI: Omeron, tomorrow is the sun that hides on the other side of the world, and that reappears the day after today- the doctor personally said, words that the machine diligently translated. –“Before” and “After” were the two concepts that the animals had the hardest time assimilating, also, they weren’t very clear if Tweety did assimilate them or not.
OMERON: Tweety I think they are lying to us.-said the dolphin befuddled, speaking to his mate, splashing with his fin against the water that soaked Fuzhou and leaving the whole team speechless. After, Omeron raised his blood caudal and hemoglobin concentration- according to what the nano-nanorobots who swam around in their veins warned-indicating that he was about to go down under. The experts looked at each other and at the monitors alternatively, which confirmed the immersion of the cetacean, having got the oxygen provision that was necessary for his descent.
TWEETY: Omeron, don’t get mad. They’re good. They give us food.
OMERON: Tweety, tomorrow doesn’t exist.-Said Omeron from the bottom of the aquarium, located almost two hundred meters down. His cushioned adipose panniculus protected him from the low temperature of waters of that depth. He could stay down for almost an hour, which would squander the possibility of finishing the “interview”.
SAOI: Omeron, don’t get angry. If you knew the answer… why did you ask the question? –the irritated marine animal delayed his answer, like an annoyed child.
OMERON: Fuzhou, that’s easy. To give you a test (play with you).-That was definitely a big thing to say. The experts’ previsions had been shockingly surpassed by the unexpected perceptiveness of that animal.
SAOI: Come on Omeron, come up so that we can talk about what happened. –The Kenyan psychologist Aketi Toto said, through her microphone, which got translated immediately by the machine.
TWEETY: Omeron, come up.
SAOI: Omeron, would you like to make love to Tweety? –The psychologists’ question was oriented at disconcerting the cetacean, disturbing him, and that way breaking the circle of anger-pride that he found himself immersed in, never better said.-Quite so, the question must have unsettled the animal, who still took a few minutes to answer.
OMERON: No Aketi. Tweety is a male, piiiiii. –and the computer informed them that his next “word” was untranslatable, although there was a 48.23% chance that it was an insult, like “stupid” or “dummy”. But what most stuck out to the team wasn’t the content of the dolphin’s answer, but his mention of Aketi: How the hell did he know that it was the psychologist that was speaking to him? In difference to the distinct voices that the computer “spoke” for the mouths of Tweety and Omeron, animals only had a “tonality” of clicks, whistles, snorts and ultrasonic emissions of whoever happened to be the member of the team that spoke to them. “He must have deduced it from the content of the question” they concluded.
TWEETY: Ha ha (laughter). I’m male, I’m male, Ha ha.- And they started a conversation among themselves that the translator admitted (downcast) that was impossible to decipher.
OMERON: Ha ha (laughter) –The animal had come up quickly to the surface and seemed to be having a great time with his mate.
TWEETY: ha ha (laughter).-I’m sorry admitted the machine, beaten. Their expressions are totally too far away from the 629 concepts that I have stored in my memory. “It’s like if, on purpose, they didn’t want us to understand what they were whispering: It’s amazing”, doctor Delacroix judged.
SAOI: Tweety, Omeron…good, we appreciate the minutes that you have given us. See you tomorrow-pronounced the doctor, upon realizing the joke that the cetaceans had played on them. –And deactivated the translator in a brusque movement.-“The interview is over. There are many more questions remaining unasked, but that’s enough for today. Thank you everybody. Professor Rockwell, you can come out of the marine aquarium now. I’m going home to digest what’s happened today. I’ve got enough with my brother in law taking it out of me.” Her co-worker Almeida told us before leaving:
“The experiment conducted at the Southeast Asian Oceanographic Institute opens a world of infinite possibilities that are impossible to imagine. A dolphin who understands (and learns) the human language can be taught about many different disciplines, after having a “dictionary” available for minimal communication. A process could be followed, similar to the pedagogic ones that follow young people, with the reading of children’s books filled with a range of limited semantics. Dolphins could, in a second phase, work as “informants” hatched on the marine floor, to help humans install instruments in the oceanic abysms, warning us via a wireless of tsunamis, etcetera, etcetera…and all of this is simply from the marine perspective. Maybe a dolphin’s brain is better equipped for math or philosophy, with the right instruction, the human and these guys can help us resolve numerical algorithms or metaphysics, inextricable for us, for example. We found an intelligent species with whom we can communicate; this will implicate a social revolution without precedents that will help us get to know ourselves much better. To start, we would have to revise what we know about the communication with other intelligent beings, machines, to see if that gives us any clues or patterns to be able to tackle such a passionate adventure.”