Dolphins Practice of Blowing Ring Bubbles?

What can humans learn about the virtues from the dolphin practice of blowing ring bubbles? Watch a few short videos of dolphins blowing ring bubbles, such as here and here and here or this four-minute podcast. (Once you get started on this, it could rival cute cat videos!) This reflection assignment goes along with the material covered in Unit 3, Modules 3 & 4, including Chapters 3 and 7 of Dependent Rational Animals.  Complete those modules before this reflection assignment. According to this article in Scientific American, the dolphin practice of blowing ring bubbles is a learned activity. It has been observed in the wild, though most human observations involve captive dolphins. The dolphins “appear to have created a ‘ring culture’ in which novice dolphins learn to make rings in the presence of [older dolphin] experts that, in a sense, pass down the tradition.”

Blowing ring bubbles appears to be a leisurely pastime for dolphins; they seem to blow ring bubbles when they want to, “not on command or for a reward of food”. Dolphins have been observed producing ring bubbles using multiple complex techniques, refined through experimentation, trial and error. This practice seems to be learned through observation.According to the article in Scientific American (linked above): The practice of making rings spread through the population of dolphins, as some of the individuals learned the technique in the presence of their ring-blowing companions. We had the opportunity to watch one young dolphin’s rings evolve over a period of two months from unstable, sloppy bubbles that dissipated rapidly to stable, shimmering rings that lingered in the water for several seconds. Older dolphins also needed time to acquire the talent. One adult male, Keola, lived in the research tank for two years with dolphins that did not produce air rings, and during that time we did not see him generate any. But when his younger, ring-blowing sibling Kaiko’o moved into the same tank, Keola watched for long stretches while Kaiko’o blew rings; within a couple of months, Keola began making his own rings, which slowly progressed in quality. MacIntyre sees in this dolphin activity something akin to the “grammar” that he had developed in his account of the virtues, drawn from Aristotle and developed in his earlier books. (According to this grammar, virtues are acquired qualities of character, that is, habits, that contribute to and are constitutive of the pursuit of excellence in a social practice; such practices are autotelic; excellence in such a practice is pursued and extended by those who participate in the practice.) By extending this MacIntyrean description of dolphin ring bubble activity, reflect on the following questions: What dolphin traits (dispositions or habits that issue in practical action) are cultivated in the practice of blowing ring bubbles? As you read about and observe videos of dolphin ring bubble activity, how would you describe the “excellences that are internal to this practice”? What activities are characteristic of a masterful dolphin ring bubbler?

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What do you think are the most important features required for becoming masterful in this practice: the ability to control one’s breathing and hold one’s breath; visual perspicuity; observation; focus; awareness of one’s bodily movements; athletic agility; determination; social awareness; communication skill; skill in imitation; imagination; ability to interact with and teach others; or some other trait? To what extent do you think the traits cultivated in this practice transfer to promote flourishing in other parts of dolphin life? How is mastery of “ring bubble practice” connected with other dolphin activities: breathing, swimming, perceiving, communicating, cooperating, scouting, hunting, herding, eating, reproducing, raising young dolphins, etc.? What is the relationship, for dolphins, between becoming masterful in the practice of blowing ring bubbles and becoming masterful at living a good dolphin life? Do you think that dolphin “ring culture” promotes dolphin virtues that make for dolphin flourishing in domains beyond the leisurely activity of blowing ring bubbles? Is it significant that the dolphin practice of blowing ring bubbles seems to be a leisure activity? Is there some connection between play and learning the traits integral to mastering a practice? What is the connection between play and work? Do dolphins ‘work’? Is there a connection between autotelic activity and play, or between instrumental activity and work? What can human beings learn about the virtues from the dolphin practice of blowing ring bubbles? *** After reflecting on the questions above, formulate a thesis that you can explain and support in response to this assignment’s question: What can humans learn about the virtues from the dolphin practice of blowing ring bubbles? Get assignment assistance here.

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