Dolphin Capital Theory

The Guardian…Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

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.

…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.

The dolphins are not only gaming the system they are saving and using a capital structure to increase total output.

The more we learn, the smaller appears the gap between humans and other animals. Over twenty years ago, I read When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. I was convinced. But at that time it was a controversial book. Today, with thousands of youtube videos of animals clearly having fun or exhibiting other emotions, it seems obvious.

Animal consciousness is still controversial but the gap between other minds and other non-human minds appears to me to be very small. If I can believe in the first, I can easily believe in the second. As the Cambridge Declaration put it:

Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.


Now we know why advertising, especially digital advertising, works so well. Fish in the sea.

Who knew! Democrat Dolphins.

On the flipside of the coin, a deer died after it ran headlong into the side of my moving car a few years ago. I could not be said to have in any sense hit the deer; quit the opposite, actually.

Dolphins are the exception rather than the rule. Most animals are really pretty dumb.

The list of exceptions is really not that short. Various kinds of apes, monkeys, and dogs. Pigs. Crows and parrots. Hyenas. Honey Badgers. Even rats:

A problem with that research is rats do not like chocolate. I regularly bait rat traps with peanut butter cups, and when they manage to remove the bait without setting off the trap I sometimes find the chocolate shell with the peanut butter eaten out. Because of this, I now cut away the chocolate shell and only use the center. I probably killed about 20 rats in 2017, so I consider myself an expert.

Stop wasting my favorite snack (and your money) and just buy a jar of cheap peanut butter.

My thoughts ecactly...though I am troubled by the fate of the rats.

Sounds too simple.

Uh, OK, but rats *did* eat the chocolate (sometimes before letting out the other rat but usually afterward). To me the important aspects were that the previously wet rats let their companions out more quickly AND when the other rat was dry, they didn't bother opening the door (that is, they weren't primarily motivated just by companionship or to explore the other compartment).

Mark Thorson's name being taken over by rayward or something?

Yeah, but there are a lot of different kinds of animals, so we can both be right here: most animals are indeed pretty stupid, but it is also true that there a significant number of exceptions (how important we should consider these exceptions is still up for debate).

Don’t forget the cephalopods. They are freaky smart.

...alleged evidence of the "Dolphin Capital Theory" here ... required human participation.

... that "humans are not unique in...consciousness" requires some objective definition of consciousness -- which humans have not yet been able to determine.

operant conditioning?

Yes, as with capitalism among humans.

So you don't accept the ability to pass the 'mirror test' as an indication of self-awareness?

I had a woman once run into the side of my car while driving. If she'd been maybe a 10th of a second earlier she would have been run over.

A member of a species acting irrationally doesn't indicate the species is unintelligent. The deer could have made a mistake in some deer fraternity hazing ritual.

No, deer are stupid by nature. Beyond stupid--they're suicidal. Seen the same deer behavior across the country over many decades. They're the village idiots of the animal world. Rats are embarrassed for them.

My sister in law got the same results when she taught her dog Ace to pick up after her toddler. He's find a piece of trash and tear it into the smallest pieces he could manage before bringing then you her one by one.

Ace was a Catahoula Leopard and one of the smartest dogs I've known.

Even dolphins had been corrupted by Bush and his Madoff economy. Imagine the scams dolphins are running now that Gordon Gekko is president. Sad.

There was a time America had leaders, not we have deal-making scammers. What have we done tou ourselves?

Leo Szilard is not surprised.

It's an interesting yarn. Well done, Mr Tabarrok.

Towards the bottom of the post I found "Convergent evidence indicates ..." and could read no further. Faced with English as turgid as that, I am tempted to accept that the intellectual gap between some humans and some dolphins is fairly narrow.

"I am tempted to accept that the intellectual gap between some humans and some dolphins is fairly narrow."
Are the humans catching up?


Yeah, +1 from me too. Are people with only consonants in their name more intelligent than the other humans?

3 Standard Deviations above the mean.

Who told you he's a "people"? Might just be the best he could manage with his flippers when he started browsing the net.

Haha! Good one dearie! Due to selection pressure for fast communication and a lack of ivory towers underwater, dolphins lost the show-off genes - academic speech - long ago.

I guess Adam Smith was wrong

“Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog. Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that....But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of.”

Dogs won't have much of a civilization until they create stock exchanges.

Adam Smith didn't have Youtube and couldn't watch monkeys exchanging rocks for food (and getting quite irate when they don't believe they're getting a fair deal):

That dolphin thing is fascinating, but this statement:

"Animal consciousness is still controversial but the gap between other minds and other non-human minds appears to me to be very small."

is so squishy as to mean whatever you could want it to. In some ways, the difference between humans and bacteria are very small.

In some ways, the difference between human minds and dolphin minds are quite large.

Show me the dolphin version of MR!

Show me the dolphin version of Bitcoin!

Show me the dolphin version of Trump!

The Trump version of a dolphin is a shark. A hammerhead shark. (And I disliked Hillary.)

In some ways, the difference between human minds and dolphin minds are quite large.

In some ways, the difference between human minds and other human minds is quite large.

Too intelligent to be kept in captivity for our own greed.

In my lifetime we have certainly moved from humans as the only sapiens to a more shaded view. From my reading, intelligences are more varied than expected, and more common.

Animals can feel, and figure things out, without inventing the internet or whatever weird goalposts were set above.

Who seeks to stand against those findings? A certain sort of religious person who is looking for a unique human creation? The omnivores?

Personally I square meat eating with "it may not be nice, but it is natural."

In my time, men were men and animal were animals. Animals knew their place and liked it and they'd beter like it.


Though when "animals were animals" perhaps they only "stared with incomprehension?"

(A neighbor leaves their parrot outside in a cage some days. When I walk by it gives me a wolf whistle, which I return. Poor, lonely, social creature.)


You have no idea that he feels this human emotion.

He might choose nearly unlimited, easy food and no predators to exciting jungle living.

Its just anthropomorphism on your behalf.

You need to read more on parrot sociology.

"parrot sociology"

OMG This apparently exists. We are way too rich.

If you are too rich maybe you and I can make a deal to help you out.

The basic idea is just that ..

"Without doubt, a parrot is extremely social, using a variety of calls in the wild to talk to other like birds. For this reason, an owner needs to talk to the bird throughout the day, something reciprocated with a whistle, chirp, and in some instances, a verbal response."

Maybe you thought of parrots as solitary beasts, but like humans, that is never found in nature. Social species have a built-in interdependence and survival strategy.

Libertarians not exempted.

"If you are too rich maybe you and I can make a deal to help you out."

We = plural. In this case the United States [and/or the "West" or the "First World"].

A society that is so wealthy it can afford to have [presumably] intelligent people do “parrot sociology” research.

Actually, my parrot research is nearing a breakthrough. I am trying to understand why Polly wants a cracker ad if she wants butter to go wih it.

Fun fact: Falcons are parrots, not raptors. They're also mostly solitary.

Falcons are parrots, not raptors.

A) they're not parrots, any more than primates are rodents.
B) they are raptors, which is not a taxonomic group, but a description of a bird that hunts in a certain manner

I saw that falcon thing, dna sequencing is yielding all sorts of interesting things.

Probably safe to say falcons are no longer parrots, and behaviorally distinct. In fact, described that way:

"Falcons: Awesome predators. Superlative fliers. Plumage exclusively in earth tones. Relatively solitary. Found from the tropics to the Arctic. Strong hooked bill used to tear apart prey."

"Parrots: Plumage in bright, saturated colors. Social. Smart. Most species found in the tropics. Strong hooked bill used to tear apart fruits and nuts."


So... dolphins are fish?

@ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ, falcons are libertarian parrots that got tired of all the damn yapping.

In "wolf whistling", the parrot, is not expressing an opinion on your aesthetic appeal. You probably have none (to the parrot).

It is "parroting". That is, it is engaging in a learned behaviour that has, not incidentally, no connection to wolves. Calling it a wolf whistle only betrays the deep cultural antipathy of some cultural traditions to Lupus.

We actually do a few whistles, switching them up.

And "wolf whistle" is amusing to me because it brings back the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth. Pretty sure the wolves wore zoot suits.

Does that work for racism too?

Of course not. Why? Because you apply different principles to other human beings than to the animals you eat. Me too.

That was a strange attempt, at I don't know even what, Brian.

Racism is the wrong word if you are looking at deep history of humans and other animals. Tribalism is better, and more easily links to behaviors in chimps and further relatives.

(Racism is not even one thing, and where it is practiced it has a tribal definition unique to the "user." It is one set of inputs to the tribalism equation.)

Educated people, looking to help the "arc of the moral universe bend toward justice," recognize that.

The game has long been to make the in-group as big as possible, and of course to knock down artificial divisions.

OK Mr. Arc of The Moral Universe, I'll dumb it down for you.

"It may not be nice, but it is natural" is a horrible moral rule..

You've dumbed down twice now.

What do you want, Brian? Are you going to each the dolphin to eat tofu? Fish are people too?

Are we going to find some rocket science at the end of this?

Personally I square meat eating with “it may not be nice, but it is natural.”

I square it with knowing that cows and fowl are really, really stupid. Now, it's possible I could learn something about the intelligence of pigs that could make me stop eating pork

Turkey is best, because they are both stupid and mean.

I eat meat, but I'm not going to rationalize it by pretending that cows or even fowl are stupid. I just accept that I have plenty of room for moral improvement. Go cows!

That was a joke. The non-joke is to step back and .. thread endorsed:

It is the global food system that matters.

The shared characteristics of humans and animals are not a new discovery. Justinian’s code defined natural law as the principles of life shared by man and animal. The difference traditionally has not been in awareness or emotions or maximizing outputs but in terms of knowledge of good and evil, reason in the ancient sense of spirit or nous.

I think there's a book about this.

So when are you turning vegetarian?

I genuinely would be interested to hear Alex’s views on the ethics of his diet.

I’ve heard Tyler’s but it’s not very impressive, I think it’s related to the idea that it is difficult to reason someone a position that they never reasoned them self into in the first place.

"So when are you turning vegetarian?"

Pshh ... I'm adding Dolphin to my diet. It's a Mammal eat Mammal world....

They used to and probably still do eat dolphin in the Philippines. Not the fish, the mammal. They also eat the fish dolphin. Apropos of nothing, the PH is overfished (groupers and crabs and pretty much every fish is caught while in the juvenile stage, it's sad).

While a certain sort of vegetarian has long sought to add "animals" to the "thou shalt not kill" in-group, it remains an outlier position.

In western civilization, "don't eat smart animals" is pretty well accepted as a milder, if inconsistent, rule.

Poor pigs.

I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals. I'm a vegetarian because I HATE PLANTS!

The source of emotions is believed to be the insular cortex shared by all all mammals, but emotions may be initiated in more widely shared subcortical structures.

In other words, there exists evidence from neuroscience that humans share the same emotional hardware with many animals.

Read the Elephant book at the time too, and was shocked when Time had a cover story a few years later (in 99) asking "Can Animals Thinks?" I have never understood how someone could purport to believe in evolution, yet have doubts about whether animals think, are conscious in many ways similar to us, etc., given shared heredity and components. Even more idiotic given the evidence from interaction with animals, which confirms they basically operate at the level of infants or kids.

I think most people know in their gut that higher mammals probably have emotions, but meat tastes good and it's embedded deep in our culture. So they engage in some cognitive dissonance to avoid the guilt. I know I do.

Even if they have emotions, that doesn't seem to affect whether you should eat meat. Presumably they don't feel any emotion about being suddenly dead after having been alive for a while. And it doesn't seem they can comprehend their fate and so live in fear of their harvest.

True, they don't have a sense of the future and their own demise, but it just feels wrong to eat furry, sentient things capable of feeling happiness, fear, sadness, and pain. Not that it stops me.

First step, remove their sentience, a.k.a. kill them. Check.

Second step, remove their fur (it tastes bad). Check.

Third step, prepare and eat. Check.

The question is also, isn't meat eating deeply embedded in our biology too?

(Just as it is fallacious to speak of biology without acknowledging that biology contains culture too, isn't it also fallacious to speak of culture without acknowledging biology? I am really asking.)

I've been certain for years that one of the main reasons human under rate other animals is that we have not ability to understand their language -- both by assuming they have none and never really looking because of the certainty we're at the top. It may well be a case of not needing to but it seem many other animal seem to understand human language at a much higher level than humans can of the other animals. Does make one wonder if that is due to intelligence or simply more limited senses.

Incentives! My dog has very good reason to understand me (as much as he can), I have far less incentive to understand other animals. Though if you bother paying attention, it's amazing how good (e.g.) dogs are at communicating very clearly what they want, don't want, feel, etc. Deep, deep failing by most philosophers to have touched on the issue, who either didn't have much interaction with animals or (more likely) were completely out of touch with the real world (instead putting together rarified abstractions that didn't make much sense even on that artificial level).

I think the converse is true. We can read animals very well, which is why we have been able to domesticate hundreds of species (even bees). They do not have "language" for us to understand but they do have behaviors which we can read quite well.

The bowerbird capital theory is more interesting.

he lures the female with a bachelor pad, a ring, a car, and money.

People that eat animals hate this stuff. The guilt is real.

It's not that animals are so smart that we should think about, but that humans aren't. Intentionality in people isn't all it's cracked up to be ("People do stuff. They have reasons for doing stuff: in that order." - Malakar). Animals simply don't delude themselves with post hoc reasons why they got lucky.
Our supposed intelligence superiority really exists in external systems that we usually fail to maintain. Language, civilization, roads, peace, community. The defining attribute of most of modern humanity is Competitive Fanaticism, supported by Competitive Irrationality and Competitive A**holery. Throw in winner-take-all ownership of compliant politicians and you start to see why a dophin (or a random number generator) should be our next Great Leader.

Oh, and the reciprocal:
Fanatic Competicism...

Dogs can clearly sulk, look guilty, and have fun.

Erwin Schrödinger makes this very argument in his "My View of the World". That we are essentially different aspects of a single consciousness, and i believe this is also extends animals as well as plants according to Vedanta

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