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Zenith Grant Awardee

James Crutchfield

Art and Science Laboratory

Project Title

Quantitative Explorations in Nonhuman Consciousness—Signatures of Cetacean Intelligence and Social Awareness

Project Summary

First appearing in the Earth’s oceans some 20-30 Myrs ago, humpback whales exhibit compelling, documented evidence for very advanced intentional behaviors and conscious awareness through their raw intelligence, song generation and sharing, interactions with their own and other species, and empathy (concern for other’s well-being). Over this very long evolution—exceeding that of humans by a factor of 10—they developed tools (socially-coordinated bubble-net feeding) and a region- (and possibly hemisphere-) spanning ocean-acoustic communication system. Using modern theories of complex, multivariate statistical complexity this project empirically investigates consciousness as it arises from the intentional behaviors of humpback and other whale species and their emergent collective intelligence.

Technical Abstract

This project seeks to empirically ground the study of consciousness by exploring real-world settings in which signatures of intelligent behavior and social intent can be detected and measured. It will adapt recently-developed statistical estimation tools from information theory and computational mechanics to detect and measure semantic, intentional, and functional content in naturally-occurring communication and social interactions. Success in this will enrich our understanding of internal worlds and social self-awareness, both implicated in consciousness experience. It will then apply these tools to nonhuman animals so as to preclude misleading conflations—e.g., ascribing meaning and intention—that arise when humans study humans. The deliverables are practical analysis tools—that translate recent developments in complex signal analysis into new inference algorithms—for an ongoing project on the behavioral and social roles of communication in bubble-net feeding by humpback whale populations in Southeast Alaska.

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