Humpback Whales sing complex, repeating songs that can last up to 23 hours. They synchronize their melodies with each other over thousands of miles and vary their tribal songs over time. Read this fantastic article and hear sped up recordings of whales and how they sound similar to a nightingales’ songs, and how slowed-down tunes of a nightingale reveals an inner whale.
The authors of this article use a beautiful visual method to help us see patterns that we would not recognize by listening. Decades ago Wolfram similarly used computer graphics to help us see patterns of various sorts of “randomness” in cellular automatons that otherwise would have been likewise invisible.
I first learned of Cellular Automatons in 1970 through Conway’s Game of Life, and Wolfram’s book illustrated further that beauty can come from simple mindless patterns.
So are these complex changing beautiful patterns in whales’ songs generated any differently at their core than the same phenomena of cellular automatons? Or, as the author (Michael Deal) is try to tell us:
“Or does it show that evolution, over thousands of years, is able to produce art if there are no serious predators around?”
Not only does Deal evolution is doing something amazing here, he quotes a Cornell researcher (Payne) to imply that this may support “cultural evolution”.
“This seems to be an example of cultural evolution…culture because these animals were learning from each other and remembering what they were learning from each other.”
But there is much to be doubted in the cards Deal is dealing. First, as I wrote in my previous post on “Believing Authority“, I tend not to believe in cultural evolution. But I won’t go into that — mainly because I can’t. 🙂
Instead, let me run to an authority –Tom Rees, at Epiphenom — to explore a possible bias of Deal’s. Tom reviews this article which tells us that “even atheists intuitively think the natural world has a designer”. The research showed that religious folks are more inclined to think in terms of design than religion-free folks. But even the non-religious jump to design conclusions fairly often. Further, and more interestingly, both groups intuit design in nature even more when they are forced to make a fast decision on the issue. So it seems our instincts are to see design behind phenomena.
So back to the whales. Is our author trying to view “evolution” as an intelligent designer. Does he want “the universe” to be expressing itself in beauty and art through evolution? It seems so to me.
Wouldn’t it be beautiful if whales, like us, generated art and beauty because they are channeling the soul of the Universe? True or not, it is fun to imagine. And that is the beauty of fiction, isn’t it?