Consider that storytellers are responsible for guiding culture. When it comes to direction, there are three options: Backward, into madness. Inward, into stagnation, redundancy, and relentless self-destruction. Or forward and outward. Of those, only the last supports the survival of our species. It’s also the only option which provides job security for storytellers, and that is no coincidence.
Lately there’s been an alarming trend away from the logical path. A lot of cultural progress has been undermined by zealous ignorance, and recapturing lost momentum can be the work of generations. Fortunately, storytellers have a shortcut at their disposal.
Extrapolation is the wave of the future. While there’s value in reinterpreting, revamping, and remixing old stories, the impact of those expires faster after each pass through the cultural recycler. In fact, they’ve become ironic; some old stories now fuel the social destruction they originally opposed. People need something to look forward to. Extrapolation can always deliver those goods.
Today’s storytellers have another underused asset within easy reach; science. Yes, science and arts are commonly taught and applied with as much distance between them as possible. That’s not just proof of a failing education system, it’s also a casual disregard of history. Da Vinci had it right; creation and investigation belong together. It’s time to put that concept back into practice.
Researchers’ recent suggestion that dolphins be recognized as non-human persons is a prime example of a scientific idea ripe for storytellers’ extrapolation. Dolphins have brains very like ours and they apparently think much like we do. They also have complex societies and recognize themselves in mirrors. Sure, they lack opposable thumbs, but that hasn’t kept them from inventing tools and quickly teaching each other new skills.
The idea of Earth as home to more than one sapient species is rich with potential adversity and opportunity for dolphins and humans alike. While it’s unlikely that dolphins’ personhood will be universally recognized any time soon. If it ever happens, it’ll be a politically, morally and ethically charged occasion, to say the least. Religious humans will protest recognition on the grounds that dolphins weren’t made in the image of God. Then there are the challenges surrounding the ways humans use the oceans – for dumping, fishing, shipping, oil production, etc. – and our long history of mishandling property rights and the concept of ownership. Plus, we might be forced to confront our unresolved hypocrisy in regard to indigenous human populations, racism, gender inequality, and child welfare, just to name a few. Any of those arguably adverse consequences of recognizing dolphins as people could provide the basis for a great new story.
Dolphin personhood could be beneficial to humans, too. There’s an increased potential for discovery with the help of dolphin reconnaissance; they might already have a wealth of medical and energy information to share with us. Plus, reclaiming our trash from the oceans and processing it safely on land could create a lot of very secure jobs for humans. Then there’s the incredible opportunity to communicate with other sentient life without the inconvenience of first achieving faster-than-light space travel. Who knows? In the future, maybe whales, octopuses, and elephants might make the grade and join the conversation.
While it’s good to suggest broadly interesting concepts, it’s even better to give away specific story ideas:
- Human-dolphin relations grow strained when visiting aliens clearly favor one sapient earthling species.
- The humans and dolphins of the future war with each other, and the dolphins have the advantage.
- Wetsuit fashion sweeps the human world, even in landlocked areas.
- The first oceanic human-dolphin city becomes an overnight economic superpower.
- Dolphins successfully raise adopted human children, but the reverse is deemed a form of kidnapping.
- Human offshore oil interests are abandoned after dolphins reject all treaties.
- Interspecies Linguistics replaces Business as the number one college major.
- Development of the first prosthetic dolphin hand quickly leads to the first dolphin climbing Mount Everest and the first dolphin astronaut.
- Tensions grow between religious and secular nations when the former deny dolphins protected status.
- Interspecies romances develop, but remain taboo at large on both sides of the issue.
- Radical dolphin shipping saboteur achieves global infamy; bombs targets in every sea before capture.
Furthermore, extrapolation isn’t only valid for ‘hard’ science fiction. Great fantasy, horror, and unadorned literature can (and should be) influenced by the very same science. Respectively:
- Dolphins have known all along where to find Atlantis, and uncovering their secret puts everyone at risk.
- Apparently Earth is populated entirely by sapient species, including plants. Still, people must eat people.
- An abused girl runs away to live with dolphins, but learns that nowhere is life all music and fish dinners.
A little ingenuity goes a long way in fiction, and as in art, so in life. It’s absurd that storytellers would ignore any good opportunity to captivate their audience with something new when people are positively drowning in ‘the same old thing’. This isn’t just about dolphins and their pet humans; this is a fight for survival of the fiction. It’s time to seize culture and do science to it.