Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Alex's Extra New and Hot

Okay, so I found these two things just last night, and I actually think they are probably superior to the one that I found before. Click below for the two links:

Dolphin Braininess due to Social Life.
Is Our Style of Language in Our Genes?

Ok, so the first article is really straightforward. It talks about how two studies have been published in the last month or two with somewhat similar conclusions. Both studies contend that a good explanation has been found for the reason why dolphins are so smart. We all know that dolphins are probably among the most intelligent species on earth. They behave in a very intelligent manner and they are easily trained, in addition to the fact that they have one of the greatest brain-to-body-mass ratios out of all the organisms on earth. Anyways, both studies suggest that this over-sized brain is at least partially due to the intellectual demands of living in a highly social society. Anyway, I'm not too sure how the studies themselves were actually conducted, however the two articles did state that they are two alterative theories for the evolution of large brains in cetaceans: 1.) their ancestors' re-migration from land to sea; 2.) their brain's use of echolocation. The other two explanations are sort of brushed off.

I think the second article is really interesting. Long story short, there are two genes that are associated with brain development, ASPM and Microcephalin. These two genes are of particular interest because both have changed very recently in terms of human history. ASPM most recently changed approximately 5800 years ago (a blink of an eye in geologic time), and microcephalin most recently changed about 37000 years ago. In any case, the researchers at the University of Edinburgh divided up some of the major languages on the planet into two categories: tonal languages are like Chinese that use pitch changes to convey meanings of words, and non-tonal languages like English that don't.

The overall trend that the researchers found after removing biases due to geography and such was that people who spoke tonal languages LACKED the most recent mutations in ASPM and microcephalin, whereas people who speak non-tonal languages do possess the most recent versions of these two genes. So depending on how confident we are in these conclusions, this is definitely evidence to the assertion that languages is hard-coded into our genes. Which I think is kinda cool. Because I think there's a few things that we can infer from that. For example, languages definitely evolve very quickly in today's society, so is that indicative of how quickly evolution in progressing as well? That's probably something interesting to think about.

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