From the Archives: Talking to the Animals (1980)

in Culture

The way things are going in outer space, it makes perfect sense to wonder what you’ll do when the first extraterrestrial terrenaut skitters out of his flying saucer into your own backyard. How will you know if he’s friendly, or if that’s a lethal instrument he’s pointing at you? Even with the kindest intentions on your part, will you be able to make him understand that all you really want to do is invite him in for a joint or a beer? Suppose, owing to the extremely thin atmosphere of his home planet, the visitor doesn’t use sound to communicate but expresses himself in subtle variations of color, in rippling violets and pulsing magentas? Will you even know he’s addressing you?

Alas, as yet not even the most distinguished universities have a Professor of Outlandish Languages on the faculty. But that isn’t to say nobody is working on the problem of communicating with nonhuman species. Even before Doctor Dolittle sang his song about wanting to “talk with the animals, learn their languages,” people have yearned to do just that, although most of the research, oddly enough, has been the other way around, in the direction of teaching certain animals to speak English. This is hardly practical. Dr. John C. Lilly warned in 1967: “If and when we encounter intelligent extraterrestrial communicating life-forms from other places in the universe, we will need results from communications research to apply there and then.” Lilly himself spent many years trying to establish communication with the bottlenose dolphin, a species almost as alien to man as our visitor from outer space but one already demonstrated to be intelligent, friendly to humans and possessed of a complex set of vocal signals. Dolphins communicate with each other by means of two …

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Author: High Times / High Times

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