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Birds Navigate by Magnets in Their Heads

Every year millions of birds make heroic journeys guided by the earth's magnetic field. How they detect magnetic fields has puzzled scientists for decades. Now biologists have figured out how they do it--they've found tiny magnets inside their ears.

These magnetic cells, called hair cells, are responsible for detecting sound and gravity.

What are birds saying? The world is full of them--of one kind or another (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show).

Charles Darwin speculated that "The sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language." Language, he thought, might have had its origins in singing, which "might have given rise to words expressive of various complex emotions."

Our Revelations host William Henry has written a book about this called "The Language of the Birds."

Researchers think Darwin was on the right path. The balance of evidence, they believe, suggests that human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom: first, the elaborate songs of birds, and second, the more utilitarian, information-bearing types of expression seen in a diversity of other animals.

Linguist Shigeru Miyagawa says, ""There were these two pre-existing systems, like apples and oranges that just happened to be put together. It's this adventitious combination that triggered human language."

At some point, between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago, humans may have merged these two types of expression into a uniquely sophisticated form of language.

Linguist Robert Berwick says, "When something new evolves, it is often built out of old parts. We see this over and over again in evolution. Old structures can change just a little bit, and acquire radically new functions."

Meanwhile, if it seems like everyone else can always hum a "C" note, is your singing hopelessly sharp or flat? Music training won't help: People with perfect pitch seem to possess their own inner pitch pipe, allowing them to sing a specific note without first hearing a reference tone. Some people are BORN to be musicians: Perfect pitch has as much to do with genetics as it does with learning an instrument or studying voice.

Speakers of tonal languages, such as Mandarin are more likely to have it (in fact, genetics may be one reason why melodic languages developed the way they did), while speakers of English and other non-tonal languages are far less likely to develop perfect pitch, even if they were exposed to early and extensive musical training.

Does music go along with contact experience? Well, in one case, a "contactee" named Eva was taught a song by the visitors (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to all 24 of these extraordinary interviews). Not yet a subscriber? We need you, and you need us. Explore our options today! Click here.


Perhaps we will find that humans also possess tiny magnets in their ears, but are too distracted by the outer world and mental chatter to 'feel' their impulses. I suspect that we really know very little of our own innate abilities and have a great deal yet to learn.

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