Coturnix attacks the recent piece of research claiming that dolphin intelligence is vastly overestimated. For example, attacking the main notion of the paper, which is that the dolphin brain has plenty of insulating glia and relatively little cognitive gray matter, he says,
Wow! Since when are glia “insulating material”? A few years ago, for my Neuroscience class, I had to remember at least 10 functions of glia – not one of them having anything to do with insulation, or even structural support. It’s all about function – neurons and glia work together to process information. Anyway, I will blame this on the stupidity of the reporter as I doubt that anyone with such archaic ideas would ever be allowed to dissect a dolphin and publish a study in a decent journal.
It’s already been dealt with, but I’ll repeat it here: by Coturnix’s own admission, there’re glia, and there’s white matter. White matter plays a support role; glia, at least according to the paper he attacks, insulate.
Now, obviously there’s experiential evidence for dolphin intelligence. I had it in mind when I talked about the paper here for the first time. I know about the mirror test, the tool-making, and the complex play, though apparently the paper reanalyzes the whistles as a fairly simplistic thing rather than a real language.
What Coturnix is really getting at is that putting down cetacean intelligence is based on anthropomorphisms. But anthropomorphism is inevitable, in a way: evidently, we’re looking for intelligence in dolphins rather than investigating scenarios like gravity-based life (as opposed to chemical life).
In fact, the existing evidence of high cetacean intelligence is pretty anthropomorphic. Dolphins communicate more-or-less verbally; hence they’re intelligent. Dolphins use tools; hence they’re intelligent. Dolphins are smart hunters; hence they’re intelligent.
On the other hand, brain data seems pretty objective. We can take into account the difference between the way cetacean brains operate and the way primate brains operate; we can measure neurons and synapses; we can look at information processing. Cognitive data is harder to misinterpret than behavioral data.