Chapter 12: The Principle of Computational Equivalence

Section 10: Intelligence in the Universe

Bird songs

Essentially all birds produce calls of some kind, but complex songs are mainly produced by male songbirds, usually in breeding season. Their general form is inherited, but specifics are often learned through imitation during a fixed period of infancy, leading birds in local areas to have distinctive songs. The songs sometimes seem to be associated with attracting mates, and sometimes with defining territory—but often their function is unclear, even when one bird seems to sing in response to another. (There are claims, however, that parrots can learn to have meaningful conversations with humans.) The syrinxes of songbirds have two membranes, which can vibrate independently, in a potentially complex way. A specific region in bird brains appears to coordinate singing; the region contains a few tens of thousands of nerve cells, and is larger in species with more complex songs.

Famous motifs from human music are heard in bird songs probably more often than would be expected by chance. It may be that some common neural mechanism makes the motifs seem pleasing to both birds and humans. Or it could be that humans find them pleasing because they are familiar from bird songs.

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]