Scientists Predict A Talking Elephant, Szilamandee

By Neuroskeptic | July 6, 2015 7:29 am

white_elephant_talkA talking white elephant called Szilamandee could save the world with his wisdom and “teach us with the deepest voice of history”, according to an academic paper published today.

The article appeared in the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. The authors are led by Otto E. Rössler, a biochemist. It’s called Is it Ethical to heal a young white Elephant from his physiological Autism? Many thanks to Michelle Dawson for bringing it to my attention.

Rössler et al. start out by introducing a theory of autism as “smile blindness”, suggesting that in non-autistic people, smiles serve to bond a child to his or her mother, and thus give rise to the human self: “the playroom is the theater for a radical transformation occurring in a young human being who is not smile-blind”. They call this the “holy moment of personogenesis”.

In children who are ‘smile-blind’, this holy moment never occurs, but according to Rössler et al. this can be remedied: “these smile-blind individuals can be healed causally. Namely: by the ‘acoustic smile therapy.'” in which a positive sound is supposed to replace the smile.

Rössler et al say that this therapy was first proposed in 1968 and then “about a dozen times” since, but they admit that it has never been tried, “perhaps because it never came to the ears or eyes of an active member of the therapeutic profession”.

Nonetheless, they say, many eminent academic figures have expressed interest in acoustic smiles: Gregory Bateson and Niklas Luhmann supported it. Jürgen Habermas’ only criticism concerned the fact that an illegally printed edition of his book had been quoted. Noam Chomsky showed interest in a long phone conversation.”

So where does the elephant come in? Well, starting from the ‘AAAA’ premise that ‘all animals are autistic’, Rössler et al. propose that autism in some animals could be cured:

Elephant mothers utter very deep, to the human ear, inaudible, bonding sounds for their calf and vice versa [20]. Can one use an infrasound generator with a loudspeaker carried along to consistently reward the toddler calf whenever oneself as the loving care-taker is delighted by the momentary happiness or friskiness of one’s protégé?

It goes without saying that the answer is in the positive. The consequence is bound to be the same as it was
described for the human playroom above: Interactional personogenesis.

Rössler et al. explain that using acoustic smile therapy, a baby elephant could actually be made into a person.

Imagine: a superhumanly wise elephant who talks to the more child-like humanity – a Hindu story [23] revived by modern science. Humankind would find itself in an ancient Abraham-Isaac-like situation, one could say.

…In this way, the holiest moments in a human playroom – never so far exposed to the public eye – could be reproduced in an elephant barn for everyone to witness and be moved in their hearts.

This elephant would teach itself to talk, and would become a new Nelson Mandela, a wise leader who would guide humanity to a “new Arcadia”:

The elephant may then love to learn to speak, in the aftermath of his having taken the initiative in trying to
reward his partner in a deep emotional connection… Eventually, the nonhuman partner might become the advisor of a planet in need of outside help.

But this will be possible only if the adoptee is never confronted with deliberate malevolence, as Jesus demanded for the holy souls of children.

The new partner of humankind would – it was argued – bring back the spirit of Mandela who was an equally foreign intelligence.

Rössler et al. note that the nuclear physicist Leo Szilard wrote a work of fiction in which dolphins turn out to be more intelligent than humanity. Therefore,

The elephant would then deserve to be given the composite name Szilard-Mandela (Szilamandee). Being human in the sense of humane is a much bigger thing than society is aware of. Szilamandee will be able to teach us with the deepest voice of history.

This is without a doubt the strangest thing I’ve ever read in the pages of a scientific journal. It far outshines the previous record-holder. Otto Rössler is himself a remarkable researcher. A few years ago he was part of an effort that unsuccesfully sued CERN in an attempt to prevent the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) from switching on.

Rössler expressed concern that the high-energy physics of the LHC might create a black hole, and thus destroy the world. In fact, CERN gets a mention in the new paper – as an example of the kind of dangerous human foolishness that Szilamandee will put a stop to.

Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology is published by Elsevier and has Denis Noble of Oxford University, one of the fathers of systems biology, as editor-in-chief.

ResearchBlogging.orgRossler, O., Theis, C., Heiter, J., Fleischer, W., & Student, A. (2015). Is it Ethical to heal a young white Elephant from his physiological Autism? Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2015.06.020

CATEGORIZED UNDER: animals, autism, papers, select, Top Posts, woo
  • enbeh

    The paper’s senior author is “anonymous student”. Wait, is this the inventor of the t-test? Maybe this is the next big thing then.

    • Neuroskeptic

      “Anonymous student” is probably the person who gave Rössler the idea for this, by pointing out to him, after a lecture, that elephants use infrasound to communicate and bond socially. As described in the introduction to the paper. Why he chose to be anonymous is not stated…

      • Matthew Slyfield

        I assume he was so embarrassed by the shear insanity that he refused to have his name attached to it.

        (or her as the case may be).

      • Otto E. Rossler

        I was so far unable to find out his name.He presumably does not know about the paper so far.

  • MacViolinist

    Holy shitsnacks. That is astoundingly bad work.

  • Nacho Sanguinetti

    Wait, what?
    Is there a chance that it is an contemporary Art Piece? I mean publishing a senseless paper in a Scientific Journal to bug scientists? Sounds like something Shia Labeouf would do!

    • DrSteveCarr


    • Ernesto Franklin

      Or Al Gore?

  • John K

    The term that springs to mind isn’t “remarkable researcher,” unless we’re using “remarkable” to mean, “something that ought to be remarked upon.”
    And, why does it need to be a *white* elephant?

    • Neuroskeptic

      I was indeed using the term in a literal sense.

  • Rolf Degen

    Perhaps this is a late revenge for the famous Sokal hoax, proving that “hard” science journals can be as easily fooled with nonsense text as social constructivism journals.

    • DrSteveCarr

      HAS to be this.

    • Magnolia2315

      If you are searching for extra money on the side averaging 50-300 bucks each day for doing an online job at your home for several hours daily then this may interest you…

      • Rolf Degen

        There is always an elephant in the room.

  • Uncle Al

    All hard science must be banned. Exclusively limit the discipline to those diverse many whose contributions, in kind and volume, echo French flatulist Joseph Pujol.

  • Buddy199

    This is a shoe-in for an Ignobel Prize.

    • Nacho Sanguinetti

      No, for an Ignobel you actually need to do good science.

      • Thanax

        Not everyone can understand science messages. This should be known to pop-science egg heads! Read the real article first, and not only the title and the abstract and you will know why. It is not for folks looking for sensations and without sense of humour. Have a good day.

  • jake6348

    BS like this has made the world a basket of lunatics.

  • rboblee

    Assuming that elephants are “autistic” is a very false assumption: Because elephants clearly are not autistic. It is provably the case that they are social and have communicating societies with distinct local cultures. Just try mixing African and Asian elephants in the same zoo habitat and watch the friction rise up between individual elephants. Simply review the work of Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project which is anchored on the work of Andrea Turkalo and her 20-years of observing African forest elephant herds: Elephants talk all the time. Humans just failed to be listening in the right frequencies with the right tools. What we need to achieve the fastest understanding of “elephant languages” are computerized neural nets tuned for elephant understanding – elephant semantics- something similar to the computer hardware and software guts of Apple Siri and Google Voice. If anything, the basic problem is that humans are “species-blind”: Humans are autistic with animals, because we are not born to naturally read them. Unlike elephants ,who find it fun to discover how to talk with and interact with other species, humans have been trained to only communicate with dogs, and to a lesser degree, cats. There are many examples of cross-species communication between elephants and dogs, cats, monkeys, water buffalo, birds like ostrich and ibis, and in the case of Koshik, the South Korean elephant, with humans – in Korean. So, the question posed by this paper is at best moot – and at worst – frivolous. When any communications is offered, it is ethical to provide communication back, however garbled it might be, until understanding is established. The really big problem is that humans – as a species – practice fewer social ethics than elephants as a whole. And that is why this paper should have been rejected: Insufficient research.

    • Deane

      You do realise that this is satirical, don’t you? My favorite sentence is: “Jürgen Habermas’ only criticism concerned the fact that an illegally printed edition of his book had been quoted.”

      • Neuroskeptic

        I’m honestly not sure that it is. Rössler really did try to stop CERN over the risk of destroying the world. That presumably was not a satirical move. So can we be sure that this is?

        • Deane

          The whole thing is just so silly, like Edward Lear for adults, from the picture of an elephant saying “hello”, right through “autisic elephant” as a concept, to the delicious absurdity of the final sentence “In fact, CERN gets a mention in the new paper – as an example of the kind of dangerous human foolishness that Szilamandee will put a stop to.” I find it hard to see what else it could be…

          • Neuroskeptic

            The “Hello” elephant was my creation, not part of the paper, I should point out.

      • rboblee

        (yes) – but it seemed necessary to “represent” the other side of the equation – and help demonstrate how human bias – aka “human autism” – can lead to “science-like” discussions that serve no real purpose – except sell beers at the bar. When a scientific journal engages in the practice, without bracketing the intended parody, it can encourage public misinformation by those who do not have the interests of the subject of discussion – in a manner similar to the “global-warming deniers”. With elephants, there are many humans who would paint them as agricultural pests, which should be eliminated to prevent injuries to humans and damages to crops like palm oil trees, rubber plantations, bananas, tea, fruit orchards of all varieties, watermelon fields, and many other crops. There is a whole history of human efforts to eradicate elephants – even as recently as 2014 in Zimbabwe where inside the protected borders of the Hwange National Park there was a coordinated effort to poison water holes with cyanide which killed over 90 elephants – and many waterfowl, crocodiles, antelope, lions, tigers, vultures, and African buffalo. The elephants were of course missing their ivory tusks when they were discovered dead. By unintentionally providing a pseudo-science basis for arguments to destroy elephants by depicting them as autistic, and a naturally evil “other” to humans, there is a danger to writing papers not clearly marked with parody intentions. Elsevier’s editors should know better and provide appropriate notice in future editions. Or, lose their jobs.

  • rickneworleansla

    I’m canceling my free subscription.

  • Gabriel Finkelstein

    This essay cites one of mine. I’m holding you responsible, Neuroskeptic. If you hadn’t blogged and tweeted about it, I would never have known.

    • Gabriel Finkelstein

      Or maybe I would have without being able to talk about it…

      • Otto E. Rossler

        Dear Gabriel:
        I admire you, as you know. Would you be so kind as to give your best criticism?
        Take care, Otto

  • David Wood

    This is right after the languages are confounded on the Tower of Babel , from the dead sea scrolls…….Book of Yashar 9:35 And YHWH smote the three divisions that were there, and He punished them according to their works and designs; those who said, “We will go up to the shamayim (heavens) and serve our mighty ones,” became like apes and ELEPHANTS; and those who said, “We will smite the the shamayim with arrows,” YHWH killed them, one man through the hand of his neighbour; and the third division of those who said, “We will go up to the shamayim and fight against Him,” YHWH scattered them throughout the earth.

    Perhaps a deeper understanding of the history of these two types of animals would explain things a little better.

    • Deane


    • Otto E. Rossler

      I met Martin Buber as a child. He was a close friend of my father’s friend, Fridolin Stier.

  • DrSteveCarr

    This has to have been a prank. How in the hell did this pass peer review? Of course, I’ve never heard of this journal, either.

    [EDIT] Wait, this is an Elsevier journal? How perfectly embarrassing.

  • Thom Baguley

    This seems to be the same chap that tried to get the LHC shut down and was involved with Chaos, Solitols and Fractals. Given such an egregious failure of peer review (I can’t believe this went to an autism expert or an expert on zoology) his remarks on peer review being “dangerous” and delaying science are ironic.

  • LizC

    I think this is satire. Why a white elephant and why the rambling about South African leaders which is all throughout the actual article?

    A white elephant was a colonial term for a prized possession that became burdensome. For example, when Uganda became too much for the East India Company to manage political cartoons depicted the colony as a white elephant. Add to that the name of the elephant being “Szilard-Mandela (Szilamandee).” Szilard was a German scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project creating the atomic bomb, which could certainly be considered a white elephant. Mandela, of course, was the famous civil rights leader in South Africa who first used violence and then after his incarceration turned to more peaceful approaches to gaining equality and ending Apartheid.

    The author sued to prevent CERN from operating because he saw it as a situation where the risks outweighed the benefits. I suspect he is trying to make a point about the state of science, our social concerns, and he is probably trolling a bit.

    • Thanax

      Absolutely yes! You are right, LizC. You are one of the two (along with Yvonne Thompson) who got the message.

  • bwana

    Let’s hope this “savior” elephant doesn’t meet up with an ivory poacher or mankind will be doomed…

  • Don’t Even Try It!

    What? This has got to be fiction! Very strange for a science paper indead!

  • TomD

    Was this the April 1 edition?

    • Electric Bill

      Tom: although the Discover article was published in July, it was based on an earlier “academic paper”. The date of that paper was not indicated in the above article. But it would be easy to guess from the timing that the article in question was published on April Fools’ Day… just a guess, of course.

      • Neuroskeptic

        Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like the explanation. The paper was published on June 30th.

  • Electric Bill

    Here’s my theory, fellas: this… ummm… diversion? is actually three months old, and following a wee bit of journalistic inertia, is just now beginning to go viral. I speak, of course, of April Fools’ Day. Agreed?

  • Lila Sovietskaya

    I talked to my fish. She said that Elephant can’t talk because their intelligence is not fishy.

    • Otto E. Rossler

      Well spoken, dear Lao Tsu.

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  • Victoria Ravdin

    Piffle. It’s far more likely that you’d irrevocably damage the elephant’s psyche by forcing it to associate that intimately with a human. And a human with a fake elephant voice, at that. Probably make the poor thing psychotic and send it on a murderous rampage. Didn’t we learn our lesson with all the broken monkey experiments? I hope to heaven that this IS satire!

    • Otto E. Rossler

      I very much sympathize with you. But Leo Szilard was not in a joking mood when writing “The Voice of the Dolphins.”
      Nevertheless you did our future Szilamandee a very big favor by your kind posting, Victoria.
      May I sign as Otto?

  • Thanax

    Exactly. This is the the only reasonable voice in this blog full of clever self-promoter who have certainly not read the article — because there is hardly anyone who would pay 25$ to Elsevier for it — but criticising it because of a second-hand gossip delivery by another “cute” guy. Forget it, it is not for you fellows candidate scientists.

    • Otto E. Rossler

      I somehow am very moved about the response.I see it as very constructive.

      • Neuroskeptic

        Thanks very much for visiting and commenting.

        • Otto E. Rossler

          I am deeply honored.
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    • gwern

      > there is hardly anyone who paid $27,95 to Elsevier or applied for a free review

      It’s amusing that you think that everyone here doesn’t know how to get a copy within a few seconds without either paying the Elsevier ransom or begging for a copy.

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  • OWilson

    We know that all species communicate with each other, one way or another. In other words, they have a language.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense, since humans are more intelligent, to train a human to speak tuna, elephant, or fish, than the other way around? :)

  • Otto E. Rossler

    The full uncorrected preprint is now on Elsevier:

  • Otto E. Rossler

    I very much sympathize with rboblee below.
    He only uses a different definition of autism. He thinks it is pathological.This view is now outdated. For example, all very young children are autistic – there is nothing negative to that.
    It will be very important whether rboblee and the superhumanly brave group which he mentions and represents, see the friendly humanistic side of the non-pathological definition of autism (as it is implicit in the brain equation, for example; see my co-authored recent Springer book “Chaotic Harmony”).
    If you wish, the non-autism of most human beings is pathological. But we know it is not because it joins the benevolent metaphysical reality to which we owe the blessing of colors and the Now, for example, which both are absent in science (the so-calles Assignment conditions).

    • TheMechanicalAdv

      What is a pathology? I’d say it’s a condition the reduction of which improves someone’s life. Autistic people have learning problems which can be remedied by building upon their innate paradigm with novel methods of teaching skills, not by undermining the paradigm. So autism is a disability but not a pathology. This is not outdated. What’s outdated is the belief that there’s something wrong with having difficulty doing things “normally”.

      Nobody is autistic as a child and gets over it. If anything, it goes the other way. Some children who were not born autistic become autistic at a young age.

      The blessing of colors? Light has a continuous range of wavelengths, but we can only see three discrete and unchangeable filters of them and have to guess the rest. How is that a blessing?

      The blessing of the Now? Every macroscopic process has a Now, in the sense that it gradually winds down into chaos from which new processes arise. This has been known scientifically ever since Lucretius!!!

  • Otto E. Rossler


  • Otto E. Rossler

    A logical Error made by the Scientific Community since 1939

    An astronaut can in-fall onto the surface (“horizon”) of a black hole in two days’ or two years’ time dependent on the hole’s size. To her friends waiting in orbit, the in-fall appears more and more slowed down to eventually take infinitely long as the signals become infinitely stretched and delayed and faint. This result of Oppenheimer and Snyder established the theory of black holes in 1939.

    Now let the astronaut return by assuming a trampoline had been installed right above the horizon. Then like in a time-inverted movie, the astronaut will be back after another two days or years wristwatch time. This twin result is new but likewise indubitable.

    Now the zillion-dollar question: How long does the waiting crew have to remain in orbit to re-embrace the astronaut? Answer: almost infinitely long.

    The ZD question was never posed before. The indubitable answer means that all textbook results on black holes are false: No black hole ever got finished; there is no Hawking radiation; no singularity; no information paradox; no Kerr solution; and CERN’s currently running attempt at producing micro black holes on earth is unsafe.

    Szilamandee: please help!

  • Otto E. Rossler
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  • Otto E. Rossler

    The word “autism”
    has many different meanings. For example, everyone has some
    “autistic” traits. And persons who are “autists” often are
    especially meticulous and especially humane.

    The “physiological autism” of all known animals that are
    mirror-competent, and of all animals in general, is a much broader and more
    fundamental concept. It extends to all artificial “autonomous
    optimizers.” The very state of being an autonomous optimizer means that
    you follow the built-in “brain equation” as it can be called. Such an
    equation exists since 1974 in the literature. It can be derived in the
    footsteps of Darwin and can no doubt still be improved upon.

    This equation is an autonomous optimizer. It can be very intelligent if

    combined with a “universal simulator” akin to a flight simulator as I once
    proposed in more detail in 1981. It yields a “robotic intelligence.”

    Like all animal intelligences, it solves a certain traveling-salesman type


    Now the point: All natural biological intelligences and their artificial

    analogs are “autistic” in a very general sense of the word. Namely:

    they follow the built-in optimality functional. This is what evolution made

    them do. This is their raison d’ être.

    As biological organisms, we humans share this heritage. We, too, are

    “autonomous optimizers with cognition,” as the class can be called.

    But something is different. We can use the same program for a different
    purpose. This is, if you wish, a mental illness from the point of view of
    biology. The control evolution has over the design and functioning of this
    machine is thereby gone.

    How come? Through the smile. Through the misunderstanding of another benevolent
    will existing on the other side, so that you got “moved” as a young
    child. By your having invented the “suspicion of benevolence
    encountered.” There is no record of this transforming event in the
    ontogenesis of a child. Except maybe someone remembers.

    A certain coupling between autonomous optimizers with cognition can bring this
    “function change” about (a word due to biomathematician Bob Rosen, my
    late friend).

    This suspicion is the source of an infinitely powerful transformation.

    Suddenly, you are no longer a behaviorist. Ordinary autonomous optimizers are
    behaviorists. They never look into the other (except as anticipators of certain
    desired or disapproved-with actions from his part). Skinner-like, that is. They
    are not moved and are not movable.

    But due to the overlap between the smile of bonding and the smile-laughter of
    happiness in the human species under ordinary conditions, young
    “stupid” (inexperienced) individuals can arrive at the insane hunch
    that the happy smile of the proud efficient mother was a bonding smile. It is
    just happiness. But this causes – through an accidental overlap arisen in
    evolution – an expression to be released which looks like bonding even though
    it is just joyfulness.

    So the toddler can be moved into picturing in his mind that mom wants you to be
    happy when she blurts into a sweet bonding expression because the food she just
    gave you makes you happy, which fact rewards her as happens often in biology.
    It is not tenderness in the human mother, but it looks so.

    This misunderstanding acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy amongst members of the
    species of “the smilers.” You see the point?

    The new person that arose is infinitely vulnerable. The new hypothesis

    anticipates unlimited allegiance and support. Which mother can give this? So
    soon catastrophic disappointments arise, which then lead to a second false
    hypothesis: that malevolence existed as well.

    Then you are well on your way to becoming a competent pupil in class. Only the
    “Kinderlehrer” in Judaism and maybe also in some or many Koran
    schoools can avoid the infinite disappointment by bringing or rather keeping-in
    the third person that from the beginning is part of the original
    misunderstanding: the invisible benefactor who gives the goods the toddler can
    treat mom with, and vice versa. So religion and being a person are deeply

    I talk here as a scientist who believes in the traveling salesman problem
    having to be solved by biology’s autonomous optimizers. And who believes in
    physics and is not too much discouraged by the inexplicability of the now and
    of color – as bona-fide gifts that violate causality.

    Others who have not read Martin Buber may have different preferences of

    But it is this context into which my therapy belongs. Steven Spielberg put some
    of this into his movie AI, I feel.

    Szilamandee will be a very big responsibility for the Mahout who takes it on
    himself to raise him. Is it ethical to incite the suspicion of benevolence in
    an autonomous optimizer with cognition?

    I do not know. But I believe that “deep autism” in smile-blind

    children deserves to be treated. And if there is an even higher smile-blind
    intelligence than a human one, it in principle deserves to be healed, too.

    And understanding what the hypothesis of being loved is all about is perhaps a
    forgivable goal. I hope that some “deep autists” will profit. And
    that the rest of us “less deep autists” can tolerate this and even become
    a little bit moved in their hearts.

  • Otto E. Rossler

    (My response from yesterday got removed – can it be restored?)

    Let me ask the humanities-oriented readers here about a problem Szilamandee would be able to handle:

    A machine at CERN the size of several cathedrals joined by a 30 kilometers long ring, all underground, runs on an almost 8 years old safety report while producing the hottest resident spot anywhere in the universe. The main aim is the generation of black holes. The experimenters reported not finding them, but did not disclose that published results prove their sensors are blind to their anticipated greatest success.

    The media refuse to inquire. Why bother? Because the 7 years old revival of “c-global” (an early result of Einstein’s) implies that the holes grow exponentially inside earth.

    Only a benevolent super-human negotiator could bring this issue up in a tactful manner and perhaps solve it. Szilamandee is a genuine hope.

  • Otto E. Rossler

    It is my privilege to be allowed to post here on the topic of the hoped-for superhuman intelligence Szilamandee.

    As mentioned in the full paper (made briefly available to the friends of the first author by the publisher at ), Szilamandee could advise humankind on one point in particular:

    Was it wise on the part of CERN’s 3.500 scientists to decide to non-renew their outdated 2008 safety report “LSAG” before creating the highest localized energy density anywhere in the universe on earth in their so-called “Big-Bang Experiment”?

    Not one out of this number objecting is a fairly large sample of human



No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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