Screening and Discussion /
“The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins,” introduced by D. Graham Burnett

Date: Wednesday, 8 October 2014, 7–9 pm
Location: Cabinet, 300 Nevins Street, Brooklyn (map and directions here)
FREE. No RSVP necessary

Listen to an audio recording of this program, or download here.

00:00 / 00:00

Please join us for the US premiere of The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins, a BBC documentary directed by Christopher Riley that explores an extraordinary episode in the history of science.

In the 1960s, American neuroscientist John Lilly began a research project aimed at establishing communication between humans and Tursiops truncatus—the bottlenose dolphin. His work on interspecies communication drew the interest of a number of government agencies, including the Navy and NASA, which was at that time considering how to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. With funding from these agencies, Lilly constructed an aquatic laboratory on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, where he devised a series of experiments to study how dolphins communicate and to encourage them to learn English.

In 1965, a young volunteer named Margaret Howe persuaded Lilly to flood the upper floors of his laboratory so that she could live there with an adolescent male dolphin called Peter and give him English lessons. Although their progress was initially impressive, with Peter learning to mimic a number of syllables and even certain words, it was not rapid enough for Lilly or his funders. The experiment came to an end in 1966, ultimately discredited by rumors about a sexual relationship between Margaret and Peter as well as by John Lilly’s growing interest in LSD. The ambivalent and unsettling results of the experiment aroused considerable controversy, and now occupy the ambiguous territory between historical fact and modern myth.

The screening will begin at 7:00 pm, and will be followed by Q&A with D. Graham Burnett.


About the Participants
Christopher Riley is a film producer, director, and writer specializing in science, engineering, and history. He is currently visiting professor of science and media at the University of Lincoln’s School of Media.

D. Graham Burnett is a historian of science at Princeton University and an editor of Cabinet.

Beer for this event has been lovingly provided by Brooklyn Brewery.
Refreshments courtesy of Sprizz-O.