Human evolution; we hear pitch better than monkeys (Introduction)

by dhw, Sunday, July 14, 2019, 13:16 (95 days ago) @ David Turell

DAVID: New research on the difference between humans and other primates:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190711111913.htm

QUOTE: "In the eternal search for understanding what makes us human, scientists found that our brains are more sensitive to pitch, the harmonic sounds we hear when listening to music, than our evolutionary relative the macaque monkey.”

I really don’t know why the search has to be eternal! I think most of us recognize that we are very different from other primates, just as whales are different from elephants, and shark are different from goldfish. Many would say that the major difference in us is mental rather than physical, but on the other hand many of those people would also say that the mental difference is caused by a physical difference - namely the brain.

"'We found that a certain region of our brains has a stronger preference for sounds with pitch than macaque monkey brains," said Bevil Conway, Ph.D., investigator in the NIH's Intramural Research Program and a senior author of the study published in Nature Neuroscience. "The results raise the possibility that these sounds, which are embedded in speech and music, may have shaped the basic organization of the human brain." (DAVID’s bold)

DAVID: As usual we are very different than monkeys. The bold above raises the question of which came first complex brain or complex sound? Developed human language has involved pitches which need to be appreciated for proper understanding of speech. I think the more complex brain allowed for more complex speech.

I’m not sure why “pitch” is regarded as so significant in relation to human language (as opposed to music), though the link is very clear in bird language:
Bird Senses and How They Use Them - The Spruce
https://www.thespruce.com/birds-five-senses-386441

Birds hear a smaller frequency range than humans, but they have much more acute sound recognition skills. Birds are especially sensitive to pitch, tone and rhythm changes and use those variations to recognize other individual birds, even in a noisy flock.”

The papers here have been full of stories about Snowball the cockatoo who can dance in rhythm to human music, and about a manta ray which “asked” a diver she knew to remove fishing hooks stuck under her eye and then “thanked” him. An editorial in The Times on Friday also referred to puzzle-solving by dolphins, chimps and corvids (often reported by David on this website) as evidence that “dumb animals are a whole lot cleverer than we thought” which “should encourage us to redouble our efforts to co-exist harmoniously together”. In addition to cleverness I would cite sentience as a factor that should encourage us. For those of us who believe in common descent, it should be crystal clear that no matter how different species are, much of what makes us “human” has actually been inherited from our non-human ancestors.

To David: As for which came first, the idea that the complexities of the brain preceded the complexities of speech fits in with your belief that your God made anatomical changes in advance of the need for them (e.g. changing legs to flippers before sending pre-whales into the water). This also suggests that the changes in the brain give rise to the improvements (= materialism). As you know, I propose the reverse process, whereby the effort to produce more complex speech gave rise to changes in the brain (like the effort to adapt to water giving rise to flippers instead of legs) as the cell communities adapted to new requirements. But I think we’ve probably gone as far as we can along this route.


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