The Order of the Dolphin was dismayed…


Ecco the Dolphin (1992)

From Aeon:

As the 1960s opened, the Order of the Dolphin was dismayed as it became clearer that the Milky Way was no cacophonous cloud of thinking stars. Despite this, the newspapers gleefully reported on Project Ozma and, particularly, Lilly’s involvement with the search for extraterrestrials. It was relayed that Lilly had revealed a resident alien intellect: the only reason we’ve thus far overlooked their braininess is because dolphins are ‘not technically inclined like humans’. One journalist, inheriting Lilly’s own inclination for fanciful exaggeration, wrote that cetaceans could ‘possess a far greater intelligence than [humans]’, but, because they lack hands, these oceanic superintelligences would never be able to build telescopes or ‘initiate communications’. This was taken as potentially instructive concerning the lack of signals from aliens.

It was said that here, on our own planet, seemingly advanced intelligences have evolved without any impulse to stand upright, to scour the skies, or to pollute the planet with fallout. Suddenly, ‘technically inclined’ minds like our own seemed less cosmically inevitable: more contingent, more fragile. In Lilly’s own words: ‘May there not be other paths for large brains to take?’

Talking to the press, Drake argued that technological civilisation is surely highly adaptive, such that it ‘seems reasonable to believe [it will develop] on most life-bearing planets’. He did note, however, that ‘not all experts on evolution accept this’ – and pointed to the bottlenose dolphin as evidence that intelligence needn’t be technological.

“Thanks for all the fish”, Thomas Moynihan, Aeon

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