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The Order of the Dolphin and the Secret Origin of SETI

In 1961, ten scientists - including Frank Drake, Melvin Calvin and Carl Sagan - met in a secret meeting at a rural observatory in West Virginia to discuss how they would find, and talk to, aliens. This meeting later set the foundation for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI.

But what most people don't know is that during the meeting, a neuroscientists named John C. Lilly enthralled the scientists with his attempts to communicate with dolphins, and how that could help us communicate with aliens. The scientists were so excited with Lilly's research that they called themselves the Order of the Dolphin:

Drake would write that, “Much of that first day, he regaled us with tales of his bottlenosed dolphins, whose brains, he said, were larger than ours and just as densely packed with neurons. Some parts of the dolphin brain looked even more complex than their human counterparts, he averred. Clearly, more than one intelligent species had evolved on Earth.”
Lilly told the attendees he also heard signs of language, and empathy, in recordings of the dolphins. “In fact, if we slowed down the playback speed of the tape recorder enough, the squeaks and clicks sounded like human language,” Drake wrote. “We were all totally enthralled by these reports. We felt some of the excitement in store for us when we encounter nonhuman intelligence of extraterrestrial origin.”
Lilly’s research generated so much excitement that, by the end of the conference, the attendees called themselves the Order of the Dolphin. Calvin, in his post-Nobel joy, even went on to send commemorative pins to the attendees. “He caused to be made these little pins which had silver dolphins on them, which he sent to all of us,” Morrison told David Swift, author of the book SETI Pioneers.

Read the rest of the story at The Crux.

Photo: SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array/SETI Institute


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