Intelligence and Effective Interspecies Communication: Humans and Dolphins


Dolphins, very intelligent mammals, are presented in the novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to be widely more intelligent than human beings. Douglas Adams satirizes human beings as being pretentious and believing they are the most intelligent beings in the whole universe, also contrasting their intelligence with dolphins. But is it possible to believe humans are the most intelligent beings if they are not able to understand other species from the same planet? A very important aspect of intelligence is effective communication because without communication there is no understanding. Therefore, this document will discuss the definition of intelligence, effective communication, and dolphin-human interspecies communication to demonstrate that humans are not yet able to communicate effectively with other species.

What is Intelligence?

The term “intelligence” is defined as “the ability to understand and learn well, and to form judgments and opinions based on reason”. Zhou and Chuah, in their work “Human intelligence: The key factor for successful intelligent manufacturing,” mention two definitions of intelligence: the first one is that “Intelligence is the ability to act appropriately in a certain environment to increase the probability of success.” The second definition is that “Intelligence is the capability to achieve a goal or sustain desired behavior under conditions of uncertainty.” If we analyze the various definitions of intelligence with the way it is satirized in the novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we can clearly notice that as humans we stopped being intelligent a long time ago. The reason why human beings are not the most intelligent is because humans cannot even understand other species from the same planet, nor understand themselves in what the future goals for the conservation of the human species may be. For instance, as humans we do not know what animals say or try to express in their various ways of communication, and all we do is anthropomorphize them with what we believe is correct since that is the only behavior we know. No human ever stops to wonder if that is really what animals are willing to say.

On the other hand, in the book written by Douglas Adams, dolphins seem to be more intelligent than humans. As quoted from the novel: “For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much-the wheel, New York, wars and so on-while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed they were far more intelligent than man-for precisely the same reasons.” Dolphins’ intelligence allows them anticipate future events, such as Earth’s destruction. It is not explained how dolphins can predict the future. However, if we contrast dolphin’s prophetic ability of predicting the future with humans’ similar skills, we can note that through history only a few people were able to predict future events, such as Nostradamus. Therefore, it can be assumed that dolphins show a higher level of intelligence than humans. Furthermore, as human I know that the one and only home is planet Earth, and as intelligent beings, we should have future plans for the conservation of the human species. However, all human beings do is destroy the environment with pollution, deforestation and over use of natural resources.

FIGURE 1. Earth’s Pollution. This figure illustrates how Earth’s pollution looks from space.

What is Effective Communication?

According to Buzatu & Pipas in their work “Effective communication- A viable solution to mediation,” effective communication “takes place when ideas or feelings are transmitted, and its effectiveness is measured by the similarity between the idea transmitted and the idea received.” The process of communication has three elements: Source, Symbols and Receiver.
• Source: “Also known as the sender, encoder or transmitter.”
• Symbols: “May be simple oral, visual cues or common gestures.” Effective communication takes place “when symbols are combined into meaningful wholes and they get interpreted through different perceptions.”
• Receiver: “Is the reader, listener or decoder-the individual or individuals to whom the message is directed.” If there is a change in behavior in the receiver, then effective communication has taken place. (Buzatu & Pipas 2014)

Communication itself leads to misunderstanding by nature. That is why the Federal Aviation Administration in its Aviation Instructor’s Handbook also mentions that barriers to effective communication may exist. Within the four barriers to effective communication, Confusion between the Symbol and the Symbolized Object has the greatest influence when delivering a message. As explains, “Confusion between the symbol and the symbolized object results when a symbol is confused with what it is meant to represent.”

Douglas Adams writes “Curiously enough, the dolphins had long known of the impending destruction of the planet Earth and had made many attempts to alert mankind to the danger; but most of their communications were misinterpreted as amusing attempts to punch footballs or whistle for tidbits, so they eventually gave up and left the Earth by their own means shortly before the Vogons arrived.” Now, if we analyze effective communication and its barriers, we may notice that in the novel there is no effective communication between the dolphins and human beings due to a confusion between the symbol and the symbolized object. While dolphins are trying to deliver a message regarding the world’s destruction, humans interpret it as some demonstration of skills from the animals. At the end, it all relates back to intelligence. Human beings were not intelligent enough to understand the meaning of the message being delivered by dolphins. Thus, humans create a reality in which only what is known is correct and feasible. Until the day human beings reach the way to communicate with any living being, humans cannot call themselves a truly intelligent species.

Dolphin-Human Interspecies Communication

TED Video Could we speak the language of Dolphins.

According to Reiss’ thesis titled “Pragmatics of Human-Dolphin Communication,” “Interspecies communication involves teaching human codes or symbols to nonhuman animals. Symbolic behavior and language have been considered to be uniquely human attributes.” However, symbolic behavior such as “the tanzsprache which means dance speech” is present in natural communication systems of other species. Reiss concluded that in order to correctly identify the true meaning of the message delivered by different species, “both the encoder and the decoder should use a bilateral communication system in which the code utilized shows differentiation in specificity of their relationship with regular and predictable behavior.” According to Jaakola, Guarino, Rodriguez and Hecksher, dolphins communicate in a complex manner. Primarily, dolphins developed an echolocation system which relies on sound for communication. Moreover, as a second mean of communication, dolphins use body language to deliver specific messages.

On the other hand, humans use a mixture of verbal and non-verbal cues to deliver messages to each other. The use of language makes communication between humans to be easier to understand. However, if humans were to communicate with other species, such as dolphins, both would have to rely on the interpretation of body gestures to understand the meaning of the message being delivered. Douglas Adams wrote that humans acquired the wrong interpretation of the message being delivered by dolphins. If we analyze the causes of such an error, we can conclude that since humans do not possess an echolocation system, an accurate interpretation would have been impossible. With the use of anthropomorphism, humans interpreted the meaning of dolphins’ body language with what was believed to be correct. Unfortunately, by pompously believing themselves to be the most intelligent species, humans never anticipated it could be a message for the Earth’s destruction.

FIGURE 2. Dolphins. This figure illustrates the communication of dolphins according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


In conclusion, effective communication is the key to achieving true intelligence in any species. Unfortunately, humans have not yet developed an effective mechanism to decode non-verbal messages in a correct manner. As mentioned earlier, by anthropomorphizing dolphins’ body gestures, humans might reach an erroneous interpretation of the message being delivered. Furthermore, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a satiric type of novel, should be used to ponder the actions that human beings have been doing throughout history. It is true that humans are intelligent to some degree due to our undeniable advancement in technology, science, medicine, and many other fields. However, it is incorrect to believe that humans are the most intelligent beings in the universe since we are still unable to understand other species or ensure our own continuance on this planet. That is the reason dolphins are described by Douglas Adams, as extremely intelligent beings with prophetic skills. Adams’ message in such a description is that humans should stop being pretentious about our own intelligence since we are potentially not the most intelligent species on Earth.


Adams, D. (1979). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Great Britain: Pan Books.

Buzatu, N., & Pipas, M. (2014). Effective communication - A viable solution to mediation. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 4(1), 681-685. Retrieved from

Federal Aviation Administration. (2008). Aviation Instructors Handbook. Retrieved Apr 01, 2015, from

Jaakkola, K., Guarino, E., Rodriguez, M., & Hecksher, J. (2013). Switching strategies: A dolphin's use of passive and active acoustics to imitate motor actions. Animal Cognition, 16(5), 701-9. doi:

Reiss, D. L. (1983). PRAGMATICS OF HUMAN-DOLPHIN COMMUNICATION (Order No. 8311642). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (303182941). Retrieved from

Ted (Producer). (6 Jun 2013). Denise Herzing: Could we speak the language of dolphins?

Zhou, Y., & Chuah, K. B. (2000). Human intelligence: The key factor for successful intelligent manufacturing. Integrated Manufacturing Systems, 11(1), 30-41. Retrieved from

Written by Gandhi Romeo Pazmino Aguilar, Embry -Riddle Aeronautical University