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John Stuart Reid
Category: Cymatics

We Are Not Alone

In his bid to “speak dolphin” JackKassewitz of, based in Miami, Florida, designed an experimentin which he recorded dolphin echolocation sounds as they reflected off a rangeof eight submersed objects, including a plastic cube, a toy duck and aflowerpot. He discovered that the reflected sounds actually contain soundpictures and when replayed to the dolphin in the form of a game, the dolphinwas able to identify the objects with 86% accuracy, providing evidence thatdolphins understand echolocation sounds as pictures. Kassewitz then drove to adifferent facility and replayed the sound pictures to a dolphin that had notpreviously experienced them. The second dolphin identified the objects with asimilar high success rate, confirming that dolphins possess a sono-pictorialform of communication. It has been suspected by some researchers that dolphinsemploy a sono-visual sense to ‘photograph’ (in sound) a predator approachingtheir family pod, in order to beam the picture to other members of their pod,alerting them of danger. In this scenario it is assumed that the picture of thepredator will be perceived in the mind’s eye of the other dolphins.


When Reid imaged the reflectedecholocation sounds on the CymaScope it became possible for the first time tosee the sono-pictorial images that the dolphin created. The resulting picturesresemble typical ultrasound images seen in hospitals. Reid explained: “When adolphin scans an object with its high frequency sound beam, emitted in the formof short clicks, each click captures a still image, similar to a camera takingphotographs. Each dolphin click is a pulse of pure sound that becomes modulatedby the shape of the object. In other words, the pulse of reflected soundcontains a semi-holographic representation of the object. A portion of thereflected sound is collected by the dolphin’s lower jaw, its mandible, where ittravels through twin fat-filled ‘acoustic horns’ to the dolphin’s inner ears tocreate the sono-pictorial image.”


The precise mechanism concerning howthe sonic image is  ‘read’ by thecochleae is still unknown but the team’s present hypothesis is that eachclick-pulse causes the image to momentarily manifest on the basilar and tectorialmembranes, thin sheets of tissue situated in the heart of each cochlea. Microscopiccilia connect with the tectorial membrane and ‘read’ the shape of the imprint,creating a composite electrical signal representing the object’s shape. Thiselectrical signal travels to the brain via the cochlea nerve and is interpretedas an image. (The example in the graphic shows a flowerpot.) The teampostulates that dolphins are able to perceive stereoscopically with their soundimaging sense. Since the dolphin emits long trains of click-pulses it isbelieved that it has persistence of sono-pictorial perception, analogous tovideo playback in which a series of still frames are viewed as moving images.


Reid said, “The CymaScope imagingtechnique substitutes a circular water membrane for the dolphin's tectorial,gel-like membrane and a camera for the dolphin's brain. We image the sono-pictureas it imprints on the surface tension of water, a technique we call‘bio-cymatic imaging,’ capturing the picture before it expands to the boundary.We think that something similar happens in the dolphin’s cochleae where thesonic image, contained in the reflected click-pulse, travels as a surfaceacoustic wave along the basilar and tectorial membranes and imprints in an areathat relates to the carrier frequency of the click-pulse. With our bio-cymaticimaging technique we believe we see a similar image to that which the dolphinsees when it scans an object with sound. In the flowerpot image the hand of theperson holding it can even be seen. The images are rather fuzzy at present butwe hope to enhance the technique in future.”


Dr Horace Dobbs is Director ofInternational Dolphin Watch and a leadingauthority on dolphin-assisted therapy. “I find the dolphin mechanism for sonicimaging proposed by Jack Kassewitz and John Stuart Reid plausible from ascientific standpoint. I have long maintained that dolphins have a sono-visuallanguage so I am naturally gratified that this latest researchhas produced a rational explanation and experimental data to verifymy conjectures. As early as 1994, in a book I wrote for children, Dilo andthe Call of the Deep, I referred to Dilo's ‘Magic Sound’ as the methodby which Diloand his mother pass information between each other using sonic imaging, notjust of external visual appearances, but also of internal structuresand organs.” 



As a result of Reid’s bio-cymaticimaging technique Kassewitz, in collaboration with research intern ChristopherBrown, of the University of Central Florida, is beginning to develop a newmodel of dolphin language that they are calling Sono-Pictorial Exo-holographicLanguage, (SPEL). Kassewitz explained, “The ‘exo-holographic’ part of theacronym derives from the fact that the dolphin pictorial language is actuallypropagated all around the dolphin whenever one or more dolphins in the pod sendor receive sono-pictures. John Stuart Reid has found that any small part of thedolphin’s reflected echolocation beam contains all the data needed to recreatethe image cymatically in the laboratory or, he postulates, in the dolphin’sbrain. Our new model of dolphin language is one in which dolphins can not onlysend and receive pictures of objects around them but can create entirely new sono-picturessimply by imagining what they want to communicate. It is perhaps challengingfor us as humans to step outside our symbolic thought processes to trulyappreciate the dolphin’s world in which, we believe, pictorial rather thansymbolic thoughts are king. Our personal biases, beliefs, ideologies, andmemories penetrate and encompass all of our communication, including ourdescription and understanding of something devoid of symbols, such asSPEL.  Dolphins appear to have leap-frogged human symbolic language andinstead have evolved a form of communication outside the human evolutionary path.In a sense we now have a ‘Rosetta Stone’ that will allow us to tap into theirworld in a way we could not have even conceived just a year ago. The old adage,‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.”


David M. Cole, founder ofthe The AquaThought Foundation, a research organization that studiedhuman-dolphin interaction for more than a decade said, “Kassewitz and Reid havecontributed a novel model for dolphins' sonic perception, which almostcertainly evolved out of the creature's need to perceive itsunderwater world when vision was inhibited.  Several conventionallinguistic approaches to understanding dolphin communication have dead-ended inthe last 20 years so it is refreshing to see this new and highly-nuancedparadigm being explored.”


The human capacity for language involves theacquisition and use of a complex system of vocal sounds to which we attributespecific meanings. Language, the relationship between sounds and meaningsevolved differently for each tribe of humans and for each nation. It isgenerally believed that the human language faculty is fundamentally differentfrom that of other species and of a much higher complexity. The development ofvocal language is believed to have coincided with an increase in brain volume. Many researchers have wondered why dolphins have brains comparable in size withthose of humans, considering that Nature creates organs according to need. The Kassewitzteam’s findings suggest the large dolphin brain is necessary for theacquisition and utilization of a sono-pictorial language that requiressignificant brain mass.

Dolphins enjoy constant auditory and visualstimulation throughout their lives, a fact that may contribute to theirhemispheric brain coordination. The dolphin’s auditory neocortical fieldsextend far into the midbrain, influencing the motor areas in such a way as toallow the smooth regulation of sound-induced motor activity as well assophisticated phonation needed for production of signature whistles and sono-pictures.These advantages are powered not only by a brain that is comparable in size tothat of a human but also by a brain stem transmission time that is considerablyfaster than the human brain.


Kassewitz said, “Our research hasprovided an answer to an age-old question highlighted by Dr Jill Tarter of theSETI Institute, ‘Are we alone?’ We can now unequivocally answer, ‘no.’ SETI’ssearch for non-human intelligence in outer space has been found right here onearth in the graceful form of dolphins.”


Full results of this research are available on request from Jack Kassewitz.


Support graphics may be viewed in the Oceanography section of



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