In the Caribbean, on the shoreof one of the American Virgin Islands,sits a strange, crumbling building. Dolphins have been here 65 million years. Gosh, we were just getting out of the trees. They know more than we do. Inspired by new discoveries about the animalmind, the researchers believed they could, for the first time,communicate with another species by teaching dolphins to speak.
That's what I kept saying. Their work had extraordinary ambition. Scientists believed if they could talk to dolphins,they could even talk to extraterrestrials. Are we alone in the Universe? Are there other creatures out therethat we might get to know? It wasn't science fiction. It was, wow, this is where we're going.
But what started with '60s idealismwould spiral into the darkness of the decadeand end in tragedy. The worst experimentsin the world I've read somewhere was me and Peter. Until now, those involvedhave never spoken publicly about the experiment. We're a social species, which wantsto talk to others, and not just other people. It's long been a human dream to be able to talk to the animals.
Early experiments in the 20th century involvedtrying to teach the great apes sign languageand even how to speak English. Another sound resembles the letter K. Vicky, sit up, girl. But by the end of the s,there had been no real progress. And serious scientific attempts to talk to the animals groundto a halt. There was one person, however, who hadn't given up. His name was John Lilly. John Lilly [Jeff Bridges -Friend of John Lilly] was a scientist, a visionary,and maybe, above all, an explorer of the brainand the mind.
Lilly is a fascinating character. He was a super-smart, [Professor Graham Burnett - Author,The Sounding of the Whale ] physics-oriented Caltech grad,who during the Second World War ends up working in an aviationphysiology laboratory doing experimental work on Americanpilots monitoring data about heart rates and respiration. And then subsequently, as his researchlife develops, increasingly interested in animals. If one believes that they not only have the brainto learn it, but the-- His area of expertise was what brains of animalscould tell us about our own.
His wife Mary worked with him. He was always interested in brains. And he would [Mary Lilly - Wife of John Lilly, ] find out what areas of the brains did what,that sort of thing. But it's easier to work on other species than humans. And there was one species whose brain fascinatedLilly above all others, an animal whichhuman beings believed was one of the cleverestand most ancient creatures on Earth, the bottlenosed dolphin,also often called the porpoise.
So they've been here 25 million years. This is big brain. This is a bigger brain than were accustomed to working on. In fact, it's a bigger brain than a human brain.
Lilly needed access to the dolphins super-sizedbrains. And he found it in Florida. Leaping 3 feet out of water and through a small hoopis only one of the accomplishments of Flippy,the pride of the Studios at Marine Land, Florida.
Flippy gets a big kick out of demonstrating his high IQ. Marine Studios in Floridais one of the first institutions in the post-war periodto keep a bottlenose dolphin in captivity.
Lilly makes his way down there in orderto have access to some of these animalsfor experimental purposes. Lilly began doing brain experimentson the dolphins and recording their reactions.
One day in , this research triggereda behavior that would change the course of his life. The first to spot it was Mary. Whilst John and his team were working nearby,she noticed something they'd missed.
I heard John talking and the porpoisewould go ra, ra, ra like John. Chichi, Chichi, more and more fish. And then I realized it was hearing their voicesand imitating them. Then I went down to where they were operatingand told them that this was going on. And they were quite startled. More and more fish. Lilly was convinced the dolphin wasimitating the humans, trying to speak to them.
If he was right, it would be one of the greatest discoveriesin the history of science. For the rest of his career,Lilly would write about and talk about that moment in where it all popped open for him. He thinks that this indicates ambitionon their part to communicate with the beingsaround them that are human, a breakthrough of not justscientific, but potentially even world historic significance.
Humans were being displaced from their positionatop the cosmos of intelligent creatures. We were not alone. And now, here's Jack. Lilly believed his mimicking dolphinswould revolutionize the science of animal communication. For the first time, here was another specieswhich seemed to be trying to make contact with us. Then in , he published a book revealing his findings. I predicted that within a decade or twothat the human species would establish communicationwith another species.
This is a scientist. This isn't some nut that I brought out here. This man knows what he-- he may be a little nutty. But he's a real acknowledged scientist. Now, roll this film. And you're going to see some interesting things. These are some of the sounds they make. What in the main do you think dolphins talk aboutamong each other?
Oh, food, sex, and danger. It sounds like Westport, Connecticutto me there. Lilly's talking dolphinscaptured the public's imagination. But for one group of people, his work had special significance. OK, periscope is in. In early s, Americawas in the midst of a space race,launching satellites and spacecraftto the moon and planets.
OK, we'll go for 88 from here. And surprisingly, Lilly'sideas chimed with this new Space Age. They caught the eye of a team of American astronomerswho were searching for extraterrestrial life. They were led by Frank Drake. It was a very exciting book,because it had these new ideas.
Frank Drake -Founder of the SETI Institute], particularly the idea thatthere could be creatures as intelligent and sophisticatedin their thinking as us and yet living in a far differentmilieu.
Drake and his team werepart of an official government funded projectto use radio telescopes to listenfor signals from other intelligent life in the galaxy.
For them, Lilly's work was potentially groundbreaking. The possible intelligence of dolphinswas of special interest to me and the others whowere interested in extraterrestrial intelligentlife, because we wanted to understand as much as we couldabout what the challenges were goingto be in communicating with other intelligent species. There might be other civilizations FrankDrake, speaking in ] The detectionof extraterrestrial signals are goingto be one of the most exciting things that ever happened.
Here was perhaps an example of another intelligent species,very different from us. It's vocal system was very different. Its means of communicating any information was different. It would tell us what was important,what we should specialize in, and whatwe should learn as much as we canabout what if we were to understandextraterrestrial intelligent life. Lilly realized the astronomer's interest opened upan opportunity. America's space program was extremely well fundedthrough NASA.
Here was his chance to get fundingfor a whole new phase of research. Lilly brilliantlypitches the Space Administration on the ideathat they need a model organism upon whichto experiment for the prospect of an encounter with aliens.