Last week I was out in the yard and I found a nest… Looks like a small songbird nest. It’s past nesting season, so this nest being on the ground is fine – the babies have all long fledged. The reason I’m sharing the nest with you is if you look carefully, you can see little white pieces of fuzz woven in. That’s teddy bear fuzz from one of the fabrics I frequently use for transplants! It’s the little bits that come off as the fur is cut. :-)
Did you know that songbirds’ brains actually have so-called “song circuits” that are active when the birds sing. These circuits also respond to the song of a bird’s own species more strongly than to other species’ songs. The theory is that a bird’s genes guide development of brain circuits that relate to singing and the ability to learn songs. Then, exposure to songs shapes those neural circuits to produce the songs that are typical to that species.
Genetically encoded or innate behaviors aren’t unique to songbirds. They’re widespread in the animal kingdom. Other spectacular examples include the long-distance migrations of monarch butterflies and salmon.
So what does this mean for humans? Are we also born with innate information written into our genomes that helps shape our neural circuits, and ultimately results in something we know? Could there be some knowledge that is unique and intrinsic to humans as a species?