Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why only humans talk

A labmate of my fiance recently posted on facebook "My 5 y-o to me: "Daddy why did nature make us the only animals that can talk?" My answer: " question! We'll research it and find the answer together." Think I've bitten off more than I can chew this time."

This is what ultimately inspired me to start this blog, and I hope I keep up with it. (I have a tendancy to start a million projects and forget about them after time)

I am going to write this from a perspective of talking directly to a child (which may end up in some odd speech patterns, so I want to get that out of the way first)

The goal of this blog is going to be to come up with complicated questions (or answer questions submitted via a method I am unsure of yet; either email or comments) so that a child would understand.

Here goes:

That is an amazing question that most people do not even bother thinking about. Luckily we have a pretty good answer to this now. It was not very long ago that people did not have a good answer to this, and ended up thinking nature favored humans.

First of all you have to try not to think of nature like a person. Nature is just a word that means "the world around us" This includes plants, animals, air, water, and everything else. These things do not work together on purpose. It may seem that way because of something we call evolution.

Evolution is a word that tries to explain how life started from something very simple, think of moss, to something as complicated as a human. The answer to your question of "Why are humans the only animals that talk" is explained in evolution.

Evolution works like this: All animals have a way of making babies. Every time you make a baby the baby will be different. This is because in most cases babies take a little bit from the mom, and a little bit from the dad. How they put these bits together is basically random and sometimes can make entirely new things. These new things can sometimes be very good, or very bad. Think of how you combine your favorite foods together. Sometimes they can be very tasty (peanut butter and chocolate), but sometimes they can be not very tasty (try mixing coca-cola and milk sometime). 

Now imagine humans before we could talk. One day a mom and dad have a baby that has a new feature: they can make noise. This may not seem like a very good thing at first, but imagine how useful noise can be. They could let other humans know when danger was around, or when they were hurt. Noise can be very useful.

Evolution works because these new babies that can make noise usually end up living longer, and when they grow up, they can make more babies. There is a very good chance that when they have babies, their babies will be able to make noise too. And after a long long time, (show a exponential growth chart) all humans will be able to make noise. Then after another long time, another new feature is found in a baby, this time the baby can make two different types of noises. This keeps going on and on for a very very long time, adding different noises, until eventually we can talk!

Now the reason why other animals cannot talk like we do, is because they did not have a baby yet that gave them the features that are required to talk the way we do. Now most animals can talk, just not the same way that we do. Dolphins talk through high pitched chirping noises, bees talk by dancing, ants talk in a number of ways but one of those ways is by scents. 

Now... as odd as this sounds, I would encourage people to ask questions (in the way a child would) or criticize/add to what I have. Hopefully this can grow to be a very useful resource for parents who may not be very scientific/nerdy but would like their child to be :)

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