Skip navigation

neuroscience

A Bird’s-Eye View of Human Language and Evolution

A Bird’s-Eye View of Human Language and Evolution

It's National Bird Day! We are celebrating with a passage by Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky from Birdsong, Speech, and Languagewhich considers the cognitive and neural similarities between birdsong and human speech and language.

Scholars have long been captivated by the parallels between birdsong and human speech and language. Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle had already observed in his Historia Animalium (about 350 BCE) that some songbirds, like children, acquire sophisticated, patterned vocalizations, “ articulated voice, ” in part from listening to adult “ tutors ” but also in part via prior predisposition: “ Some of the small birds do not utter the same voice as their parents when they sing, if they are reared away from home and hear other birds singing. A nightingale has already been observed teaching its chick, suggesting that [birdsong] . . . is receptive to training ” ( Hist. Anim. 1970, 504a35 – 504b3; 536b, 14 – 20 ). Here Aristotle uses the Greek word dialektos to refer to song variation, paralleling human speech, and even anticipates recent work on how the songs of isolated juvenile vocal learning birds might “ drift ” from those of their parents over successive generations. Given two millennia of progress from neuroscience to genomics, we might expect that our insights regarding the parallels between birdsong and human language have advanced since Aristotle ’ s day. But how much have we learned? That is the aim of this book: What can birdsong tell us today about the biology of human speech and language? 

Brain Awareness Week: Evolution of Design at The MIT Press

Brain Awareness Week: Evolution of Design at The MIT Press

In honor of Brain Awareness Week, we revisit "The Brain Through the Decades, or Evolution of Design at The MIT Press" video, which illustrates design trends at the Press and showcases some of our most memorable, creative, and influential covers featuring this MIT Press-iconic image.

Brain Awareness Week: James Austin's Achievement

Brain Awareness Week: James Austin's Achievement

Welcome to Brain Awareness Week! We're happy to be part of the Dana Foundation's global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.  Brain research is something that we know about, having published dozens of books in cognitive science, neuroscience, and related disciplines that all aim to uncover just how the human brain works so miraculously.

Brain Awareness Week: The Digital Mind

Brain Awareness Week: The Digital Mind

What do computers, cells, and brains have in common? Computers are electronic devices designed by humans; cells are biological entities crafted by evolution; brains are the containers and creators of our minds. But all are, in one way or another, information-processing devices. The power of the human brain is, so far, unequaled by any existing machine or known living being. In our final post celebrating Brain Awareness Week, Arlindo Oliveira discusses how advances in science and technology could enable us to create digital minds

The field of Artificial Intelligence was started more than six decades ago, with the work of Alan Turing about computers and intelligence, in 1950, and a famous conference, in 1956, in Dartmouth College, where many well-known researchers met, including John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, Arthur Samuel, and Herbert Simon. Before these events, the idea that computers could display intelligent behavior had been only addressed in very vague, abstract, and philosophical terms. During the ensuing decades, Artificial Intelligence has seen several Springs of hope and Winters of discontent, as positive results alternated with negative ones. At times, artificially intelligent systems looked just around the corner, while at other times the whole enterprise seemed doomed by its sheer complexity.

Spotlight on Science: Rosa Arriaga

Spotlight on Science: Rosa Arriaga

We are inundated with stimuli every day. How do our brains make sense of all the data flooding our senses? How do we recognize these stimuli for sounds or objects? For this month’s Spotlight on Science Q&A, we spoke with Rosa I. Arriaga (Georgia Institute of Technology), one of the authors of “Visual Categorization with Random Projection.” This study appeared in the October 2015 issue of Neural Computation and was the most popular article for the journal in the past year (source: Altmetric.com). Read the article for free on our SOS page.

Brain Awareness Week: Networking and Making Connections

Brain Awareness Week: Networking and Making Connections

It's Day Two of Brain Awareness Week, the Dana Foundation's global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.  Yesterday, we looked at the unlikely intersection of Zen and the brain. Today, we're tackling brain connectivity.

What We Know about Cannabis, on the Eve of Marijuana Legalization

What We Know about Cannabis, on the Eve of Marijuana Legalization

Even as recently as a decade ago, it was difficult to predict how quickly the case for marijuana legalization would grow into a movement throughout much of the West. Several states have in recent years made the recreational use of pot legal, and even more have approved its use for medical purposes. And yet, for a phenomenon that's growing so quickly, there's a lot we still don't know about marijuana's effects, and how they'll manifest in this era of the drug's ongoing legitimization.

To find out the state of scientific research, we turned to Linda Parker, a neuroscientist at the University of Guelph and Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neuroscience. Parker is the author of Cannabinoids and the Brain, the most comprehensive scientific review yet published about the potential harms and benefits related to cannabis use. We asked her to break down what's known on the subject, and she sent us these thoughts.

Five Minutes with Olaf Sporns

Five Minutes with Olaf Sporns

“The ubiquity and utility of networks has given rise to a new interdisciplinary field called network science, devoted to new methods, tools, and theoretical ideas that aim to understand complex systems from a network perspective.”

We’re excited to introduce Network Neuroscience, the latest journal to join our open access program. We speak with Dr. Olaf Sporns, MIT Press author and Distinguished Professor, Provost Professor, and Robert H. Shaffer Chair, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington. Dr. Sporns is editor of Network Neuroscience, which will launch in 2017.

Brain Awareness Week: Neuroplasticity

Brain Awareness Week: Neuroplasticity

Our latest post for Brain Awareness Week is an excerpt from Neuroplasticity by Mo Costandi. This book, part of the Essential Knowledge series, is the real story of how our brains and nervous systems change throughout our lifetimes—with or without “brain training.”