Interspecies communication happens all of the time. It is a natural part of life on this planet. When the strawberry poison dart frog flashes its moist hues in the rays from the setting sun, it uses color and sight to inform the Black leopard and the Goliath birdeater about its nature and identity. When the light from the full moon form a bow of silver and pink in the rising moist from Yumbilla, earth is telling us to listen. When the Sahamalaza sportive lemurs hear the high-pitched cries from the Black-crowned night-herons, they understand that it is time to leave, and time to leave fast.
In line with these examples, interspecies communication is also the interaction between human and non-human forms of life. Although the notion of a human is tainted by a long tradition of misguided, hubristic and self-centered propaganda, and thus anything but a clear biological concept, we can nevertheless speak about human individuals. Because even if our self-conception is infused with an multitude of disproportionate (yet interesting) images of our nature, rights and purpose, the cause of these illusions can and should not be located in any external source.
In many ways it is also reasonable to suppose that were it not for the corrupting force of these images, we would not consider human and non-human communication so strange and mysterious. As any diver knows, when the Cuttlefish flashes its pulsating hues in reds and yellows, we are not invited for tea. Interspecies communication is natural and comes automatically. The problem is only that we are part of a tradition that has not yet managed to emphasize the importance of listening to those that are different. Our ability to understand other beings and to make ourselves understood, is innate and natural. Human and non-human communication happens every day. In a variety of forms. Yet, our lack of interest does not only make us neglect the importance of listening to other stories of sentient life than our own. This neglect also hinder us from developing abilities we already have.
The aim of this project is understand, explore and develop interspecies communication. We want to make ourselves aware of the symbols and meanings of our own behavior. And we want to understand how the rich, clear and complex stories of sentient life other than our own has come to be ignored and dismissed.
Ultimately, our ambition is to develop, establish and disseminate a transspecific semantics. This does not only mean that we want to establish an art of communication so transparent that there no longer will be any use to talk about species and their symbolic transgression. It also means that all communicative events will be based on friendship and love: a pair of emotional bounds conditioned by individual-to-individual relations. We want to listen to each other as singularities; as the multitudes, gangs or packs or swarms or bee-flower-like complextities we are. Thus, we hope, can we eventually learn what it means to be a sentient being, and why we have woken up on this earth.
In order to reach this goal, we will need to dismantle a long tradition of anthropocentric science and philosophy. And we realize that the road to a new era of biosemantic research, informed by a cross-fertilization of anthropology and zoology, is rocky. There is a set of challenges that will need to be identified, analyzed and overcome.
Although the complexity of these issues is perhaps both practically negligible and easily overstated, they are nevertheless important for the development, conceptualization and distribution of viable, practical strategies. In the light of concrete progress, the theoretical problems outlined below will of course become mere curiosities. Yet, as we are often told, the first step to overcome a problem is to realize that it exists. We see at least three main challenges that will need to be taken into consideration.
First, we need confirmation. What is closest is not always what is easiest to understand. Just as you cannot see your own eyes, your own ability to see is, and can only, be understood in a mediated sense. You need to trust the experience of another individual to believe that you have eyes to see with. This means: If it is the case that the general ability to communicate transcends species border, the science or art that will map and understand to what this ability amounts must be mediated, reflected and confirmed by someone from another species. Further, as in any science and art, there is a step from an ontic to an ontological level. There is a difference between doing it and knowing that you are doing it. In the first case, it can be perfectly natural and automatic. In the second case, it is problematized and can be the subject of progress and development.
Second, we need to go beyond the concept of species. The goal of any ambition to understand and augment interspecies communication is to destroy itself. Because insofar as the ultimate result is the ability to see the individual instead of the species (race or gender), the very notion of interspecies communication will become obsolete. How are we going to go beyond the concept of a species? How will this affect the notion of evolutionary biology? If we no longer can talk about inter- and intaspecies competition, how shall we explain the development and transformation of life?
Third, we need clarity. We need to understand each other on a deep, individual and honest level. This, of course, does not need to imply that we need articulated accounts, but we do, at a minimum, need a feeling of conscious certainty. It is not enough just to have a hunch. It is not enough just to have a general idea. We need specific, lucid, reflected messages that can be questioned and confirmed. There is no reason for why we should settle for any less. This may mean that we ultimately need to leave the letter and sound based means of communication, common among humans, as this is a weak, and clearly deficient, form of communication. But it cannot mean that we should lower our expectation of clarity, complexity and understanding.
Do you agree? Please tell us your mind. We are eager to listen and develop our understanding.
Intriguing points. I broadly agree with the gist of 1 and 2, though I’m not quite sure that ‘going beyond’ the concept of species is possible or desirable, at least in its biological sense. But the concept is of course never purely biological and always smuggles lots of dubious social and philosophical associations within itself – it seems to me that it is these that can and should be drawn out, challenged and rethought. But I am less comvinced by 3, and particularly by the notion that an evolved form of communication can be ‘weak and inadequate’ – where would the criteria for establishing such inadequacy be drawn from? A form of communication is immanent to a form of life, and as such is always adequate on its own terms. It is difficult to see how the imposition of some exogenous criteria could anything but arbitrary. Similarly, the desire to set up the ability to communicate specific messages which can be confirmed with certainty as some benchmark of communication reflects a scientistic approach which is inappropriate; communication is essentially practical and social in nature and so cannot be properly grasped as though it were a hypothesis amenable to some form of experimental testing. The only meaningful test of a communicative act is ‘do we understand each other as much as is practically necessary and possible in this situation, in the context of our respective forms of life with all their differences as well as what we share?’ To ask for more, in my view, is to miss the point, creating a lack where there is none. I may be being either unimaginative, unambiguous, or both! But to borrow a phrase from Wittgenstein, I am suspicious of the idea that we should embark upon some quest for hidden meaning at the risk of falling to cultivate our ability to see what is open to view.