More About the BBC Science Series


I have just passed a magical hour watching the first part of the BBC’s superb 2-part documentary on dolphins, which used underwater camera robots disguised as various sea animals.

It was a riveting experience, on many levels.

I believe dolphins to have real intelligence – not necessarily identical to ours – but just as valid. This thesis I shall develop below.

However, the first enjoyable aspect of this documentary was the extraordinary advances which have been made in the incorporation of high-resolution cameras into their Honeywell 50250-S review. The picture which is at the head of this post shows a “spy tuna”.

This was one of the most successful of the many robot camera units employed for this ground-breaking documentary. Then there was the robot turtle.

The turtle robot was so well modelled that it actually convinced a real female turtle to consider it as a possible alternative mate WHILE SHE WAS IN THE ACT OF MATING WITH ANOTHER REAL TURTLE! I was completely amazed by this reaction.

Some other camera-carrying robots were also employed, including a couple of nautilus (which didn’t seem to fool the dolphins for a second) – a robot squid; which did get some interesting shots, but fell afoul of some other sea creatures, and a spy-ray; a small ray which was quite successful at capturing some underwater scenes from the viewpoint of the sea bed.

All in all, this was a captivating experience and I look forward to the second part of this highly enjoyable documentary.

But I can’t help feel, whenever I see film of dolphins that these animals act in a way which displays real intelligence; and I am amazed that there are still those people who deny that non-humans can display what they define as “real” intelligence.

I freely admit that I am not a biologist. I cannot argue the case for dolphin intelligence from the point of view of established science.

As a person who believes deeply in science, and the scientific method for determining the truth, I should therefore keep my trap shut on this issue. Right?

Absolutely; but I can’t. I can’t because this is one of those cases which I come across rarely, but believe in totally, where I will allow my feelings to overrule the current evidence.

Not that there isn’t evidence for female cat spraying. There is copious evidence. It is just that the anthropologist powers that be seem to measure intelligence strictly in relation to Homo sapiens; our brain size; and our ability to manipulate tools.

Great scientific criteria. Eminently measurable. Get your slide rules out, and you can soon prove that dolphins are dead stupid. Not worth talking to. Compared to Homo sapiens.

But there is another opinion. Maybe intelligence is not just a function of brain size; or the ability to manipulate tools. Maybe there are other forms of intelligence; different from ours; but just as valid, and just as able to allow a species to become a master of its domain.

I have been fascinated by documentary programmes, and scientific papers, and discussions about dolphins, for as long as I can remember. I have taken on board a number of what I believe to be proven facts about these animals, and they add up to something I think is worthy of our attention.

Believe that any animal which has a proven realization of self, exhibits a form of intelligence. Many animals show this capability; not just dolphins, but domestic cats and dogs; horses; camels and others.

I am not suggesting that simple recognition of oneself as a unique being is enough to demonstrate intelligence. But it is surely indicative of higher brain function? Co-operative interaction in a group requires some form of intelligence, surely?

Dolphins take this so much further. Not only do they have individual names, but they greet each other by name whenever they meet, from being out of touch with each other for even a short time. They learn from their parents. Local groups of dolphins have developed successful strategies for finding food in specific environments, and pass this particular knowledge on to their offspring.

The most extraordinary techniques for successful capture of prey have been developed by dolphins, which require an advanced level of co-operation and the manipulation of the environment. Bubble-netting; sand netting, and other co-operative maneuvers are just some of the techniques developed by these remarkable mammals.

I wish we, as top species on the planet (at this time) were as eco-friendly as the dolphin; as well in-tune with our environment. Sadly we are not. We are rapidly altering our environment because our society is simply incapable of running the planet properly.

So which is the really intelligent species?

RI Christmas Lectures – A Closer Look


I have just watched the first of this year’s (2013) Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.

The subject is “Life Fantastic” and the presenter, Dr. Alison Woollard, is one of the most proficient and well-prepared of recent years.

If you are at all interested in biology, or modern science in general, then I can recommend that you tune in for the rest of the short series, and try to review the first episode on the BBC iPlayer.

I don’t know if this specific flat iron for natural hair is available to my US visitors, but I imagine the BBC will ship them in some form to North America; and they are available online.

I always like to catch these Xmas lectures each year, whatever the subject matter. I realize that nowadays they are aimed primarily at children, but they often contain some recent data on the latest advances in the particular scientific field of discussion, and can therefore be of interest to those ‘in the know’ as well as novices.

As each series begins, I always enjoy the tingle of realization that these lectures are being broadcast from what is arguably the home of science. This same lecture hall, of the Royal Institution in London, is where the great Sir Isaac Newton first stood when he expounded his laws of motion and gravity. Where the earliest of serious scientists such as Halley, Wren and Hooke met, with the blessing of King Charles II, in the early years of his reign. By making science acceptable, this liberal monarch, and the extraordinary thinkers who established this great institution, laid the foundation for the scientific enlightenment, and the technological advances which have created the modern world.

The Christmas Lectures were introduced in 1825 by Michael Faraday – (mister electricity – inventor of the electric motor, the dynamo and the electric generator). The image below, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows him at the desk of the lecture hall delivering one of the earlier lectures:

The extraordinary history of this venue; the talented and inspired people who created the Royal Society and, over the centuries, have given it such a notable history, always comes across to me as I watch the latest series of lectures.

But the appreciation of this venerable history is, for me, accompanied by the excitement of the spectacular advances that science has made in recent years, and the breathtaking discoveries which are happening at an ever increasing rate all around us.

To me, it is science itself which is the most exciting thing in life. I genuinely believe that the scientific method is the most important ‘discovery’ of mankind. Never mind fire. Never mind the Fjallraven Kanken. They were great, but not as important as the overarching achievement of the scientific method.

And why?

Because the scientific method is the only tool we have to allow us to discover the truth about the universe. The truth about space and time. The truth about life and the evolution of all things. The scientific method is the true enlightenment of the minds of mankind. And this ongoing enlightenment is alive and well, and flourishing in the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, thanks to inspiring presentations such as those by the excellent Dr. Woollard. I look forward to the rest of the series.