Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Dolphin embryo beside a 1-inch pin
     Did you know that dolphins have vestigial limbs and fingers?  It would seem that, at some point in their evolution, they crawled up onto land and experienced a few winters, forest fires, hurricanes and landslides before deciding:

    "Screw this!  We're crawling back into the ocean." 

     Who knows?  Perhaps their collective mythology refers to a disastrous time of dry, as opposed to flooded, land.

     Given that they have little more to do than eat, swim and chat, dolphins have developed vocal centers that are larger and more complex than those of humans, as is their overall brain size.  Dolphins emit a signature whistle--a name assigned to them before they are a year old--to identify themselves.  Just as some human societies are matrilineal, the name-sound of a male dolphin resembles its mother's more than its father's and more than those coming from a female dolphin (e.g. the sister/daughter).  This suggests highly developed social and verbal skills--quite possibly higher than ours.  If so, our scientists' efforts to learn their vocabulary might be like an infant from Beer Bottle Crossing, Idaho trying to learn Hungarian.

Bottlenose dolphin
     Is it unreasonable to conclude that some dolphin communication might be poetry?  Hardly.  Indeed, their prosody may be so superior to ours that it makes our finest verse sound like Dr. Seuss or Charles Bukowski.  Can we prove that dolphins create poetry, though?

     Actually, yes, we can.  Rather easily, in fact.

     I assume you're familiar with the "Telephone" game, where we give a message to the first person in a queue, have them repeat it along the line and then compare the final person's version to the original.

Dusky dolphin
     Try this.  Then try it again, this time using a rhyming couplet.  See how much closer that outcome is to the original than when the message was prose.

     If you understand that, by definition, poetry is verbatim, the solution is obvious.  Have a computer run file comparisons among those recordings of dolphin communication.  If spectrograms uncover identical samples too long to be dismissed as phrasing (e.g. salutation, idiom, cliché, etc.) or messaging you have music and/or poetry.  If there are words you have poetry (perhaps including one if its subsets, song lyrics).

     The next time people tell you that a definition of poetry is useless, impractical or impossible, tell 'em about the dolphins.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Your comments and questions are welcome.