Brainy Quote of the Day

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dolphin Dreams...

Artist's rendering of what the surface of the new planet Proxima Centaur B might look like Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Topics: Astrobiology, Astrophysics, Exoplanets, SETI, Star Trek

I recently purchased the documentary "For the Love of Spock" by Adam Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy's son (he had a son and daughter in his first marriage). It is a very good and touching biopic. One of the many scenes of the actor's career was Spock "mind-melding" with a humpback whale in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," in which Nimoy was very insistent on a story about them since then (and now) they're endangered with extinction. In the story line of Home, aliens were trying to communicate with Earth in a signal that Lieutenant Uhura unscrambled as the songs of whales, which existed only on Earth pre-23rd Century and pre-WWIII. The aliens - Spock reasoned - would have communicated with the only sentient species available at the time, since humans were kind of between Homo Erectus and building their first tools. This of course lead to the ubiquitous plot device of "sling-shot" time travel and a LOT of suspended belief if you are sitting in the theater quite familiar with "The Grandfather Paradox." It's "Trek": go with the bit...

Anyway, the title drew me in: "Do Dolphins Dream of Space Travel?" It was rather poetic, but it seemed to allude to a similar plot device that the author abandoned almost mid-essay, though it was very good writing. I wondered what a world - a water world - of dolphins would be like, or if beyond a brief foray about the surface of their oceans if they would regard the stars at all? It got me thinking of our fascination with the stars: we can see them as well as our other land sharing denizens too numerous to name; we're just the only ones that built telescopes to view them, writing and fiction to speculate about them and intact imaginations to fuel them.

It got me thinking about my Texas box turtle, "Speedy" (she's actually pretty fast, especially when she's hungry). Her terrarium is cleaned weekly; her water daily. She's fed at regular intervals a diet of crickets, land tortoise food with reptile vitamins and calcium coinciding with her UV lamp, timed on and off at 12-hour intervals.

What does she THINK of all this? What does she think of my (from her perspective) disembodied hand that reaches in and does all this "stuff" for her? When man was primitive with a limited understanding of the world, doxologies and myths were created before science was discovered. Now the two areas struggle to be the arbiters of explanation and meaning.

I guess for Speedy to have any thoughts about what all of my intervention means existentially, she would have to have an opposing thumb and develop her own language and writing to express them. On occasion, I take her out in the grass - weather permitting - to walk around as I stand guard for hawks that could swoop down and take her away. Maybe I should show her the stars as well to see how she reacts to them, the only evidence so far that I have of what she "thinks."

Scientific American: Do Dolphins Dream of Space Travel?
Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz is an astronomer at The Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

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