Thursday, January 07, 2010

Elephant Listening Project

The Elephant Listening Project was on the popular American television show 60 Minutes last weekend. A little surfing on seismic communication among elephants turned up reporting on research by Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell: (1), (2) and (3). Also, see O'Connel-Rodwell's review article, Keeping an "Ear" to the Ground: Seismic Communication in Elephants.

A couple of lines of inquiry. First, is "listening" at bottom a too comfortable metaphor for conceptualizing how elephants perceive seismic vibrations, how they live with vibration? In any case let's ask ourselves what listening could possibly be. Second, elephants can apparently recognize each others' "voices." (This too, this thing we call "voice," among the metaphorical—even as we learn that voice may be something that develops "in" nature, as if nature had no concourse with imagination.) "I know you." "I recognize your vibration." "I hear your voice." And already I have gone too far. Does an elephant say "I"?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 5:35 PM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

whI not - I'm listening

January 08, 2010 1:24 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

The mirror recognition study was provocative but inconclusive in my view because not all the elephants showed positive result. Then again recognition of a "you" may be ipso facto recognition of self worth calling "I."

January 08, 2010 7:36 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

or an "I" worth calling self

January 08, 2010 7:39 AM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

Instead of saying, "I (the elephant) recognize your (some other elephant) vibration." It might be better stated that the elephant simply recognizes certains behaviors/occurences relative to how they hook up and/or correlate with certain vibrations. i.e. there isn't necessarily an "I" or a "You". One doesn't have to have this concept to necessarily make a connection between vibration "X" occuring, therefore I know "Y" action/behavior/event will occure.

For example, animals in gerneral seem to know when a tsunami is going to occure, and before we as people know, we suddenly find that the animals have moved to higher ground. This is nothing more than inference and instict I suppose. In the same way, the elephant associates certain vibrations with certain behaviors, not with certain "specific" elephants per se, i.e. they know where this certain behavior is going to take place because the vibration came from "there" (which to us just so happens to be the elephant named Joe).

January 08, 2010 10:28 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Hi, Andrew.

Wild African elephants (Loxodonta africana) discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar conspecific seismic alarm calls. It's not what is said but who says it would be the argument.

January 08, 2010 11:52 AM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

who's defining familiar? Are you saying that you can take an unfamiliar elephant, and a familiar one, have them both make the same "seismic alarm call" and they only react to the one. How does one know that both alarms are actually spot on the same, and that there isn't some subtle difference?

I suppose I'll have to read the article.

January 08, 2010 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"First, is "listening" at bottom a too comfortable metaphor for conceptualizing how elephants perceive seismic vibrations, how they live with vibration?"

I translate your "too comfortable" into "does it capture and do justice to the differences" so that your sentence reads, "First,is 'listening' at bottom and as metaphor able to capture and do justice to the differences of how elephant perceive seismic vibrations, how they live with vibration?"

The short answer is no, it does not. Metaphor is a way of conceptualizing sameness, not difference.

A long time ago you linked to a philosophy professor's web page, I can't remember the name. This professor had read the Nagel article about what it would be like to be a bat and responded to it by saying it was entirely simple to imagine echolocation: all one had to do was blow on one' hand from various distances and feel what that was like? Do you remember this?

Sure it is possible to construct all sorts of analogies and metaphors, or possibly experiments or machines from analogies and metaphors, which can create similitudes, experiences which incorporate verifiable similar elements to the different thing one wishes to experience. This way of proceeding, however, automatically will exclude precisely what is different in the different thing one wishes to experience.


January 09, 2010 7:58 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Apologies for being late. I don't have net access at home for the next few weeks so I can't promise to be timely.

Andrew, yeah that's essentially the claim being made in the article. There's an issue of translation in there? Are alarm calls translatable?

Yes, Yusef, I remember the discussion of echolocation from over at Splintered Minds and the argument that we do in fact know what it's like to be a bat.

Are you taking a position against deduction? What would an Enlightened particularism look like anyway? Not like an -ism presumably? Or do we need to make declarations? Is difference like an idea that you end up applying to situations prior to knowing how they differ? To be sure differences are created, but what does the disposition to create differences amount to absent any idea of difference? Do you have to create creation twice in order to explain your creation of differences? And then priority too gets counted twice and so on. (The priority of the prior disposition differs from the priority of the prior idea, and so on, as we find that priority is not immune from this process.)

January 14, 2010 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Are you taking a position against deduction?"

If deduction is a process of reasoning from the general to the particular, I suppose I am. If listening is a general form, and we want to know if the particular experience of an elephant sensing vibration with its feet is listening, and then we transfer back to the general form of listening and make sure it includes every experience which senses vibration and then we transfer back down to what elephant-feet-vibration-sense is to determine if it is listening,I don't know if it is right to call that deduction, but I am definitely taking a position against whatever it is.


January 16, 2010 12:38 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...


Possibly the metaphorical is not about "constructing" similarities but rather about exploring ambiguities between fields of knowledge, experiential, empirical, abstract, contemplative, or what have you. (Remember Lyotard on analogy? I'm thinking of the analogy of analogy with perception via adumbration, where the interesting fact is the blurring between objects.) An ambiguity can't be either a sameness or a difference. Am I being slippery? If I don't construct a similarity with a metaphor don't I at least posit one? But if I'm inconsistent in my movements between the known and the unknown, that is if my jaunts and don't take the form of a progression from the one to its opposite, am I really talking about knowledge at all? Just a thought.

January 18, 2010 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That the metaphorical is about exploring ambiguities is an observation I wouldn't have ever made...I think it is true. I had been concerned about the way the metaphor never really works, always says something which is not quite true. However, if what one wants is the ambiguity and something which is neither sameness or difference, I can't see what's to object about.


January 18, 2010 6:11 PM  

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