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What Dolphins Can Teach Us

Melvyn Tan
Melvyn Tan
1 min read

If you’re frustrated because your actions are not bringing you the outcomes you’ve once gotten, then this little story about dolphins might be able to help you.

Study of Dolphins

Invaluable insights from studying the communication patterns of dolphins at the Marine Research Institute in Hawaii.

This is the story related by Gregory Bateson in his book Steps to the Ecology of Mind.

Day One

Dolphin does a specific trick, like jumping out of the water, and gets a fish as a reward.

Each time the dolphin does that, it is rewarded.

Day Two

Dolphin does the trick learned yesterday, expecting a reward.

It gets none.

After making numerous attempts, the dolphin gets frustrated and does something totally different.

It gets a reward.

Now, the dolphin gets rewarded each time it does this new trick.

Day Three through Day 14

Each time the dolphin performs yesterday’s trick, it gets no reward.

It only gets a reward when it does something totally different.

Day 15

via Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming:

On the fifteenth day however, it suddenly appeared to learn the rules of the game. It went wild and put on an amazing show, including eight new unusual behaviors, four of which had never been observed in the species before. The dolphin had moved up a learning level. It seemed to understand not only how to generate new behaviors, but the rules about how and when to generate them.

Question to ponder

  1. How would you know when to do something different?
  2. How would you know what to do differently?

Melvyn Tan

Despite living the good life at midlife, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. My aim here is to reinvent midlife, learn new skills, and understand how the world works post-COVID.