Saturday, May 09, 2009

what is music?


Wired | Knowledge is passed down directly from generation to generation in the animal kingdom as parents teach their children the things they will need to survive. But a new study has found that, even when the chain is broken, nature sometimes finds a way.

Zebra finches, which normally learn their complex courtship songs from their fathers, spontaneously developed the same songs all on their own after only a few generations.

“We found that in this case, the culture was pretty much encoded in the genome,” said Partha Mitra of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, co-author of a study in Nature on Sunday.

Birds transmit their songs through social interactions, as humans do for languages, dances, cuisine and other cultural elements. Though birds and humans have clearly followed different evolutionary paths, birdsong culture can still inform theories of human culture.

Normally, male finches learn their complex courtship songs (MP3) from their uncles and fathers. But if there are no vocal role models around, the song will deviate from the traditional song and be harsh to female finch ears (MP3). Each bird, then, must learn from his father or uncles, as they learned from their fathers, and so on — but this can only take us so far down the lineage.

“It’s the classic ‘chicken and the egg’ puzzle,” Mitra said. “Learning may explain how the son copies its father’s song, but it doesn’t explain the origin of the father’s song.”

Dale one mo gin...,

this time, however, it's a MAJOR node on the dot map. It should go without saying that I find the "culture in the genome" implication a priori ridiculous. Not because I find questions of extended phenotype intrinsically dubious, but instead, because the questions begged by the phenomenon observed are so much deeper and more interesting than the tired trope that these monkeys parroted.