As loyal readers of this blog will remember, RT has been researching his family’s background. His greatest success to date has been creating a detailed chronology of his mother’s father, who was an actor on Broadway in NYC, and later on the west coast.
Each revelation concerning RT’s peripatetic grandfather has brought with it an ongoing series of reactions–he was cynical, carefree, an idealist, self-absorbed, or whatever, always ending with reflections on RT’s life and the life of his family.
Certainly one of the most intense moments in the search came when RT discovered on the Net two interviews that granddad gave, one in 1913, the other in 1927. He was able to read out to his mother her own father’s words–the first time she had ever heard them. She was 81 at the time.
A moment like that lasts–maybe forever, and in this case impelled RT to write a poem. Repeatedly throughout this genealogical hunt, he has realized how important intact families are; if we cannot be a part of one, then at least we can hope to recover the lives of its members. He has also been struck by how quickly things change in the world; it’s not just our ancestors we discover, but the world that they made. Here is RT’s poem:
so this is death—
a driving 70s beat on
the speakers, the names
sliding by—james taylor, paul
simon (for $6!), abba,
the guy (with brillantine
at the checkout
wears a pressed shirt
& a “Win With Willkie”
“couldn’t stand The Black Pearl,
myself,” he says…
then there’s the matter of
you met him a couple of
days ago–or was
it 1913, at the interview with
The Sun’s theatre critic?
“You’re playing hooky!” he declares,
proceeding to elaborate on his theme:
“Be a sticking plaster; persevere
in your chosen occupation!”
and he should know, thin as a rail,
dressed in rags, a boy’s goosedown
on his cheeks—
“Betake yourself to a good school
of elocution and dramatic art—then go after
what you want until you get it.”
but his attention has shifted, to your mother, a
girl with a barrette in her silver-blonde hair; &
he is taller now, wearing a gentleman’s jacket &
white tie—I can’t make out what they’re
telling each other, but presently,
she turns to me and says
“Do you believe in God?”
I could see that father and daughter liked each other
both raconteurs, deeply restless, their voices
beautiful & I realized that they weren’t singing
because I couldn’t; my skills coming from
some other spring, a place of bog and kelp and unknowing:
a sip of life’s water.
So, the angels have reminded me: “you will be making the return trip,”
leaving these new buddies**********to get acquainted.
Photo: Broadway, 1920, Looking North from 38th Street; WikiCmns; LOC; Public Domain.
It’s been a while since RT has posted on the development of the human brain. RT is thinking in particular of his Habilis thread, which mentions the role of our hands in the development of thinking: the making of stone tools preceded the first spoken words by about a million years, so it seems likely that the first lithic industry shaped both our thoughts and words.
Not so with bottlenose dolphins. Here is a creature whose ancestors disappeared into the ocean 50 million years ago. RT cannot help but remember our own ancestors leaving the tropical forest (only about 8 million years ago). Could it be that changes in fundamental environment trigger brain growth as a species learns to cope with its new surroundings? Furthermore, could the difference between dolphin and human intelligence depend largely on the usefulness of their limbs?
At right we have models of the brains of three different animals: from left, a wild pig’s, a bottlenose dolpin’s, and a human’s. The relative size of a human and dolphin’s brains can be difficult to determine: the encephalization quotient (EQ) of human’s is far greater than the BND’s (7.44 vs. 4.14); on the other hand, the absolute brain mass of the BND slightly exceeds that of humans’ (1500-1700 vs. 1300-1400 grams), and the BND’s brain is more convoluted than ours is. Another consideration is the degree that the brain grows after birth: a human is born with a brain 28% of its adult weight; a dolphin, with a brain 42.5% of its adult weight.
Finally, dolphins possess a large brain structure missing in humans: the paralimbic lobe. Neurologists connect this structure to the regulation of sensation, emotion, and social interactions. Could the BND be social in some way that we are not?
So here is a plausible reading of what we know so far: a bottlenose dolphin has the second-largest brain in the animal kingdom, but its brain nonetheless trails the size of our brain significantly. But then that dread enforcer of the truth shows up: a question (or a whole gang of them!)…does the size of the brain have anything to do with complexity of function and mental experience? …how, as a matter of fact, do we measure the brain’s complexity? …is there anyway of knowing what it is that a dolphin’s brain does? …Or what the inner life of a dolphin is like?
In a previous post, RT listed the mental abilities the primates, cetaceans, and smaller-brained animals possess. The list is impressive, but being focused on function, does not answer the question of inner life–what kind of mind do bottle-nosed dolphins have? Looking at human consciousness, we might divide our own mental life as follows:
Human mental activity
1) maintaining automatic physical activities such as respiration and heart function;
2) experiencing our immediate environment and generating emotions and other automatic responses to the things we sense;
3) imposing control on our environment at a primate-level: establishing a territory, creating and maintaining a social hierarchy and relationships generally;
4) communicating between ourselves in a more precise way via language and the total mental experience it conveys; creating sophisticated tools that expand and refine our control of the environment;
5) generating and manipulating abstract concepts to solve problems via mathematics and logic; and
6) maintaining overall control and harmony of our minds through artistic activities such as music and poetry;
How many of these abilities do dolphins share?
Items 1-3, certainly. There is plenty of evidence for the basic physical and emotional functions, as well as a rich social life, in BNDs. Readers should also note that BNDs pass the self-recognition test and even use individualized signature whistles to identify themselves–suggesting that they have personal names.
A further consideration is the active sex life of the BND; many researchers connect sexplay in animals generally with higher levels of intelligence.
Item 4, maybe. Like us, dolphins seem to have basic units of mental communication–in our case, words and sensory experiences; in theirs, clicks, whistles, and images of their surroundings generated by echolocation. It has been shown that BNDs use some of this sound information to construct mental images of their surroundings. Could it be that BNDs are capable of altering and manipulating these images to convey comments and even full language? Since humans have used artificial languages to communicate (at a low level) with dolphins, it’s clear that BNDs can learn syntax and grammar.
Item 5, probably. The ability to create 3-D mental images argues for a powerful understanding of space and volume in BNDs–and, by extension, an advanced grasp of number.
Item 6, probably. Dolphins are great singers and dancers. An early researcher reported receiving a powerful, controlled, multi-frequency sound burst from a dolphin that made him feel completely aware of the physical structure of first his head and then his body–almost like he was being scanned to create an image. This is communication at its most physical, precise, and intense. Could it also be part of a medical diagnostic? Many anecdotes suggest that dolphins are capable of moral behavior.
In light of these intellectual similarities, RT would like to suggest the creation of a legal category–near people. Other animals that RT would include as near people–bonobos, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Near people would be entitled to protected environments, and killing them would be legally forbidden across the globe. Additional funding would be devoted to studying and understanding near humans.
We cannot afford to let near people go extinct–they have too much to teach us about the mind and ourselves. Do we really want to kill an animal that gave itself a name at birth?
Photos: top: Tursiops aduncus, WikiCmns; CC 1.0 attribution; Author: Aude Steiner. bottom: WikiCmns; CC 1.0 attribution; Author: Boksi.
In that other world
my children are
and their mother met me
when I was 7 & carried her
home for her. þþ
that feel like? Like waking up &
seeing the sun pouring down
its lumens of light, painting
the world w/ the memories of the first moment I
body naked &you laughed at
th*esoftcottonsheets and ðe shadow on our bed
impo১sible thing waving
between my legs “it looks like a leaf!” you said
and icalld u urania, Queen of Heaven.
Copyright: The Rag Tree, 2012.
image: Five Angels Dancing; Giovanni di Paolo (1403-1482); WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Here’s a love poem from poesie & pockets for National Poetry Day…& hope this day sees our poets industriously scribbling away…Enjoy! RT
powerful poetry by poesie & pockets. Enjoy! RT
It’s odd how things can come together. I read the Odyssey my first year in college, and what with the translation’s 7-beat line (following the original material), the story made a powerful impression on me, and then was forgotten.
Maybe that’s how our fates are set–I’ve done some considerable wandering of my own over the (yikes!) decades since, and now, struggling to finish a poem, the great trickster himself has guided (or been guiding) me home. A long-delayed homecoming & happy… enjoy!
Ni L’un, Ni L’autre
You will have to get rid
First, the elegant blue suit with
its tie soft as butter
Next, the house with its
chinoiserie, the pain of
Then, the car late at night
the banshee scream
of the violated wind.
you were—all of them
leader, wanderer, warrior
But that is the least of it—the words
must go too
not just the writing, but
like cattle & the sun but
You can’t even know her
Crashed & strewn out,
lotus-blood, the sirens singing the
you two, and feel the sand,
© 2011 The Rag Tree
Related RT Posts: 1) 50 Shades (4th poem).
Image: The Island of the Lotus-Eaters, French illustration, 18th C., WikiCmns, Public Domain.
Yeah, I know–was it Napoleon who remarked that awarding medals made one of his men very happy and the rest of them jealous? But what did Napoleon know about anything?! I mean, conquering Europe, so what? Did he know how to make a good chocolate mousse?
I like the feel of this award/nomination. And I won’t deny that my postings range far and wide as the mood strikes…the RT has 153 tags… !
This is my first WP award. Here is what the nominator had to say about the Rag Tree:
“Words; pictures; poetry. There is a deep love of language here – there is an experimentation with understanding of speech that is inspiring. Art and words flatter each other – in a world of beauty and culture, this Tree climbs high, indeed.”
I mean, I don’t get words like this over breakfast every day. And as for the nominator (ms. aubrey), the nominatee can only offer a big, fat smoocheroo right on the cheek!
On a more formal note, Aubrey informs us that there are Laws about such things as awards, and despite my well-known iconclastic and anarchistic tendencies, I will attempt to honor them.
1) Tell 7 random facts about myself: a) I sometimes eat ice cream with a fork; b) I live over a homeless ministry (the gospel choir is quite good); c) my paternal grandfather was born in the same town that I’m living in; d) I have an unfulfilled dream of going to Madagascar and carrying a mouse lemur on my finger; e) If I could bring back any extinct animal, I would bring back New Zealand’s Moa; f) my high school English teacher/wrestling coach turned me onto poetry (& many thx for it, Ace!); and g) I’m going to call my book about my maternal grandfather The Nitrate Angel.
2) Pass the nomination onto 15 new bloggers. This is the tough part. I can see that I’ll have to put off picking them until my next post…
That’s all for now folks. And yes, it’s a grand feeling you have when you win an award… RT