127 | Erich Jarvis on Language, Birds, and People

127 | Erich Jarvis on Language, Birds, and People

Update: 2020-12-14
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Many characteristics go into making human beings special — brain size, opposable thumbs, etc. Surely one of the most important is language, and in particular the ability to learn new sounds and use them for communication. Many other species communicate through sound, but only a very few — humans, elephants, bats, cetaceans, and a handful of bird species — learn new sounds in order to do so. Erich Jarvis has been shedding enormous light on the process of vocal learning, by studying birds and comparing them to humans. He argues that there is a particular mental circuit in the brains of parrots (for example) responsible for vocal learning, and that it corresponds to similar circuits in the human brain. This has implications for the development of intelligence and other important human characteristics.

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Erich Jarvis received his Ph.D. in Animal Behavior and Molecular Neurobehavior from Rockefeller University. He is currently a professor in the Laboratory of Neurogenetics of Language at Rockefeller and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Among his many awards are the Alan T. Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation, an American Philosophical Society Award, a Packard Foundation fellowship, an NIH Director’s Pioneer award, Northwestern University’s Distinguished Role Model in Science award, and the Summit Award from the American Society for Association Executives.


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127 | Erich Jarvis on Language, Birds, and People

127 | Erich Jarvis on Language, Birds, and People