Dolphin markets in everything, Gresham’s Law edition

by on November 4, 2009 at 10:32 am in Economics | Permalink

I enjoyed this story:

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

Here is the full article and I thank David Curran for the pointer.

So how would dolphin bimetallism work?  I think we know!

Mike S November 4, 2009 at 10:53 am
Rich Carpenter November 4, 2009 at 1:49 pm

While there is debate concerning paper money and what ‘backs’ it, I think we need to draw a line somewhere before we begin using seagulls as a form of currency.

Brian Moore November 4, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I would pay 4 seagulls to read this article.

Tom West November 4, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I’d agree with Millian. It was clear that the human was malfunctioning. The monkey was trying to force the human to work properly (and if it broke, it needed replacing anyway).

If the monkey had been ascribing malicious motives to the human, it would have gotten ugly.

Robert Scarth November 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm

“how big is the set of workable frameworks for social resource-sharing? Would any community of smart beings settle on a set of behaviors that would be isomorphic to recognizable human behaviors, like trading and promising?”

Any sufficiently civilised group of sufficiently intelligent beings is going to come up against the fact that knowledge is distributed among all members of the group, and that no central planning committee can know enough to guide the group. That means their interactions have to involve a large amount of individual autonomy, and therefore involve trade between individuals (or voluntary coalitions of individuals). I would therefore predict that any sufficiently civilised, sufficiently intelligent alien species would have social behaviours that are similar and can be mapped onto human social behaviours.

I think it is extremely unlikely that a species would evolve that could overcome the problem of the division of knowledge. Any such species would need to have a brain that was far more complicated than “necessary”; such complicated brains are likely to get competed away in the process of evolution.

The individuals in this sufficiently intelligent alien species would have to be able to communicate with each other, form coalitions with each other, keep track of their own and other’s coalitions. In short they would need to have a psychology that could be mapped onto human psychology. I can’t see how any species could overcome the knowledge problem and not have these psychological abilities.

The argument that I’ve sketch has a pretty astounding conclusion: That any sufficiently civilised sufficiently intelligent alien species would probably have a society that involved things similar to individual freedom, and a market economy, and have a psychology that would at least be recognisable to a human.

a goddamn communist November 4, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Robert: what about a eusocial organism where there is only one more-or-less hardwired coalition per group?

It may not be an optimal arrangement with respect to rate of innovation, but I would argue it’s entirely possible to achieve division-of-knowledge level development while subsuming the individual’s self-interest to that of the group.

Larry November 4, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Go with me on this:

Let’s teach the dolphins how to iron-fertilize the ocean, which produces plankton, which draws fish to eat the plankton, which the dolphin hunt to feed themselves.

What’s not to like?

David Curran November 4, 2009 at 7:24 pm

“We know that advanced animals use technology, so that would be less of an assumption that ascribing a code of ethics to capuchin monkeys.

Posted by: Millian ”

Good point to assume the monkey thinks ‘this is unfair’ you assume the monkey has a theory of mind where you are not just a tool (piece of technology). The only evidence i can think of for a theory of mind for monkeys is the magic watching chimp video posted a while back http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM-KQxgtOao

Chimps are much closer to us then monkeys are to them though.

Eric H November 4, 2009 at 8:58 pm

I would pay 1 million chimpanzees to write this article with little scraps of paper.

Silas Barta November 6, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Hm, would the dolphins react any differently from humans if you decided to “supsend convertibility” (i.e. reneg on your deal to redeem paper for fish)? Or would the dolphins go “ape-sh**” (pardon the expression)?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: