Sunday, 23 June 2013

Do Prairie Dogs have a sophisticated communication language

In trying to model the neural code in human and animal brains one of the key factors to be considered is that of language and whether the biological foundations of human language are significantly different to other animals - or just an existing feature stretched to a significant extent - rather like a giraffe's neck. is a stretched version of a "normal" mammal neck. My own feeling is that virtually all our language is a product of culture - and the more rapidly a brain can absorb culture the more sophisticated the language can become  - in something akin to an autocatalysed chemical reaction.

I am therefore extremely interested in the work of Professor Con Slobodchikoff, as described in Animal Behaviorist, with video, at Experiment show that not only do their calls distinguish between different threats, but that the calls appear vary to convey additional information - distinguishing between, for example, between a tall human in a blue shirt and a short human in a yellow shirt. It addition there are complex "chatter" between individual prairie dogs which the researchers have no idea how to interpret, different groups of the same species living in different places have different dialects of the "same" language, while different species appear to use different vocalizations. 
Following a holiday and other distractions I am about to return to drafting my detailed notes on the evolutionary implications the ideal brain model (see From the Neuron to Human Intelligence: Developing an “Ideal Brain” Model). Research such as this, which suggests that we have underestimated the ability of animals to communicate with each other, makes it much easier to argue that our brain works in the same way as the brains of many other animals - except that ow brain has adapted to handle large quantities of cultural information. 

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