Here there be Dragons

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I was reflecting tonight about emergent phenomena, and how one thing about emergent phenomena is their unpredictability. I’m in the process of writing up a post on emergent phenomena in climate, so they’ve been on my mind. I got to thinking about something I saw thirty-five years ago, a vision that is as fresh today as the day I saw it. I’m going to write it up and post it, be aware that there isn’t much sciencey stuff at all in this post. So get a cup of your favorite hot beverage, there’s nothing contentious here, it’s just a seaman’s tale about the unfathomable nature of emergent phenomena …

One charmed afternoon, as the result of a series of misunderstandings and coincidences, I found myself on a small sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles and more from any land. The day was lovely, blue water, blue sky. A light breeze was blowing, just enough to keep the sails full and drawing. I was on the afternoon watch, so I was … well … watching, that’s what sailors on watch do. Watching the course, watching the sails, watching the taffrail log, watching the black bumps on the horizon, watching the compass, watching the clouds, watching the … wait, what? Black bumps on the horizon? What makes black bumps on the horizon?

sea serpentI watched and watched, and although the bumps got bigger, I couldn’t make out what it was. Clearly it was alive, I could see it splashing and moving in the far distance. Strangely, as more of the mystery creature became visible coming over the horizon, it started to look like the mythical sea serpent.

Or maybe it was two sea serpents, long ones, with parts of their bodies underwater and parts above water, I watched it for the longest time … and then suddenly, you know how the picture shifts, it all became clear. I was looking at a huge pod of dolphins swimming in a long thin line, that’s why it had looked like a couple of sea serpents. But the pod was gigantic, it was already well over a mile long, and heading towards the boat.

Nothing happens fast at sea. And so slowly, slowly the members of the pod moved in line towards us, with more and more of them appearing over the horizon as the first among them neared the sailboat. And amazingly, when the first dolphins drew even with the boat, dolphins in the back of the line were still coming over the horizon.

Now, for those of us stalwart citizens of America and Liberia fighting the lonely rearguard action of the good fight against the insidious foreign menace of metric measurements that would drain our precious bodily fluids, the rule of thumb in Imperial measurements is that distance to the horizon (in miles) is the square root of your eye height above sea level (in feet), rounded up. (The corresponding rule of thumb in metric is, three times the square root of eye height in metres (rounded up) gives distance in km to the horizon. But you can only have our feet and inches if you pry them from our cold hands …)

The deck of the boat was about four feet above the waterline. That put my eyes about ten feet (3m) above the waterline, meaning it was about four miles (six km) to the horizon, and the dolphins continued to stream over the horizon unabated.

The line of the dolphins passed maybe a quarter-mile from us, pretty close but still hard to make out. I was hoping that I would get a closer view of them, when I saw two dolphins leave the pod and come rocketing over at an incredible speed to check us out. They were large, obviously males. They went all around the sailboat for a few minute, eyeing us, checking out the boat, and then they rocketed back to the main pod … I was sorry to see them go.

But after they got back, they must have given us a good report … because in a little while some of the females came over with their young, including infants. I lay on my stomach on the bowsprit, the spar that sticks out forwards from the front of some sailboats, so I could look directly down on them from a few feet above them. The tiniest ones were unbearably cute. They were perfect miniatures of their moms, identical in every detail. The moms and babies came and swam under the bow of the boat. The babies swim right under the moms, for protection. Then when the moms come up for air, the baby pops out from under and swims alongside of the mom to the surface, in a gorgeous symphonic ballet of synchrony. They both take a breath at the same instant, I could hear the big breath and the baby breath like the palest petal of air, then the baby pops back under the mom, and off they go again.

Amazingly, I saw the moms trade off the childcare duties. I watched one mom and a kid for a bit. They were doing the pair breathing, they went on for a while.

And then, another mom came up to the bow and said something to the first mom. The kid ducked from under the first mom to the other, and the first mom celebrated her new-found freedom and lack of responsibility by indulging in a whole long series of jumps and dives and turns, it looked like she just got off an eight-hour shift … she was one happy lady, she never did come back to the sailboat, she was done with childcare for a bit, she went tailwalking across to join the ladies in the main dolphin parade.

And all the while the unending stream of dolphins was passing by. Different groups of them came to play around the boat, and then retired to join the pod. The leaders of the group were halfway to the opposite horizon, and still dolphins came to play … and when the leaders of the pod had made it all the way to the horizon, and had finally disappeared from view, there were still more dolphins coming over the horizon, still more dolphins coming to visit us, while still more dolphins disappeared over the horizon more came into view. Eight full miles and more of dolphins making their slow way to … where?

And then with an almost tragic finality, the tail of the huge long pod came into view, wending its deliberate way forwards. Those last dolphins still had three miles to go just to get to the boat. As they approached, a few last visitors came and gazed at us through the two-way mirror of the ocean’s surface, and then left to join their friends. I sadly watched them join up with the tail of the pod and then slowly, slowly, the tail of the pod shrank towards the horizon.

And finally, in the long slanting rays of the late afternoon, the last of the gorgeous, mysterious dolphins slipped over the far edge and were lost to sight … I sat in silence, almost dazed by the experience. After watching them laugh and play for those few mercurial hours, I felt like I do when friends depart after too short a visit. And I wondered how the world appeared from their side of the silvery mirror of the surface.

What did we look like to them? What did they think of us? Clearly, they were intelligent. They sent out scouts to gauge our intentions before they allowed the women and kids to visit, just like any wandering tribe in an unknown country. They moved in a conscious, purposeful manner, with the women and kids in the middle of the pod, and bigger males ranging widely back and forth along both sides, clearly watching out for the tribe as they steadily moved towards … somewhere.

But where were they headed, and why? I realized that the afternoon had vanished, how had it suddenly become evening? My watch was over, I put my head back on the cockpit cushions and watched the stars come out and drifted in a half-sleep, considering the question of their mystery hegira. After picking up and discarding a variety of hypotheses, the picture started to become clearer. As my head sank lower, I could almost see how the word had come skittering down the oceanic spinal telegraph, an eclectrical spark that went quantum tunneling through the aquatic mental telepaphone, wailing a long saxophone growl about there was gonna be some seriously shaking dolphin party down the way, the whole tribe was invited, there was gonna be fins and sins over at the corner of what almost sounded like Water Street and Ocean Avenue, but I couldn’t make out the words, they sounded strange and squeaky.

And yet I somehow, as the motion of the boat gently lifted and soothed me, I knew exactly where that party was going to be, and it was a warm and happy place, with lots of friends and plenty of fish-heads, I could almost taste the sweetness. And I could see how the boss dolphin ladies notified all of their aunties and cousins in that part of the ocean, and then they informed their husbands that they needed to clean up and get respectable, and they got the kids lined up, and they called in the distant relatives on the deep sound channels from where they were fishing in small groups around, and when they all were ready in their thousands and thousands, they all started to move, disordered at first. Then the first ones started their dolphin-dance, in and out of the water, and one by one they picked up the music and began line-dancing down the slanting wave-faces to the party somewhere over the horizon.

And then somehow my point of view shifted, and I could see it all from far above, and my boat was a tiny toy below me, and I could see a tiny man sleeping there, and weeping for the beauty, but he was a stranger, I was not interested in him, so I turned, and oh, I saw that the tribe that had laughed and frolicked past us were just one of a dozen dolphin tribes that I could see converging on some golden section of the ocean. And I could shift my eyes back and forth, and one moment see all the converging tribes of dolphins, still miles and miles apart but already singing and chattering to the unseen shadow-shapes of their alters in the blue-black deeps. And then shift my eyes and see them close up, the single dolphins ready to get down and boogie and become risqué, the moms eager to see their friends and tell lies about the orcas that they’d seen and boast of their grown children …

And I had the feeling that I could watch them forever, they had a purity of companionship that was infinitely inviting … but then somehow the time lurched and shifted like the needle picked up off an old vinyl record and set down in a new groove, and I could see all of them arriving together in the moonlight, laughing and frolicking, old friends from the different tribes telling their stories, young ladies and gentlemen dancing on their tails with the refulgent moonlight transmuting the splashing drops into tiny blazing-white stars like diamond-dust flung into blackness, the drops falling and skittering across the midnight velvet face of the moonlit ocean.

dolphin partyI wanted so much to join them in their dance that I began to weep, because I knew I was too clumsy and heavy to ever dance with the dolphins. But then you showed up, and you said I just had to unzip my bodysuit, and I could take it off and join the dance. And I was overjoyed, and amazed that I had never noticed the zipper before, but the surprise quickly faded and I unzipped it and stepped out of it just like I remembered doing so many times before, how could I have forgotten? And like always before it gave me a miraculous feeling of joy and lightness and energy. I knew I could dance all night with the dolphins, and I danced the first few steps and watched the colored energy roll through my body, the wings of my lungs beating like feathered clouds with my breathing, and the dolphins surrounded me and I could understand their singing, the dolphins shining and flashing and glowing to my new eyes, the dolphins dancing on all sides, walking on water, dancing on air … but before I was barely begun, a cold wind blew up without warning and spun me round and round, I didn’t have the energy to hang on and I felt myself spiraling down, I was gaining weight and losing speed, moving slower and slower, the fog was setting in to caress my face, I saw the tiny man passed out on the ship, he had stopped weeping, and without a trace or a shiver I was lost in a profound and dreamless sleep in that dark sea of awareness that surrounds and comforts us all.

.

As I said at the beginning, there’s not much sciencey stuff in this post, that will go in my upcoming post on emergence. Instead, consider this sailors tale a paean to the ungraspable, a celebration of things we don’t know, a rejoicing in not understanding the dolphins, a plea for an acknowledged lack of understanding, a shout-out to the unseen undersea power of family and friends and tribes, and a reminder that when it comes to the emergent phenomena that pop out of nothingness to surprise and amaze and bedevil us with things like lightning bolts and dolphin parties, the science is never settled …

My very best wishes to you all,

w.

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123 Responses to Here there be Dragons

  1. Cheryl says:

    I love your stories. It’s almost like being there. Thanks!

  2. Ken Finney says:

    *Gobsmacked*

  3. michaeljmcfadden says:

    Beautifully written Willis! Thank you for sharing!!

    - MJM

  4. Glenn says:

    Thanks…

  5. yes well getting Imperial and SI units mixed up caused that satellite to crash. I use both, but then I am a Brit and we invented Imperial measurements and some SI units are named after Brits, and find both easy. SI for science and Im—–, well you know what I mean.
    When at sea use NAUTICAL miles and Knots. so please use the correct units Willis, and nautical miles make navigation easier.

  6. Ljh says:

    Thank you Willis! I wish you would gather all your anecdotes into a Collected Tales. I am sure I’m not the only one.

  7. David Y says:

    Brilliance…again.

  8. Sorry, Willis, you lost me with “mom and kid”. I cannot deal with people who don’t know the difference between people and animals. You were certainly honest on “no science”, you just failed to mention the Walt Disney fantasy angle. I’m sure Walt appreciates your contribution to making animals human, however.

  9. Bob Tisdale says:

    Thanks, Willis. It afforded a wonderful chance to escape the toils of the day.

    Regards

  10. G P Hanner says:

    Describing what few get to see. Very good. I’ve been there.

  11. Grant says:

    What a wonderful world….

  12. mogamboguru says:

    Write a book, Willis. Please, write a book!

  13. jeff 5778 says:

    Magical.

  14. G. Karst says:

    Having spent considerable amounts of my younger years cruise sailing, I agree that a sailor spends most of his time watching. The rest of the time is spent rubbing ones eyes, trying to discern some of the strange things observed, on the water or in the night sky. Light and sound plays plenty of tricks on the water, especially when compounded by fog, wind, rain, lightning (in all it’s glorious forms) animal life, and real dangers. They almost always resolve themselves into the mundane, however some do remain a mystery. GK

  15. Stuart Elliot says:

    For a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

    Thanks for putting it into words as only you can.

  16. viejecita says:

    Dear Mr Willis Eschenbach
    This is a beautiful story . I am going to print it and keep it for ever and ever, together with my copy of Treasure Island, with my Jack London books, and with my other favorites.
    I only hope you will publish your tales, and the story of your life, in book form, with prints and photos. Even if you don’t like publishers, ( those vampires ), you could self publish them in Kindle version, through Amazon. There is a free kindle book that explains how to do just that.
    Thank you very much !!!

    Your old Spanish admirer
    María

  17. Luther Wu says:

    Ah, yes- the bodysuit.

    Good job.

  18. JImbrock says:

    Reminds me of one day on Puget Sound, when a herring ball passed under our boat. Then the sea birds began diving and chattering and splashing. Nice sunny day. Beautiful.

  19. Beautiful story, Willis, thanks!
    Yes, dolphins are frequent visitors for sailors, they seem to consider sailboats as new neighbors.

  20. Michael Moon says:

    I was on Number 9 at Elbel in South Bend, IN one afternoon when I saw what appeared to be a puddle of water moving across the fairway. Walking a little close to see what it was, I saw a mother skunk and six little ones, moving in very close quarters, each step a sine wave progressing from head to tail. Never seen anything like it again.

    Another time, driving on M-140 in Michigan, I passed a farmer plowing with a huge tractor and 24 plows. A giant flock of seagulls was behind him, eating the earthworms he was turning up. The birds would fly close behind the tractor, land, eat for a while, and then fly back to behind the tractor. The effect was a continuous raucous screaming wheel of flying gulls, never saw anything like it again…

  21. Gary says:

    I could almost see how the word had come skittering down the oceanic spinal telegraph, an eclectrical spark that went quantum tunneling through the aquatic mental telepaphone, wailing a long saxophone growl about there was gonna be some seriously shaking dolphin party down the way, the whole tribe was invited, there was gonna be fins and sins over at the corner of what almost sounded like Water Street and Ocean Avenue, but I couldn’t make out the words, they sounded strange and squeaky.

    I wonder if the dolphins are as romantically poetic and inventive of portmanteaus as you are, Willis. Going to add “eclectrical” and “telepaphone” to my vocabulary.

  22. Coalsoffire says:

    Reality Check.

    Too bad you missed the whole point of the essay.

  23. bacullen says:

    Uh – no body suit but I have found working gill slits under my arms at the appropriate time. In fact I can still feel remnants of them now!
    Thank you again Willis for sharing your beautiful observations.

  24. Joe Public says:

    Thanks for the great description of your experiences; and, such wonderful pictures to illustrate it.

  25. Ken cole says:

    Thank you Willist for another wonderful tale. As an ex merchant navy man your stories bring back lots of memories,
    Nostalgia is great, although it is not what it used to be!

  26. psi says:

    Coalsoffire says:
    February 4, 2013 at 9:05 am
    Reality Check.

    Too bad you missed the whole point of the essay.

    Uhu.

  27. Doug Huffman says:

    Unexpected emergent phenomena are precisely Black Swans, the topic of Nassim N. Taleb’s eponymous insights and cautions in Fooled by Randomness and, most recently, Antifragile, that compares, contrasts and synthesizes fragility and robustness to derive anti-fragility – things that benefit from random unexpected stresses.

    His home page http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/ features the Procrustean epigram,

    Ethics: “If you see fraud and don’t shout fraud, you are a fraud”

  28. lsvalgaard says:

    Coalsoffire says:
    February 4, 2013 at 9:05 am
    Reality Check. … Too bad you missed the whole point of the essay.
    Regardless of units, Willis’ beautiful story reminds me how close the horizon is when you have no landmarks that stick up. I felt the same closeness when I long ago worked at a scientific station on the featureless Greenland Inland Ice. Or even closer as my eyes were only six feet above the surface.

  29. Steve Keohane says:

    Thanks Willis. Once in Cozumel, near the NE end, on the Cancun side, I saw a line of dolphins making their arcs 50-60 feet off shore. Having been snorkeling, I grabbed my gear and headed into the water. I was able to get to within about 10 feet of the dolphins, about 8-10 of them. As they swam by, I could watch them from both above and below the water. It was a delightful treat to be able to experience them in their world.

  30. That was lovely!
    My memory may be playing tricks, but I seem to recall that the rule of thumb for the distance of the horizon in miles is √(1.5 x eye-height in feet). I remember because 6ft of altitude results in 3 miles of horizon. We did the relevant spherical trigonometry in a class at school and – as rules of thumb go – it is remarkably accurate. So much so that it won’t work for nautical miles. If I’m right, your line of dolphins was even longer than you said.
    Not all of us in the UK have surrendered imperial measurements. They try to tell us that thinking in metric is a sign of being educated. Therefore being educated signifies an inability to handle multiples more complicated than 10.

  31. Sparks says:

    “One charmed afternoon, as the result of a series of misunderstandings and coincidences, I found myself on a small sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles and more from any land.”

    That’s one for the big book of quotes, I laughed to the point of tearing up when I read it. Something about that statement I think is hilarious.

  32. Coalsoffire: Too bad you missed my point.

  33. John W. Garrett says:

    w.,
    As long as I live, I’ll recall similar experiences aboard small sailing vessels.

    On occasion, I’ve tried to describe the magic of those moments to folks who haven’t been to sea. After the first couple attempts, I abandoned the effort and swore I’d never try again. I’ve frequently observed that, “You can’t photograph it and you can’t describe it.”

    You’re better at it than I’ll ever be.

  34. johnmcguire says:

    Willis , I enjoy your stories . I too have had many adventures due to misunderstandings and coincidenses . Fortunately for me they never ended in a jail sentence hahaha . Keep up the good work , both the science and the entertainmant .

  35. Craig Moore says:

    To quote Joe Flacco holding the Superbowl trophy, your writing is “f—— awesome!” My mind’s eye fully opens and sees through your words.

  36. Coalsoffire says:

    Reality Check

    Oh. I thought we lost you because you can`t deal with people who can`t tell the difference between animals and humans. If that wasn`t your point then I guess I did miss it. This point was so fatuous and contrived that it didn`t really deserve a response. You need to get over the loss and learn to deal with people you don`t understand.

    On the other hand if your point is that there are certain differences between animals and humans and that Willis is unable to understand them, then a better example than citing the simple phrase `mom and kid`will be necessary. Firstly you would have to establish your own definition of those differences. And are you referring to physical, philosophical, social, spiritual, or mental differences. On the surface your comment would seem to suggest that dolphins, unlike humans, cannot have maternal relationships on any level. It seemed like Willis was just describing what he observed and trying to make sense of it. Perhaps he totally misinterpreted what he saw and you can set the record straight. That would be much more helpful than a drive by post claiming that you were lost and Willis didn`t know the difference between humans and animals. Prove your point. To Willis it looked like these dolphins were nurturing their young. Tell us what they were actually doing.

  37. Ian W says:

    What did we look like to them? What did they think of us? Perhaps more than we know..

    The phrase: “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!” comes to mind. (Douglas Adams)

  38. Chris R. says:

    Thank you Willis, for sharing the observation, how much it moved you,
    and your imagination and dreams that flowed from your experience.

  39. oldseadog says:

    The peace of God starts 1000 miles from the land.

  40. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Reality check, here’s a reality check on my position on Walt Disney type images, from my post called “Conservamentalism”.

    I was fishing herring in the Bering Sea one season. I heard on the radio that the annual killing of the Canadian Arctic fur seals had begun, along with the obligatory protests that seem to be required these days.

    We’d caught about fifty tonnes of herring that day, killing on the order of a million living beings. I remember thinking how if some creature has big soft baby eyes, it gets lots of sympathy. But if a creature is slimy and has cold fish-eyes, its death doesn’t matter. People hated the seal killers for killing a few dozen creatures, while I killed millions of creatures and was ignored.

    If I had to pick one word to describe my position on the ecological webs that surround us, it would be “realist”. Life eats life to live. I am not a man who eats the meat and blames the butcher.

    I’ve worked a good deal as a builder. I build with wood. I cut down trees to make room for the building I live in. I grew up in the forest, my step-daddy was a timber feller, the royalty of the logging fraternity. I’ve worked killing trees on an industrial scale.

    And I’ll also fight like crazy to see the logging done right. with proper roads and proper setbacks, and proper slope limits, and reforestation. I’ve seen what bad logging practices look like and do.

    So no, I’m not the Walt Disney supporter you’ve mistaken me for. I am a realist about animals, I’ve lived among them. I care about them deeply, and I hunt them down and kill them and eat them. Go figure.

    Your simplistic view of the world needs to expand so you can hold contradictions, because animals and our relationship with them is chockablock full of those buggers …

    w.

  41. Policy Guy says:

    Willis,

    I will join the chorus and thank you for your very engaging sea stories. Short on science or not you offer a lot to learn.

  42. Referring to animals using human terms is scientifically and socially damaging. Animals are not people, people are not pet parents, etc. This is a very successful tactic used by environmentalists to get people to agree with their agenda. Remember the baby seals? The fuzzy polar bears? Walt Disney, Bambi and evil hunters? Now your child comes home and tells you that mommy polar bears are drowning and the babies are crying over the death of their mother and you should shut off the lights, stop polluting or the baby polar bears will keep crying. Polar bears do not cry and there is no evidence a baby polar bear “mourns” the death of the mother. Yet the image can burn a picture in your kindergartener’s mind that will be very difficult to overcome.
    When scientists study animal behaviour, they number the animals in the study and refer to them by that number. When activists study animal behaviour, they name the animals and make them part of a family tree. Thus, science studies wolverines 1,5, 7 and 18 while activists study Barney, Suzy, Barney’s mom Wilma and Barney’s brother Mark. It is a difference most people never pay any attention to. But in the psychological battle for believers in a religion such as environmentalism, it is very, very significant.
    What to call the dolphins: Females with young. Female one with offspring, female two with offspring. The females may take turns watching over the offspring. It’s not all warm and fuzzy, but it is accurate and does not give people the mistaken belief that animals are just a variant of humans. I do agree the dolphins were caring for their young, but not as a human family would do. They are dolphins, not people.

  43. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Sorry, Willis, you lost me with “mom and kid”. I cannot deal with people who don’t know the difference between people and animals. You were certainly honest on “no science”, you just failed to mention the Walt Disney fantasy angle. I’m sure Walt appreciates your contribution to making animals human, however.

    I wish I had lost you with “mom and kid”, you could have passed for a caring compassionate human being, but instead you had to open your mouth.

    Now go do what you falsely claimed to do.

    Get lost … it will do you good, being lost is an advantage to anyone.

    w.

    From Anthony:
    He should read this article on how elephants grieve:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270977/Elephants-really-grieve-like-They-shed-tears-try-bury-dead–leading-wildlife-film-maker-reveals-animals-like-us.html?ito=feeds-newsxml#axzz2JxaAefqk

    Doplhins, Elephants, Humans – all higher mammals. I’ll forgive “reality check” his inability to empathize, after all, he thinks wind power is the cats meow, so his version of reality differs from ours. – Anthony

  44. DavidG says:

    The most significant and only truly important emergent phenomena is consciousness itself. Physics will not be complete until there is an explanation for consciousness. The latest gravity theories are addressing this issue via the notions of signal non locality and quantum entanglement.

  45. Without insight or wonder there will ever be deductionism and half-science.
    Thanks for the smash-face reminder, Willis.

    No matter how much we try, we will never know truth conceptually; even the bits we know aren’t “it.” WUWT is about refraining from finalizing “it.”

    We are all dreaming and living; Willis is reminding us how this is to be done.

  46. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Referring to animals using human terms is scientifically and socially damaging. Animals are not people, people are not pet parents, etc. This is a very successful tactic used by environmentalists to get people to agree with their agenda. Remember the baby seals? The fuzzy polar bears? Walt Disney, Bambi and evil hunters? Now your child comes home and tells you that mommy polar bears are drowning and the babies are crying over the death of their mother and you should shut off the lights, stop polluting or the baby polar bears will keep crying. Polar bears do not cry and there is no evidence a baby polar bear “mourns” the death of the mother. Yet the image can burn a picture in your kindergartener’s mind that will be very difficult to overcome.

    Dang, my friend, get a grip! If you think that my story is “socially damaging” to children, I’d give any amount of money to not be your kid. “Burn a picture in your kindergartener’s mind” indeed …

    Sure, people misuse pictures of fuzzy animals. But if you think that what I am engaged in here is some kind of sappy Walt Disney story, you definitely need your reality checked.

    And when you say, “there is no evidence a baby polar bear “mourns” the death of the mother”, I call total bullshit on that one. All that one proves is that you haven’t spent enough time outside your mom’s basement interacting with the magical beasts we share the planet with. Dolphins will sometimes bear the dying members of the pod up at the surface so they can breathe. Elephants mourn their dead.

    So no, Reality, I didn’t anthropomorphize the dolphins, they did that all on their own. They care for their young. They trade off childcare duties. They hold the dying above the water to catch their last breath and their last sight of the sun. I see that you think you’re much more noble than they. You actually appear to believe that you are a higher order of being than the dolphins, that there is some kind of mystical gulf that you are on one side of and they are on the other side, and you know what?

    That is one of the sadder points of view I’ve ever come into contact with. You are cutting yourself off from amazing animals of all kinds by your pathological fear of Walt Disney. Sounds to me like maybe some picture got burned into your mind when you were a kindergartener …

    Are dolphins happy when they get off work? I say the lady I saw was very happy, she’d had to swim placidly with the kid for hours and when her responsibility was done, she went gamboling and prancing across the surface of the sea. And you know what, Unreality Check? If you had been there, you’d have said the same thing, her relief was apparent to the whole crew, we laughed our asses off when we saw her dance away after handing over the kid to someone else. Sorry you missed the party … but then I imagine that is not an unusual occurrence in your life.

    Finally, your beef is that I said “moms and kids” rather than “female dolphins along with juvenile dolphins of undetermined sex” or something?

    Dude … get a life.

    w.

  47. David L. says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 11:09 am
    Referring to animals using human terms is scientifically and socially damaging.”…

    True.

    Hopfully sometimes in the spirit of poetic license it’s okay to write literature that deviates from scientific accuracy just for the sheer enjoyment of imagination.

  48. Mark Whitney says:

    Thanks, Willis! A mind made for science with a poet’s soul. I share that.

  49. Vince Causey says:

    Reality Check,

    You should know the difference between a scientific report, fictional prose and poetry. They serve different purposes. Do you even know what a metaphor is?

  50. Luther Wu says:

    Mares eat oats and
    Does eat oats and
    Little Lambs eat ivy
    A Kid‘ll eat ivy, too
    Wouldn’t you?

  51. Canman says:

    Those warmists who condescendingly dismiss this blog are missing out on a lot of good writing.

  52. Coalsoffire says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 11:09 am
    Referring to animals using human terms is scientifically and socially
    damaging. Animals are not people, people are not pet parents, etc.
    This is a very successful tactic used by environmentalists to get
    people to agree with their agenda. Remember the baby seals? etc. etc.

    Is that all you’ve got? You seem to be the equivalent of those grammar nazis who jump all over you for typing your instead of you’re. But you want clear and complete distinctions between human terms and animal terms. On that basis Willis was wrong to call the young dolphin a “kid” because that would have to be a young goat. I always thought “mom” was a substitute for “mother” but not necessarily a human mother. Assuming you allow animals to have mothers. Since you won’t let them have a “mom” I would say having a mother must also be in doubt. My online dictionary shows the following:
    mom: noun: informal term for a mother

    By the way, how do you distinguish between animals and
    people then? And are all animals equal? You admit that dolphins care for
    their young. That was what Willis observed. Is he not allowed to
    observe that because humans also care for their young?

    Your comment about scientists being distracted by giving names to the
    animal subjects they observe is interesting. I’m not sure that has
    much or anything to do with failing to distinguish between animals and
    humans. It has everything to do with recognition of the worth and commonality of all
    living creatures, whether animal or human. Many of us have an innate
    sense of that worth, and others of us discover it as we interact and
    observe and begin to recognize our shared characteristics. I’ll share a couple of my limited observations which had to do with simple things easily understood.

    Most of my young life I had little to do with horses. I rode a few was
    about all. Then one day I had an experience that opened my eyes to
    some of the characteristics of a particular horse that changed the way
    I thought about all horses. Horses can talk. I had travelled hundreds of miles to visit
    my sister, and one day she was away somewhere and I decided to spend
    my time alone weeding her vegetable garden. She lived on a small
    acreage just outside of a little town in Idaho. Suddenly I heard a
    noise nearby. I looked up to see a horse standing by the fence about
    10 feet from me and nudging a sawed-off barrel that was in the corner
    of his pasture. He was literally banging on the metal with his nose
    and snorting at me drawing my attention to what was obviously his water trough. As soon
    as I looked up he gave a final nudge and then caught my eye. His
    intent was clear. The trough was bone dry. I looked around and
    found that the water hose was nearby that must have been used to fill
    his trough. So I turned on the hose and filled it up. The horse was
    visibly satisfied that his needs had been met. I didn’t have a name
    for that horse but we did communicate. The horse knew I had the means
    to help him and he got my attention in a way that explained to me what
    he wanted. I am not imposing human values, emotions, needs, or
    characteristics onto that animal. He is still an animal. He couldn’t speak to me in words, but he found a way to tell me something. At the risk of further getting you lost and confirming that you won’[t be able to deal with me, he talked to me. So I conclude. Horses can talk.

    I suppose because I think a horse can talk to me that I fall into the
    Disney group. So be it. I have a cat too and that creature gets its
    way with me a lot too. Do I think it is human? No, it’s way above
    that. He does have a disturbing animalistic tendancy to catch and torment mice, birds and bats despite the fact that I feed him rather lavishly and he never eats his prey. But last year some restless bored teenagers driving by late at night saw my cat in the yard, stopped their car and jumped out and captured it. Then one of them pulled out a pocket knife and stabbed the cat in the chest. Collapsing its lung and missing the heart by a fraction of an inch. The cat ran off leaving a trail of blood under my neighbour’s car, all around my garage, across the deck of my neighbour on the other side and up the stairs onto my deck and into its little house. The cat survived. Nine lives and all… a deer would have bleed out and died with such a wound and trail of blood. Well, what was the difference between the human and the animal in this scenario?

  53. Liz says:

    To the reader who mentioned that it took 1,000 miles… It only takes getting away from the radio or phone to work. The first time I really remember my father (an attorney) relaxing was on our first 3-week sailboat journey into Lake Huron. He had promised his partners that he would have the radio on at a certain time, in case they needed to reach him. I was in charge of making sure the radio was on at that time. Over the course of the journey, the radio time got shorter and shorter as I realized that my dad was de-stressing. It was wonderful to watch.

    I enjoy these tales – they remind me of my times in boats. I think that “Reality check” needs a time-out to relax.

  54. I have been ORDERED to leave this blog. No opinions allowed here that go against God Willis. So much for science.

    [Reply: I cannot find where anyone 'ordered' you to do anything. — mod.]

  55. Jim Barker says:

    Thanks, Willis. I’ve sat on the beach on barrier islands in South Carolina and have had dolphin Moms bring their kids up to the shore just to eyeball me. No doubt about their intelligence, curious natures, and their joy of life. Having them around is a blessing.

  56. Steven Mosher says:

    Reality:

    “I do agree the dolphins were caring for their young, but not as a human family would do. They are dolphins, not people.”

    ‘caring? for their young? wow that sounds warm and fuzzy.

    And how would a human family care for its young? and how different is that from what any higher mammal does.

    Reality, We may be spiritual beings having an mammalian experience. But we are mammals nonetheless and we care for our young just as any dolphin does; worse in many cases, better in some.

  57. Coalsoffire says:

    Reality check

    Sorry to hear that you have been ORDERED to leave this blog. That’s pretty unusual. And beastly inhuman treatment to be sure. I would sure like to see the evidence of it. The moderator himself isn’t aware of the ORDER. I guess I would have to admit that I don’t believe you unless you produce the proof of it.

  58. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Steven Mosher says:
    February 4, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    … we care for our young just as any dolphin does; worse in many cases, better in some.

    Steven, that cracked me up. Very funny.

    w.

  59. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Sparks says:
    February 4, 2013 at 9:41 am

    “One charmed afternoon, as the result of a series of misunderstandings and coincidences, I found myself on a small sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles and more from any land.”

    That’s one for the big book of quotes, I laughed to the point of tearing up when I read it. Something about that statement I think is hilarious.

    Many thanks, Sparks. I tend to take extra care with the opening sentence, it sets the tone. I was very happy when I finally had it hammered into shape, it took several re-heatings and re-forgings with time to let it cool in between before it was finished.

    Glad you enjoyed it,

    w.

  60. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 11:09 am

    … When scientists study animal behaviour, they number the animals in the study and refer to them by that number. When activists study animal behaviour, they name the animals and make them part of a family tree. Thus, science studies wolverines 1,5, 7 and 18 while activists study Barney, Suzy, Barney’s mom Wilma and Barney’s brother Mark. It is a difference most people never pay any attention to. But in the psychological battle for believers in a religion such as environmentalism, it is very, very significant.

    First, I’d need some kind of citation for this claim. I don’t see the people doing this kind of work naming the animals very often, other than as a convenient shorthand, whether or not they are activists. For example, many of the orcas the scientists study have names based on the shapes of their fins, because it’s easier to say “I recorded a sighting of Stumpfin today” than to say “I saw orca number 17 today, or is that one 16, hang on …”

    I don’t see how that damages their orca research … and when it comes to herring research, I want to meet those activists that name each herring.

    In any case, other than regarding the mental health of the participants, why should anyone care what people call the animals they study? Either their findings about wolverine number 11, also called “Split-paw” because you can recognize her by her tracks, are valid and true, or they are not. That’s all that counts, not whether she’s called #11 or Split-paw.

    But not all naming of animals is bad. Regarding the effects of naming on the mental health of the participants, when I was a kid on the ranch, children were often given animals to look after. My friend’s dad gave a calf to him and to his sister. They were to each raise their calf, and then they would be slaughtered and eaten by the family.

    He, like you, didn’t want the kids to get too attached to the animals, but for reasons of their emotional well-being, not because he feared it would mess with their scientific objectivity

    So before he gave the animals to the kids, he named them both. One was named “Sirloin”, and the other was named “T-Bone”.

    … seemed like a nice middle ground to me, all the advantages of naming without the emotional attachment, you should approve, Reality …

    w.

  61. “Get lost … it will do you good.” Complying.

  62. wsbriggs says:

    Willis, I had to take time away from this thread to calm down after reading RC’s comment. He reminded me far too much of an acquaintance from long ago who tried to isolate himself from any emotional identifiers. It “interfered with his thinking.” He was ultimately able to sufficiently disassociate himself from his feelings that his wife left him, and he refused to visit or allow his children to visit. An empty shell, abet without the beauty left behind by a nautilus.

    I’ll join the cry, “Book, book, book”

  63. Gail Combs says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Referring to animals using human terms is scientifically and socially damaging. Animals are not people, people are not pet parents, etc…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Try explaining that to my four footed kids.

    Since they are goats the correct term is kids and since I am bottle feeding them every three hours I am in loco parentis. However I also understand The Bambi Syndrome and use that term scathingly.

    Willis was raised on a farm and is very much aware of the difference between humans and animals, probably more so than you.

  64. Willis Eschenbach says:

    I just ran across a lovely article about my favorite tribe of birds, the corvids. Check this out:

    You might think that, to a bird, one meal is as good as any other. But at least for jays, you’d be wrong. The birds actually aim for variety when they make caches of food to eat later, trying to ensure they’ll have a mixture of food to enjoy the next day. The researchers confirmed that Eurasian jays have a similar desire for variety. If researchers pre-fed the jays a meal of wax moth larvae (mmm!) and then offered them a mix of that and mealworm larvae (double mmm!), the birds preferentially ate the mealworms. If the researchers did that after a meal of bird food, the birds chose the wax moths at a greater frequency.

    When males were given the chance to present foods to their mates, they acted as if the female had just been given bird seed—they gave their mates a mixture of wax moths and mealworms. But if the males had the chance to watch their partners being fed a bunch of wax moths, their gifts shifted, and mealworms were presented with a much higher frequency. This eliminated the possibility that the female somehow signaled the male to indicate which treat she preferred (if that were the case, it wouldn’t matter whether the male watched her eat before hand).

    The one remaining possibility the researchers considered is that the male ended up feeling satiated with wax worms just by watching the females chow down on them. But the males showed identical feeding behaviors whether they watched their partners eat or not.

    The researchers conclude their experiments show these birds are capable of attributing a specific mental state to others (namely, desiring a mealworm). They base this on the fact that the males weren’t simply giving the females what they wanted. In other words, their frequency of gift types didn’t match the frequency at which they ate. In addition, they note the females didn’t provide any signals that the males used to determine what to feed them. With those two possibilities eliminated, the authors conclude that the males were inferring the desires of the females.

    The researchers also place this work within the framework of what’s called a “theory of mind.” Early on in childhood development, kids are able to infer what other humans are likely to want or hope for. By around age four, they can start inferring more complex mental states, like their beliefs or the state of their knowledge. The latter is considered a full-blown theory of mind, in that you can make inferences about the mental state of other people.

    There’s no evidence birds have a full theory of mind, at least not from these experiments. But it’s been argued that the ability to infer desires is a key building block of humanity’s ability to form a theory of mind. Based on this work, the birds may have that.

    The crows, jays, and ravens have previously been shown to exhibit complex behavior. They use tools to access otherwise unobtainable food, which is an uncommon (but increasingly observed as we look more closely) trait in animals. And they have even been seen to use one tool to obtain a different tool to obtain food, behavior that not even chimps are known to exhibit.

    First, they observed that a crow will pick up a long stick in its beak, and use it as a tool to extract a piece of food from, for example, a barred cage with food in the center. They could see the food but they couldn’t reach into the cage between the bars. Corvids are the only birds I’ve heard of using tools in this manner, although other bird tribes may also. Chimps and other primates do this as well.

    Then the scientists put out a short stick, and the same barred cage with food in the center. Both the birds and chimps tried the short stick, and gave up when they discovered it wouldn’t reach the food.

    Then came the twist. The scientists added another, slightly smaller barred cage, this one with a long stick in it. The crows picked up the short stick, used it to pull out the longer stick, and then used the longer stick to pull out the food and ate it and laughed their strange crow laugh.

    To this day the chimps are as puzzled by that one as dogs are by the doorknob question …

    This article today is a strange finding, though. It’s in the realm of solving mental rather than physical problems. It shows that the jays are able to infer what kind of food another jay wants to eat … dang.

    And no, I don’t know if the scientists gave the jay birds names or not …

    In my youth many behaviors were believed to be only exhibited by humans, like the use of tools, and language, and grasping and manipulating abstract concepts.

    A number of these behaviors have since been seen in a variety of animals, such as the jays and the crows discussed above, and in gorillas talking sign language, and in the complex verbalizations of the cetaceans, and the like.

    What is obvious from all of the recent research looking at crows and dolphins and chimps is that there is no sharp division, no bright-line distinction between humans and animals, as we were once so eager to believe. Instead, we’re just another part of the parade … bad news for those holding that humans are oh-so-special-and-different, good news for energetic egalitarians like myself ,,,

    w.

  65. RoHa says:

    “the rule of thumb in Imperial measurements is that distance to the horizon (in miles) is the square root of your eye height above sea level (in feet), rounded up.”

    This is a rule of thumb?

    Let’s see …my eye height above sea level… I don’t know my eye height … where’s the blasted tape measure? … who put it in that cupboard? stupid place to … oh, I did … ahem … O.K., five feet and a few inches in bare feet … (how thick are soles of my shoes?) … how do you do square roots again? … I’ll use the calculator if I can find it … sod it, that’s my eye height above the floor, but the floor is higher than sea level … I’ll have to do this at the beach … try not to get sand in the calculator … and wiht this global warming the sea level is whizzing about all over the place anyway … dammit, that was the cube root button … clear and try again … so that’s how far the horizon is … why did I want to know that again?

  66. Well Willis, there is sciency stuff in your tale:
    - There are more critters out there than people imagine
    - living their dolphin life
    - you learned a little about that life (for some reason many were travelling together, perhaps migrating to where more food had been reported, as for example caribou do in northern Canada
    - they are clever and playful, probably more intelligent than lesser animals like caribou who also guard their pack/flock and protect their young

    Do you think the mothers and kids recognized you were alive, or were they just learning about a phenomena they had been told about? (Hard streamlined objects in the water.)

    A caribou story is that a few years ago environmentalists were flapping about disappearance of a caribou herd in northern Canada.
    Tribal elders tried to tell them where to look.
    Finally someone actually got off their ivory chair and looked – there they were.

    They’d been there before. In the old days tribal people had to really pay attention to where caribou went, and go scouting for them, as that source of food and hides was valuable to staying alive.
    (Today they have snowmobiles and aircraft, but may not harvest as many caribou.)

    Reasons for their move might include predators, insects (which really bother such animals), and food. (They do migrate seasonally due weather and more favourable birthing areas.)

  67. RoHa says:

    “as puzzled by that one as dogs are by the doorknob question …”

    Dogs and cats learn very quickly that manipulating door knobs opens doors. They just lack the necessary equipment to grasp the knob. If you replace the knob with a handle they can pull down on (cats jump up and hang on) they will soon be able to open the door for themselves. (Though cats will always prefer to get a human servant to do it, just for the fun of annoying someone.)

  68. Tom Matkin says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm
    “Get lost … it will do you good.” Complying.

    Passive aggressive behavior or poor reading comprehension? You are the one that said he was “lost”. That was just a play on your own words. It’s amazing that you can talk about a subtle rhetorical balance like the possible influence of naming subject animals in scientific research and yet seem not to comprehend anything else. “Get lost… it will do you good.” becomes “ORDERED” to leave the blog in your universe. Slinking away are we? You can pretend you were ordered off, but we know better.

  69. Robin Kool says:

    Wonderful story.

  70. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    “Get lost … it will do you good.” Complying.

    Reality check, please let me clarify, it was not my intention to drive you away. As in much of the head post, I was speaking metaphorically. You are far too sure and secure in your position, you need to get lost, to lose your bearings and your preconceptions, and let go of your fixed moorings and channel markers, and actually understand what I am saying.

    If you have continued to read my responses, you must have noticed by now that I’m not some Walt Disney bunnies and rainbows kind of guy … quite the opposite, as many will attest. I’m a shoot ‘em or fish ‘em and skin’em and gut ‘em and eat’em kind of guy, and paradoxically or not, I am also a man who sees the underlying similarities and kinship between myself and a cougar, a cow, or a carrot. In short, I describe myself as a reformed cowboy, although it is never quite clear what got reformed or how well … but I digress.

    So no, I don’t want you to leave, stay and play, take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee, and let me see if I can explain my stance.

    I have few illusions about nature, after all, I’m a serial fish-and-game-and-domestic-animal murderer. I am responsible for the deaths of literally millions of beings.

    But that doesn’t mean that I am somehow better or of greater value than the steers and the salmon and the sardines that I’ve killed. I just refuse to kill them mindlessly or barbarically or without giving their deaths proper notice. Some guys shoot a deer and stand around and laugh at its death. I’m not one of them. In short, I am unwilling to eat the meat and blame the butcher, and I guess that’s in part because I’ve worked as a butcher … here’s an example that might help clarify things.

    When I was working as a sport salmon fishing guide on the Kenai River in Alaska, every time one of my guests caught a fish, and I netted it and brought it on board and everyone admired its savage strength and beauty, and before I killed it, I would thank each and every fish in a loud voice for coming on my boat and for giving up its life. And I would tell that salmon that I knew that some day, I would give up my life in the same way, because at the end of the day there is only one way, one death indivisible for all.

    I’ve taken people from every walk of life out fishing on my boat, from judges to janitors, old ladies and young girls. And every one of them, when they looked into the eyes of that already-dying salmon, understood instinctively what I was doing and what I was saying. They knew this wasn’t a Disney bunny Kodachrome rainbow moment.

    And then mostly they would watch in silence as I killed it, took cold steel and cut its throat and its blood spilled across the deck, blood red as mine, and that silence was a right and a proper tribute to the ending of a life no less precious to that fish than my own is to me.

    I hope this clarifies my position for you, Reality. I don’t hold the other inhabitants of this most mysterious and magnificent planet up on a pedestal like the activists you mention. And I understand your visceral rejection of that position.

    But neither do I hold that the other inhabitants are beneath me, just numbers without names, existing in some lower separate world walled off from humans.

    Instead, I hold that there is a continuum of life, of which we are an inextricable part, and that other than plants, who live on sunshine, life eats life to live. I resolve this difficulty not minimizing that fact, not by putting it on the butcher, but instead by acknowledging it and giving it proper respect.

    Here’s another story, work with me here, I’m on a roll. Some of the Early Asian Immigrants that lived in this lovely North America before the arrival of the melanin-deficient tribes had a lovely ritual which some of my fellow fishermen and I used to observe. It had to do with catching the first salmon of the year.

    Particularly for the inland tribes, the return of the salmon was essential to life … and of course there was no way to know how many or even if they would return in a given year. So the catching of the first salmon was a huge deal. In some of the tribes they would take a plank of wood down to the river, and they would put the first salmon on it. Then all of the fishermen would hoist it on their shoulders, and they would carry it in triumph through the town, singing songs in praise of the mighty salmon, extolling the virtues of this particular fish. And of course tacking on some boasts about what great fishermen they are, after all, they are fishermen …

    Then they would cook the first salmon and hold the big official First Salmon Festival in honor of the fish, and everyone would join in, and they would eat it reverentially, carefully saving all of the bones.

    Then they would reassemble the bones on the wooden plank, and once again singing and carrying on, they would parade the bones back to the river. There, they would speak to the salmon, and tell it how much it meant to them, and how honored they were that it came to their very village. They told it that theirs was the best village because, as the salmon had seen with its own eyes, they had the baddest feasts in its honor, and they held it in high esteem.

    And then they placed the board in the water, and they told the salmon that they were sending him back to his friends downriver, the ones coming upstream, and they asked him to spread the word about the great time that he had partying in their village, and about the singing, and the honors and the feasting. And then they released him, to go downriver and spread the good news.

    Now, did the Early Asian Immigrants really think that the fish would come to back to life? Don’t be daft, they’d seen more death than we can imagine, and like us, nobody ever came back. But the spirit, ah, the spirit …

    They did it because that is how we should respect the spirit of those beings who give up their lives to keep us alive. And we used to do it as well, because to me, that is the proper mindset. It’s not Disney at all, there’s far too much cruel death in it for Disney to touch it … but it’s not at the other extreme either.

    Let me leave you with a bit more of Robinson Jeffers …

    I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
    Had nothing left but unable misery
    From the bones too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.

    We had fed him for six weeks, I gave him freedom,
    He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
    Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
    Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. What fell was relaxed,
    Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
    Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
    Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

    All the best,

    w.

  71. Byron says:

    Nice work Willis , it did what any good writing is meant to do and drew Me in even though it went a bit “out there” in the latter paragraphs it still worked . I could relate to the moment when the mother dolphin handed over her young`uns to an approved baby sitter so she could get some “Me” time. I`ve lost track of the number of times that I`ve been selected as the “designated babysitter” for dogs , cats and OEG bantams when the mum needs to go stretch her legs or in the game bantam`s case a quick trip to the beauty parlor (dust bath )

    As for Reality Check`s blah on the “Mom and kid ” phrase , I mean really ? , It was a bit of prose about a moment in time when two more or less intelligent species were interacting each other , using the latin or scientific terminology and designation numbers would have been jarring .in that context .Also , while humans certainly have a tendency to anthropomorphise animal behaviour all the animals I`ve dealt closely with have exactly the same tendency to canidamorphise , felinomorphise or indeed gallusamorphise our behaviour respectively ,

  72. Larry Kirk says:

    Willis,

    You might enjoy (as I currently am) “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World” by Ian McGilchrist.

    It is far from a fable, and his work is right at the edge of the emergent phenomena in itself. He is a former Oxford professor of English Literature, who then went on to study again in Medicine and Psychiatry, and then to clinically specialise in brain imaging amongst other things.

    What he explains so clearly and convincingly in the first part of the book is the duality and remarkable difference in point of view of the two hemispheres of the human brain: the specific, mechanistic, judgemental, theorising, confabulating, objective viewpoint of the left hemisphere, and the immersed, all-seeing, non-judgemental, deeply-feeling and empathetic, far truer but largely mute gaze of the right hemisphere.

    And not just in humans, but in all of our bilateral cousins and antecedents, eg. a small bird meticulously picking seeds out of gravel on a driveway with its (left-hemisphere-dominant) right eye, whilst passively taking in its entire surroundings and the rest of its flock with the gaze of its (right hemisphere dominant) left eye, for the slightest hint of threat in the greater world around it.

    Where McGilchrist’s resonates with your piece above was in your joy at gazing on the dolphins and their parade without need for judgement or understanding, simply feeling, curiosity and empathy.

    That is what we do, those of us who gaze. And it is a very right-hemisphered thing to do: for the right hemisphere deals with the new and as-yet incomprehensible, and is the empathetic, feeling hemisphere that is immersed and simply takes the world in as it is, reads the feeling in faces, phenomena and situations, and then if it thinks it urgent or necessary, hands the moment to the left to analyse and theorise over and come up with a definite (and arrogantly persistent though not necessarily correct) interpretation.

    I am currently reading the entire book, slowly and meticulously as and when I have time. The middle bit is a rather heavy trip into classical philosophy, but so worth it for the thought provoking gems of understanding that are hidden there, not to mention the education in a subject that anybody in their right mind might avoid. But the overall thesis that is emerging with respect to our modern culture is fascinating, and having started out with my left-brained scientific hackles up (and McGilchrist is certainly an accomplished scientist as well), I find that I am finally coming to see his point. It is worth reading in its entirety and he is worth hearing out.

    McGilchrist is a champion of the right brain and its empathetic gaze upon the un-’explained’, complete truth, more than of the left brain and its sub-sampled and confabulated dogma. Or rather he is a champion of the original, integrated, balanced mode of operation of the brain, where the right hemisphere perceives all, hands the inconsistencies and curiosities to the left for narrow, theoretical interpretation, and then retrieves it and reincorporates the results with the overall picture to see if they actually fit.

    And his concern is that the left brain, with its ‘voice’: its command of syntax, grammar, much of verbal language and modern script (non-pictographic, and no-longer written to the right brain’s preference of downwards, from right to left), has gained command of our culture at the expense of the right (not least, I would add, in this modern age of email and text, where the 70% of human communication that is non-verbal: facial expression, tone, demeanour, stance, etc. are all excluded).

    It is a book to be read slowly, deeply, alone and uninterrupted. Preferably on a slow moving boat. Probably with a dictionary to hand (philosophy does have its own terms – I needed one).

    It casts one’s thoughts and feelings on self, the world and others in a whole new light.

    And in fact, more generally, it speaks volumes about the polarising dogma to which many of us are inclined on either side of scientific debate, not least the debate that is the subject of this blog!

    With regards,

    Larry Kirk.

  73. Noelene says:

    Yep..most animals are like humans..they rape,kill other animal’s and their own offspring,and kill each other.The difference is the animals know no better.
    I am a bit confused as to why the dolphins would think that it was ok to approach humans?Mama dolphin sending bad messages to baby dolphins.You should have fired guns in the air.The next boat they approach may have dolphin killers on board.
    I’m in the camp that believes interacting with animals are doing them harm.They need to be wary of man.

  74. “All that one proves is that you haven’t spent enough time outside your mom’s basement interacting with the magical beasts we share the planet with.”
    My mother is dead and you have no idea who or what I am. I have not figured out how to shut off the emails. I did unsubscribe from the blog. Whatever your intent, you have made it clear this is not a place that tolerates differing opinions.

    [Reply: I must butt in here. WUWT is one of the most tolerant sites you will find. If your comment does not violate site Policy it will be approved, no matter what your point of view happens to be. — mod.]

  75. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Noelene says:
    February 4, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    … I am a bit confused as to why the dolphins would think that it was ok to approach humans?

    Um … because generally it is perfectly safe for them to do so? Almost everyone likes them.

    Mama dolphin sending bad messages to baby dolphins.You should have fired guns in the air.The next boat they approach may have dolphin killers on board.
    I’m in the camp that believes interacting with animals are doing them harm.They need to be wary of man.

    Dang, noelene, that seems both overly broad and overly harsh. All other problems have been solved, so you’re giving mothering lessons to dolphins now?

    Most animals are already appropriately wary of man, depending on how they interact with man. Should house cats be “wary of man”? Heck, no, we feed and pet them. Should rattlesnakes be wary of man? Sure, people are pathological about snakes.

    But dolphins? I’m no great fan of humanity, our actions towards other creatures often seem unethical to me, but dolphins?

    Dolphins have been playing and dancing under the bows of boats for as long as there have been boats. Sailors love them. Hanging around sailors doesn’t seem to have done them any particular harm in the last two thousand years, why should it happen now?

    Or maybe you just got something against sailors? I know it’s bad for the ladies to hang around us, everyone knows that, but now we’re contributing to the delinquency of dolphins?

    Perhaps interacting with you causes harm to animals, Noelene, I wouldn’t know. I’m of the opinion that interacting with me is of benefit to animals … which may be why I’ve been privileged to participate with them in some awesome things.

    Finally, my experience is that wild animals are very, very good at distinguishing between people who will harm them and e.g. myself, so I’m not worried that interacting with them will suddenly shut off their innate and very accurate suspiciousness …

    w.

  76. Luther Wu says:

    note to newbies:
    Willis is scrappy. Better not be a namby pamby if you take him on.

    That is all.

  77. Noelene says:

    I don’t interact with them Willis.You can’t help that nastiness can you?It’s what RC is talking about.I don’t know any sailors,but I would not expect sailors to be killing dolphins.I can understand why you loved the experience but I still believe that they would have been better served if you scared them off.I don’t believe dolphins can distinguish between good and bad men,so we will have to agree to disagree.

  78. Byron says:

    Reply to:
    RoHa says:
    February 4, 2013 at 5:35 pm
    —————————————————————-
    I had to change the lever style door handles for the smooth knobs in Our house for just that reason , also the cats and dogs in my home are very proficient at communicating to each other when it comes to getting latched pet food containers open and out of cupboards sprung to close

  79. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Reality check says:
    February 4, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    “All that one proves is that you haven’t spent enough time outside your mom’s basement interacting with the magical beasts we share the planet with.”

    My mother is dead and you have no idea who or what I am. I have not figured out how to shut off the emails. I did unsubscribe from the blog. Whatever your intent, you have made it clear this is not a place that tolerates differing opinions.

    You’re right, that was overly harsh, but I don’t react well to anonymous internet popups who make accusations that I’m dishonest. Remember, you came in like this:

    I cannot deal with people who don’t know the difference between people and animals. You were certainly honest on “no science”, you just failed to mention the Walt Disney fantasy angle. I’m sure Walt appreciates your contribution to making animals human, however.

    In your opening salvo, the words you came in with, you accused me by implication of dishonesty for not mentioning “the Walt Disney fantasy angle”, and said that I was totally naive about animals … and now you want to whimper because I said you were acting like a nerd who lives in his mom’s basement? Here’s a reality check for you—you come in slapping your big mouth around, you don’t get to complain when you end up with a fat lip.

    But given that, I would protest that we are tolerant of differing opinions, anyone can post here, unlike many sites that block differing opinions.

    Heck, I have differing opinions from other folks that write for this site. And those folks and others give me all kinds of challenges to my beliefs … but that’s the game. You’re not going to just post unopposed. If you can defend your ideas, then you’ll get traction. If you don’t, you won’t.

    Now, I don’t hold a grudge, and I felt like given the total jerkwagon nature of your growling, biting entrance, I’ve been quite patient and tolerant with your nonsense.

    So, like I said above, I’m not trying to drive you away … but my friend, you make it hard.

  80. Noelene says:

    BTW
    What you said about cats.I have cats and dogs.I have had 3 cats killed by dogs(not my dogs)and I often wonder if the cats would not have been killed if they had not lost their fear of dogs because I forced them to interact.

  81. eyesonu says:

    Willis,

    Very good read. Just the right touch of relaxation occasionally tossed in to WUWT as most of us here are prepared for a serious analyzing of the tech issues addressed when visiting.

    Part of your quote from a comment above: “… I’’m not the Walt Disney supporter you’ve mistaken me for. I am a realist about animals, I’ve lived among them. I care about them deeply, and I hunt them down and kill them and eat them. Go figure.” — I think that summarizes the thoughts of many/most true conservationists and hunters. We will provide as best for the welfare of our chosen game and harvest before waste, much as is done in our backyard garden.

    Thanks for your stories.

  82. James Allison says:

    Somehow while reading your story Willis a clip from my favourite comedian popped into my head. Its just the irreverent side of me bubbling up. Sadly I couldn’t find a copy of the the original clip from “Circle” without the added dancing whales. Incidentally I also am a man who has spent much of his life on, in or under the sea.

  83. eyesonu says:

    Noelene says:
    February 4, 2013 at 7:19 pm
    ======

    How many cats do you have? Were your house cats running loose outside the house? Are they feral/stray cats that you were simply feeding?

    The reason I ask is that most people that I know keep their house cats inside but I have a couple of neighbors who are supporting a colony of about 20 strays and keeps me busy trapping and transporting them to the pound.

  84. Byron says:

    Noelene ,
    “lost their fear of dogs because I forced them to interact.”

    Unlikely , My mob of ginger & tabby idiots sleep on their dogs and complain loudly if They think I`ve left the dogs outside too late of a night but they`ll attack any strange dog they catch near their yard and any stray mutt that threatens one of their dogs ends up with it`s face looking like it`s been used for scrimshaw practice

  85. Noelene says:

    Yes my cats are loose outside the house.One was taken from my doorstep.I guess the owners of that dog let it loose outside their house.Two was taken from the fence by a neighbour’s dog.Yes I have had cats that attack dogs,mainly ones I get as adults.The ones I have gotten as kittens tend to be more friendly towards dogs.I’m only wondering about cats and dogs..not convinced that there is a correlation.I also believe that suburban dogs would not attack cats unless their owners teach them to..could be wrong on that one too.I do know that my neighbour’s dogs were taught to attack cats.

  86. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Noelene says:
    February 4, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    I don’t interact with them Willis.You can’t help that nastiness can you?It’s what RC is talking about.I don’t know any sailors,but I would not expect sailors to be killing dolphins.I can understand why you loved the experience but I still believe that they would have been better served if you scared them off.I don’t believe dolphins can distinguish between good and bad men,so we will have to agree to disagree.

    Noelene, you come in and you want to lecture me on what I’m doing wrong with animals, you step right up to give mothering lessons to mama dolphins, and to tell me how dolphins are in danger from humans … sorry, but when well-meaning but clueless people give me that kind of grief, I tend to be less than reverential.

    The lack of reverence only increases when you come back and don’t comment on my pointing out the fact that with few exceptions OCEANIC DOLPHINS AND MAN HAVE INTERACTED PEACEFULLY FOR AT LEAST TWO THOUSAND YEARS, which conclusively proves that your worries are bright green nonsense.

    But rather than accept that your claim is a joke, that there’s absolutely no reason to teach dolphins to hate man by shooting guns and scaring the living shit out of them for absolutely no reason, you’d rather bitch about the tone in which I pointed out that your claim is a joke … and what really drives you spare is that the bitching doesn’t work with me.

    See, Noelene, I’m the guy who doesn’t care, the wild card in the deck. None of your wiles, none of your stratagems, none of your protests mean anything to me. I don’t care if you like me. I’m totally uninterested in your or anyone’s approval, I have to work too hard to maintain my own approval. I’m not running for anything.

    I’ve spent a lifetime around wild animals, Noelene, and I have learned how to relate to wild animals, not from watching the Nature channel, but from the wild animals themselves … do you imagine that a man like myself would ignore their wisdom in favor of the “teach them to hate man” ramblings of some random anonymous internet screen name? Why would I conceivably do that?

    Look, I don’t think you’re a bad person or anything. You just didn’t think through your ideas, and you don’t realize how little weight a random internet claim has. If oceanic dolphins were in danger from man we’d have seen it long ago. We haven’t. Ergo, they aren’t in danger, and your concern is totally misplaced. They’re not Bambi, they’re large, aggressive, intelligent carnivores, and they’re doing quite well, not under threat, thanks for asking. There certainly are animals that I would not encourage to interact with man. Dolphins are not among them.

    And although it is true that I am indifferent to your disapproval, I do sincerely apologize for whatever it is that seems to have upset you in my answer. I’m a work in progress …

    w.

  87. James Allison says:

    Noelene says:
    February 4, 2013 at 6:33 pm
    Yep..most animals are like humans..they rape,kill other animal’s and their own offspring,and kill each other.The difference is the animals know no better.
    I am a bit confused as to why the dolphins would think that it was ok to approach humans?Mama dolphin sending bad messages to baby dolphins.You should have fired guns in the air.The next boat they approach may have dolphin killers on board.
    I’m in the camp that believes interacting with animals are doing them harm.They need to be wary of man.

    =======================================
    The most south western area of New Zealand contains a series of Fiords unsurprisingly called Fiordland. The inland waters of the fiords (Sounds) have near vertical walls plummeting many hundreds of feet straight to the sea floor. The underwater scenery and abundance of fin and crayfish makes it a wondrous fishing and diving spot. The reason for my comment is that the fiords are also home of bottle nosed dolphins. These guys grow pretty big – adults over 3.5 metres (over 11 feet) long and are as curious as all hell. They will happily swim close alongside curiously watching our clumsy antics diving to crab a couple of crayfish (lobster) or spearing a fish to eat. And when swimming on the surface we get pods of these large dolphins frolicking and playing among us often coming close enough to briefly touch them. Local fishermen tell us that as long as there are dolphins around we are safe from being attacked by Great White and Mako sharks that scrounge around the Sounds looking for an easy feed. The whole experience really is “one with the natural world”. As such I find your comments about why dolphins shouldn’t approach humans as vaguely repugnant and disturbing. I recommend that you “go get lost” in a place like Fiordland before making any more comments denigrating the intelligence of dolphins.

  88. Noelene says:

    I don’t think the discussion is about whether they are endangered,it’s about whether you can protect them from slaughter by man.
    The truth is we cannot get inside their minds.Sorry if you thought I was lecturing you Willis.You could well be right,I could well be right..we’ll never know.

  89. Larry Kirk says:

    Funny how one’s reponse to the original post falls, eventually after pause for writing, thought and moderation, between the subsequent comments and conversations wherever they have led and ends as a non-sequitous blurt in the middle of somebody else’s argument..

    Oops!

  90. Steven Mosher says:

    “Whatever your intent, you have made it clear this is not a place that tolerates differing opinions.”

    tolerating? allowing? incouraging? supporting? fostering? respecting? permitting?

    stick in different words. an interesting execise.

  91. Steven Mosher says:

    “Steven, that cracked me up. Very funny.”

    I dunno everytime I’ve been called an animal I took it for the compliment it was.

  92. Allen B. Eltor says:

    That sea dragon sounds like the sky dragon that/those men wrote [that book about]; faked readings and claims of the shadow burned in the price of oil or something, and it was going to ‘get everybody’ for not buying Al Gore’s oil, and especially for not electing him president.

  93. Allen B. Eltor says:

    First line should say ” that / those men wrote that book about; faked readings”
    sorry
    A E

  94. Merovign says:

    You Would Think It Was A Full Moon.

    Just what I hope will be taken as friendly advice to the hosts *and* guests here – just because someone desperate to change the subject or dominate the discussion crassly insults you does *not* mean you have to engage them in discussion.

    A behavior rewarded is a behavior repeated.

  95. James Bull says:

    Many years ago now on a family holiday on the Orkney islands my dad and a friend took several of us fishing in Scapa Bay. We were going to fish for mackerel when we saw the smooth surface boiling with sand eels as they almost threw themselves out of the water to get away from the mackerel, just after this started the mackerel were jumping out of the water to get away from the dolphins who were working in a circle moving gradually into the centre. We watched for several minutes till all was calm again and the dolphins came over and had a look at us before going off to play. We still got enough fish for our tea.
    Another thing I saw on a windless and cloudless early morning sitting on the shore of Scapa Flow looking across the mirror like waters of the flow. Hovering above the horizon was a mirage of the far shore which was below the horizon, it was so clear that my parents and I could make out traffic moving on the roads across the Churchill barriers, it lasted for several hours till the sun moved higher in the sky and it faded from view. One of those special times when very little is said and all in quiet tones.
    James Bull

  96. Robert of Ottawa says:

    Ah, Willis, you must have been at see a lot onger than you thought :-) The distance to the horizon, including atmoispheric refraction (yes, I know a variable) is given by:

    7 times the height in feet is 4 times the square of the distance to the horizon in miles

    http://mintaka.sdsu.edu/GF/explain/atmos_refr/horizon.html

  97. The notion of ‘life eating life to live’ will gall my vegetarian friends and PETA acquaintances. If I’m not too far off topic, your post provides an irresistible opportunity to challenge the arrogance of their logic:

    1. Are plants intelligent sentient beings? — Plants respond to light, dry soil, and insect invaders. Trees on one side of a forest signal to their own cells and even to trees on the other side to initiate defenses, including cell suicide. Plant responses may be slower, but nonetheless indicate a form of intelligence.

    2. Do plants feel pain? — Obviously yes. Plants lack vocal cords, but they emit pain responses that accomplish the same basic purpose of our screams, which is to warn fellow beings.

    3. If a vegetable had a cute face and two eyes, would you eat it?

  98. Luther Wu says:

    Have you seen this video, yet? A dolphin with hook in fin and tangled in line enlists a diver’s aid to get free…

  99. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Merovign says:
    February 5, 2013 at 1:26 am

    You Would Think It Was A Full Moon.

    Just what I hope will be taken as friendly advice to the hosts *and* guests here – just because someone desperate to change the subject or dominate the discussion crassly insults you does *not* mean you have to engage them in discussion.

    A behavior rewarded is a behavior repeated.

    Thanks, Merovign. If you have kids then you will know that far too often, a behavior ignored is a behavior that will be both repeated and escalated … that desire to stop them from repeating and escalating is why we put people in jail, or give them public community service, for fairly minor crimes rather than ignore them, for example—we don’t want them to escalate to violence.

    Me, I’d rather engage with people, even if they seem off the wall, simply because I’ve learned things from folks I’d never imagined could teach me anything.

    In addition, there are certain things I won’t brook. I won’t stand for people calling me a liar, for example.

    Next, when I answer some jerkwagon who is messing with my thread, the vast majority of the time they do not consider it a reward in any sense … I’m a damn good wordsmith and a person you do not want to mess with unless you’ve done your homework, my wordwhip can snap the cigarette right out of someones mouth. And generally it must be pretty good theatre too, because plenty of folks, when they see me about to level someone they’ll go get a beer and some popcorn to watch the show …

    In addition, to some degree I already do what you recommend. I probably only answer (depending on the thread) well less than half of the comments. The selection of which ones to answer is one of the most subtle and vexing questions in this endeavor. I call it “blog triage”—some get a long answer, some get a few words, some get no answer at all. I have to make the choices fast. I have about four active threads right now. Between them they have … hang on … 729 comments …

    So, while I appreciate the advice, I suspect I’ll just keep muddling through. I have had many folks say just ignore the people out on the fringe as you have … but I truly don’t have any hard-and-fast rules in the triage. One day I’ll answer someone that the next day I’ll just go “Pffft” and pass on by …

    All in all? Well, I figure people need to have circuses along with their bread, I know I do, so I do my best to provide both … and just as you can’t have a circus without lions, you need some lion tamers as well.

    My regards to you,

    w.

  100. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Noelene says:
    February 4, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    I don’t think the discussion is about whether they are endangered,it’s about whether you can protect them from slaughter by man.
    The truth is we cannot get inside their minds.Sorry if you thought I was lecturing you Willis.You could well be right,I could well be right..we’ll never know.

    I hate this kind of namby-pamby feel-good California nonsense, “… you could well be right, I could well be right..we’ll never know”. Truth is, Noelene, you are wrong, there’s no way you could be right, we all know that today, and as a result you want to sweep that under the rug. Not gonna happen.

    Humans and ocean dolphins have interacted for at least a couple of millennia. Unlike many species that man interacts with, the dolphins have suffered very little ill effects. Yes, there are a couple of villages where they are hunted … as opposed to say everywhere in the USA where deer are hunted. The overwhelming majority of dolphins are in absolutely no danger from man, and in fact, men often help dolphins when they are in trouble.

    Therefore, your claim that I should have shot a gun at them to make them terrified of humans is total feel-good bullshit. It is not “right” in any sense. Dolphins are in no danger from man, and your claim, that we should deliberately be mean to dolphins to teach them to hate men appears to be a symptom of some kind of deep-seated human-hating sickness on your part. I know that it is some kind of a pathological response, because it certainly is not based on any evidence of any kind.

    For example, just above this post is a video of a dolphin that came to a human for help, and received it. Under the brilliant Noelene plan that MEN SHOULD BE MEAN TO DOLPHINS TO TEACH THEM A LESSON, it would have died.

    Sometimes, the feel-good stupidity level around here just goes through the roof. Noelene, I hate to be harsh, but truly, my friend, you are way, way over your head on this one. This is not some sewing circle, or wherever it is you seem to go, a place of sunshine and rainbows, where everyone gets to be right because they all like each other so much and when someone is wrong, they all just tend to their sewing and stay schtumm.

    Truly, wherever that “everybody is right” place is where you learned that behavior … this ain’t that place. Here, some people are right, some are wrong, some are both at different times.

    And here, when I’m wrong, I just say so, I don’t try this “you could be wrong, I could be wrong” nonsense, people would skin me and nail me to the wall if I tried that, and rightly so.

    I strongly recommend that you do the same.

    w.

  101. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Robert of Ottawa says:
    February 5, 2013 at 6:13 am

    Ah, Willis, you must have been at see a lot onger than you thought :-) The distance to the horizon, including atmoispheric refraction (yes, I know a variable) is given by:

    7 times the height in feet is 4 times the square of the distance to the horizon in miles

    http://mintaka.sdsu.edu/GF/explain/atmos_refr/horizon.html

    Thanks, Robert. That’s the backwardsest true formula for getting to the horizon distance I ever heard. Your citation says it is

    7 * H = 4 D^2

    where H is eye height in feet and D is distance in miles.

    Dividing through by four and taking the square root to get it in usable form we get:

    D = 1.32 the square root of the height in feet.

    Now, consider our problem, eye height ten feet above deck, my method (round the square root of the height upwards) gives us 4 miles to the horizon.

    Your method (square root of height * 1.32) gives us 1.32 * 3.16 = 4.17 miles …

    You’re seriously busting me for being out on my rule of thumb estimate by 0.17 miles? The horizon distance varies more than that between an average morning and afternoon …

    You might have not known or forgotten, but I am a damned good celestial navigator, I’m very used to all of the actual real corrections needed to go from an eye height to the horizon error (called the “dip of the horizon”) in a sextant sight. And no, I haven’t been to sea too long, and yes, my rule of thumb is quite accurate for a man on a ship. If you get up on a mountain you’ll need more accuracy, but for a rule of thumb, mine has already given an answer (4 miles) out of my head while you’re still looking for a pencil so you can multiply 1.32 times 3.16 to give me an incorrectly precise answer of 4.17 miles …

    For me, the whole point of a rule of thumb is that you can do it in your head while hanging from the yardarm. If I’m gonna get a calculator out, I’ll use the real formula. My formula gives an error of under a mile, and usually well under a mile, up to about 50 feet above sea level, so I’ll continue to use it.

    All the best, thanks for the interesting citation …

    w.

  102. Robert of Ottawa says:

    Willis Eschenbach says:February 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

    You’re seriously busting me for being out on my rule of thumb estimate by 0.17 miles?

    No WIllis, I just wanted to be a smart Alec mathematician. :-)

  103. Roy Spencer says:

    Write a book, Willis. Ya aren’t getting any younger, ya know.

  104. Luther Wu says:

    Roy Spencer says:
    February 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Write a book, Willis. Ya aren’t getting any younger, ya know.
    ___________________________
    Seriously Robert, why? Isn’t this a lot more fun? How ya gonna smart off to a book?

  105. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Keith Sketchley says:
    February 4, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Well Willis, there is sciency stuff in your tale:
    - There are more critters out there than people imagine
    - living their dolphin life
    - you learned a little about that life (for some reason many were travelling together, perhaps migrating to where more food had been reported, as for example caribou do in northern Canada. … [good stuff about caribou skipped]

    Certainly, that might have been the reason that they all were together. But if you look again at the dolphins in the picture …

    … I’m not buying that they are together for anything but the joy of the dance … a surfer like myself can recognize another surfer from the pleasure that they take in the ebb and thrust of the waves and swells, their passion for dancing to the unending rhythmical waves of the oceanic heartbeat.

    w.

  106. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Roy Spencer says:
    February 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Write a book, Willis. Ya aren’t getting any younger, ya know.

    Many thanks for the vote of support, Roy. My problem is I’ve done too dang much, I’ve already written about 75,000 words of my autobiography, and despite yards and yards of outrageous adventures, I’m only up to age 30, the best part is still to come … I continue plugging away at it, but in some sense I’ve come to the conclusion that I should just write for the web, and collect it for the autobiography …

    At least that’s what I tell myself. Part of the problem is that to me, my own life is somewhat boring because I know how all of the stories turn out … part of the problem is I truly love scientific investigation, I’ll pick that over boring autobiography most days … part of the problem is that I have the attention span of a bright nine-year-old, and “oooh, shiny” is a clear and present danger at all times … and part of the problem is I work construction, I’m a solo builder. There are advantages, instead of having to go to the gym to pump iron I pump wood instead, but it does take one workweek out of every week. And while I am scientifically convinced it doesn’t take any more energy to lift a ten-foot wooden 4×12 beam (a three-metre 100 x 300 beam) up to the ridge by myself than it did when I was twenty-five, still … which is why I’m up late most nights.

    And a final part of the problem is that it’s much more fun to write for immediate publication. It inspires me that people will read it, it forces me to make it, not just rewrite 11 of part of the autobiography, but the finished vessel ready for launching, with all the holes coopered up, all planks solidly fastened, and the boat ready for sea.

    So … I fear that you’ll have to wait for the next chapter, but the good news is, you likely won’t have to wait until I finish the dang autobiography. I always resisted writing one because I was still living, and that took up all my time, and I’m starting to think I was right …

    Again, thanks for the good thoughts, and also for your most informative site, and for all the interesting work you do and have done.

    w.

  107. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Robert of Ottawa says:
    February 5, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Willis Eschenbach says:February 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

    You’re seriously busting me for being out on my rule of thumb estimate by 0.17 miles?

    No WIllis, I just wanted to be a smart Alec mathematician. :-)

    In that case well done, and in either case I greatly enjoyed your citation, fascinating.

    w.

  108. kim2ooo says:

    Reblogged this on Climate Ponderings and commented:
    GREAT READ!

  109. Seafaring frenchman says
    Dear Mr Eischenbach
    What a lovely paper.
    Just for your information, we stupid metric users manage to estimate the distance of an object at the horizon by a thumb rule stating that the distance (in nautical miles) is two times the square root of the height ot the eye in meters..It works pretty well. And don’t bother, nobody wants to deprive you of your beloved stones, avoir du poids, yards, chains, grains and ounces.

  110. Great story!

    Willis, I don’t think it is possible to grasp what critters’ mind is like, we can’t get into it. They aren’t human – don’t have the conceptual mind power of humans, but do many of the same basic thing and are very good at living their particular life. (In accordance with their nature – they would not survive if they tried to be something else.) Perhaps even harder for us to understand critters whose environment and capability is very different from ours – birds flying much of the time, dolphins swimming all the time.

    Non-human creatures at the bird-animal level definitely take care of their young, unlike fish and reptiles who lay eggs and leave.
    Birds take turns protecting the nest/warming eggs, and getting food for the hatched chicks. They seem to stop when the young can fly. (Whereas animals like cougars keep teaching for a couple of years. One probable reason for high mortality rate of great blue herons in their first winter – lack of hunting skills.)
    Animals and birds tend to help each other, varying I suppose, herds of caribou and pods of whales (which dolphins are) do (more so with whales I suppose, orca males help care for infants). Type of helping will depend in substantial part on the environment and nature of the critter- sea mammals have to be able to surface to breath, whereas caribou can lie on the ground.
    Animals play (e.g. goats, horses, young cougars – for some it can be learning to fight as they’ll need to on their own, many animals need to be taught how to find food).
    Animals are curious, some individuals more than others – curiosity is a mixed blessing as getting too close can be dangerous.
    Anecdotal stories say that some birds miss their mate when it dies (an owl, and a trumpeter swan when its mate was injured and taken by humans for treatment – some birds mate for life, some don’t).
    What we call intelligence in them, or at least smarts, does appear to vary – crows seem much more capable than herons.

  111. As for naming animals in research versus activism, the debate is a silly sidelight.

    For example, practice on the mid west cost of NA is to name orcas by letter-number combination (pod and individual, see http://www.whaleresearch.com/orca_ID.html). Distinguishable by unique markings which may include fin damage and for ones resident around southern VI and Puget Sound do include colouring of “saddle patch” (just behind its big top fin, less distinct on transients). I doubt they are easily distinguished by people not quite familiar with them, except with reference photos at hand, I can accept people who are familiar with them naming an odd individual. They are common around Vancouver Island (in the south and PS they come and go, especially the carnivorous “transient” ones), have been seen north to AK and south to CA, and exist in many places around the world including in the Gulf of Mexico where they feed deep.

    On one extreme, animals raised in captivity for release in the wild are given minimal contact with humans as their prospering requires getting out in the wild with others and avoiding humans (the raisers of marmots on VI don’t even want them being attracted to human settlement they may come across). I doubt those researchers name them.

  112. Luther Wu says:

    Willis,
    I was only partially joking with the great Roy Spencer (how did I write Robert?) in suggesting that it’s a lot of fun reading your stories in serial format. Besides, some of us might be too cheap to actually buy an autobio. and we also have great fun chiming in and poking ribs and all of the popcorn we’ve gone through might have bumped the GDP a measurable dot.

  113. Monty says:

    Thank you Willis.

    Dolphins regularly spoil my fishing for specks. I still love to see them, kids, moms and all.

    I understand.

    realist……I’m sad for you.

  114. Monty says:

    Those dolphins surfing remind me of a time when I was flying a glider and two bald eagles formed up on my wing. They looked back at me and we made eye contact. They knew I was flying the glider. There we were; doing the same thing; arguably for the same reason. A reason that had nothing to do with catching food. The eagles were enjoying themselves, as was I. They did not stare glassy eyed at the canopy, or the wing. They each had their feet down, to slow their flight so they could get a better look at me. They flew inside my wing and looked back under their shoulder. They looked at ME : Dared me to follow, tucked up their feet; cored the thermal and out climbed me.

    When you pass a dog in a car….they don’t look at the headlights of your vehicle. They look at you…in the eyes.

    It irritates me that some think that animals are mere meat machines: automatons, programmed by instinct, incapable of thinking or feeling. Here for us to exploit as we see fit. This same reductionist thinking leads to collectivist-mechanistic theories of existence.

    On the other hand, some think we are beneath the animals and should not be true to our nature.

    Such a lack of imagination, compassion, or empathy.

    A denial of nature.

    Sad really.

  115. Larry Kirk says:

    Old Chinese Proverb:

    ‘When wise man point something out to cat, cat look at his finger..’

    (Or at least, that’s what my little brother always claimed it was, but living in a house ruled by our mother’s seven disdainful cats, it was more likely an empirical observation)

  116. Monty says:

    My experience from being owned by various cats is:

    The cat is looking at your finger because it is thinking about biting it.

    The person who thought of that proverb made the mistake of thinking the cat gave a rats behind about what he had to say.

    If you imagine yourself above other beings…..cats will happily disabuse you of that notion.

    I find them endearing.

  117. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Speaking of cats, check this video, interspecies communication …

    w.

  118. Brian H says:

    Astonished that that spume-filled leaping dolphin picture is a photo, and not a painter’s dream. Saved, will be cherished.

    I wonder if sat photos could locate and verify that convergence of dolphin trains at the Great Gathering. As a long-term strategy, such confabs could function as genetic swap-meets, keeping the pool stirred, not stagnant.

  119. markx says:

    Luther Wu says: February 5, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Have you seen this video, yet? A dolphin with hook in fin and tangled in line enlists a diver’s aid to get free…

    Thanks for putting that up Luther …wonderful to see…

  120. Pwildfire says:

    I saw a dolphin swarm exactly like that off Rehoboth Beach in the early ’80′s. They came on like passenger pigeons, in unbelievable numbers.

    I swam out. They were coming up all around me, and I thought boy, what have you learned in your life about large animals? But they flowed around me like New Yorkers and moved on.

    Willis, you’re not just a hell of a storyteller. You’re telling the truth.

  121. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Pwildfire says:
    February 18, 2013 at 7:33 am

    … Willis, you’re not just a hell of a storyteller. You’re telling the truth.

    It’s a lifelong habit of mine, telling the truth … too late to stop now.

    w.

  122. Willis, thank you. Here’s one of my favorite true stories, from Ram Dass’ book “How Can I Help?”. It’s entitled Natural Compassion:

    I was in about forty feet of water, alone. I knew I should not have gone alone, but I was very competent and just took a chance. There was not much current, and the water was so warm and clear and enticing. But when I got a cramp, I realized at once how foolish I was. I was not very alarmed, but was completely doubled up with stomach cramp. I tried to remove my weight belt, but I was so doubled up I could not get to the catch. I was sinking and began to feel more frightened, unable to move. I could see my watch and knew that there was only a little more time on the tank before I would be finished with breathing! I tried to massage my abdomen. I wasn’t wearing a wet suit, but couldn’t straighten out and couldn’t get to the cramped muscles with my hands.

    I thought, “I can’t go on like this! I have things to do!” I just couldn’t die anonymously this way, with no one to even know what happened to me. I called out in my mind, “Somebody, something, help me!”

    I was not prepared for what happened. Suddenly I felt a prodding from behind me under the armpit. I thought, “Oh no, sharks!” I felt real terror and despair. But my arm was being lifted forcibly. Around into my field of vision came an eye – the most marvellous eye I could ever imagine. I swear it was smiling. It was the eye of a big dolphin. Looking into that eye, I knew I was safe.

    It moved further forward, nudging under, and hooked its dorsal fin under my armpit with my arm over its back. I relaxed, hugging it, flooded with relief. I felt that the animal was conveying security to me, that it was healing me as well as lifting me toward the surface. My stomach cramp went away as we ascended, and I relaxed with security, but I felt very strongly that it healed me too.

    At the surface, it drew me all the way in to shore. It took me into water so shallow that I began to be concerned for it, tha it would be beached, and I pushed it back a little deeper, where it waited, watching me, I guess to see if I was all right.

    It felt like another lifetime. When I took off the weight belt and oxygen, I just took everything off and went naked back into the ocean to the dolphin. I felt so light and free and alive, and just wanted to play in the sun and the water, in all that freedom. The dolphin took me back out and played around in the water with me. I noticed that there were a lot of dolphins there, farther out.

    After a while it brought me back to shore. I was very tired then, almost collapsing, and he made sure I was safe in the shallowest water. Then he turned sideways with one eye looking into mine. We stayed that way for what seemed like a very long time, timeless I guess, in a trance almost, with personal thoughts of the past going through my mind. Then he made just one sound and went out to join the others, and all of them left.

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