Main Site         

Anti-matter and Sepp Blatter

2010 November 18
by Paul Vallely

Because it was there. Why would anyone want to make a career out of studying the 25,000 different melodies of a tiny bird called the Bengalese finch? You might assume that the answer would rank high in the lists of heroic irrelevance which marks out so much human endeavour. But you would be wrong.

Pet-owners who believe the animals which share their lives can ‘speak’ through their barks or miaows are fooling themselves, scientists believe. The vocalisations of cats and dogs are innate and unlearned. But birds learn a song by listening to other birds and copying – much as a human baby learns the language. So studying how individual brain cells control birdsong could provide insights into the complex neural networks involved in human speech.

It will be a long way off, for bird syntax – even that of the most complex of songbirds, like the Bengalese finch – is much simpler than that of human speech. But it is a start on a long road of discovery.

How long it will be before even the most advanced science has even the faintest inkling of the sense behind the syntax is another matter. We may never, for example, be able to work out the thought-processes which lie behind the statement of an institution like the world football authority, Fifa. But scientists at Cern have for the first time trapped anti-matter. So perhaps there is even hope for, one day, comprehending Sepp Blatter.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS