Recently, I read about a Newcastle University study showing that cows given names produce far more milk than unnamed animals. The researchers, who studied 516 cows, found that those cows given personal identities – a name like Daisy, say – produced up to 454 more pints of milk a year than cows that remained anonymous.
This especially interested me, mostly because it seemed to be a revelation to the researchers that cows would be happier and more relaxed when given a little bit more one-to-one attention. It was almost shocking to them that cows would have an interior life.
I’ve been watching a series on TV called the Secret Life of Elephants. The show follows groups of elephant families in Northern Kenya at Samburu National Reserve and covers the work of the world-renowned elephant expert Iain Douglas Hamilton and his Save the Elephants team. Most notably, the show allows us to be witness to the emotional and social complexities of an elephant’s world – the breadth of their emotional landscape, the intricacies of family life.
The show’s remarkable camera work reveals evidence of the complicated grieving mechanism elephants undergo when a member of the family dies, or the rest of the family’s jubilation when their matriarch mates with the toughest elephant on the reserve. Primarily, it bears witness to the love and closeness of an animal family.
The surprising part of the film and indeed the Newcastle study isn’t that cows respond to being fussed over, or that elephants display an array of emotions, but that human beings find this in any way unusual.
Copious research shows not only that animals far more sensitive than humans in almost every way, but also that animals appear to have a profound effect on human beings – in improving their health.
I’ve just got back from a Transformational Leadership Council meeting in Hawaii and perhaps the most remarkable part of our trip was our 12-year-old daughter’s session swimming with dolphins. Her elation afterward may have been emotional – she’s a great animal lover and this has been a dream of hers for many years – but I believe it also was physiological.
In studies of human and dolphin interactions, it’s been found that dolphins have profound effects on human beings. For instance, dolphins produce brainwave changes in humans in their company. David Cole, computer scientists at Fort Myers, Florida, fascinated by the possibility that dolphins might have a profound physiological effect on humans, developed a neuromapping electroencephalography (EEG) instrument to study the neurological effects on the human brain of close contact with dolphins.
In his research Cole found that after swimming, touching, playing or diving with dolphins, a participant’s dominant brainwave frequency slows significantly from a beta frequency (the state of ordinary consciousness) to something resembling an alpha state, the brainwave frequency of light meditation or dreaming. He also found that the brain hemispheres synchronize, so that the brainwaves emitted from both the left and right hemispheres are in phase (peaking and troughing at the same time) and of similar frequency (speed).
This is precisely the type of left-right brain synchronization that occurs in like monks and other experienced meditators after a long session of meditation.
Other evidence shows that the production and uptake of the brain’s neurotransmitters are strengthened by dolphin contact.
Although some scientists believe the positive effects have to do with chemical changes in cells caused by the sound waves emitted by dolphins, this may not be the whole story. Many behavioral and electrophysiological changes have been observed in people exposed to dolphins at much further distances.
Another possibility suggested by dolphin researchers is a process called ‘resonant entrainment’, a situation analogous to when one tuning fork hits a pitch, causing nearby tuning forks to vibrate at the same frequency. And we know that bottlenose dolphins produce low-frequency electromagnetic and scalar (or standing) waves.
In the Hello Dolphin Project in Florida, researchers used special sensor and recording equipment to record all signals emanating from dolphins. They then also recorded the brainwave frequencies of the children participating in the study.
When the dolphins were present, the scientists recorded an electrical, magnetic and acoustical extremely-low frequency signal of about 16 Hz in nearly three-quarters of all the trials.
Here’s the amazing part of the story. After the children interacted with the dolphins, their brainwaves had made profound shifts to a predominant frequency near 16 Hz – exactly the frequency of the dolphin signal.
The researchers concluded that dolphins simultaneously emit acoustical, electrical and magnetic fields, and that after first sensing electrical fields from humans, the dolphins then attempt to communicate using the same frequencies (in the human brainwave band of 6-30 Hz). In other words, they both communicate with us and then ‘correct’ us.
We feel better around dolphins because they ‘remind’ our bodies of our ideal frequencies.
It is we who should feel better if cows deem us worthy of a name.