zoology biology benno meyer rochow science blog sound music Florian Nock

Our Humans’ Musical Past

Where does our musicality come from?

There are some human beings, myself included, who would argue that they could not live without music. It doesn’t matter whether you enjoy singing in a choir (like I did for many years), whistle or hum a tune to yourself or just listen to some good music: music is part of our lives. And it is important to highlight and make major events like inaugurations, celebrations, preparation for battle, funeral ceremonies, birthday parties, etc. more memorable. But what exactly is music and, in addition to humans, aren’t there musical animals as well, howling, warbling, singing, chirping, crooning their melodies into the world? —>

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The Third Eye Comes First

But where is the third eye and what does it do?

My colleague swears by melatonin for alleviating jet lag and recommended I take a dose before departing on a flight across several time zones. The French 17th century philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes was convinced he had at last found it: the soul. Hindi and Jain women wear a “bindi” (a small red spot on the forehead between their eyes) as a “third eye” to fend off evil (and to look pretty). What do these three statements have to do with each other? Well, we shall see. The organ Descartes regarded as the soul was the “pineal”, also called “epiphysis” – a tiny appendage on the upper side of the brain, located between fore- and midbrain. Though we no longer believe it is the seat of the soul, we still don’t have all the answers regarding its function. In humans and other mammals this small glandular structure appears to be involved in suppressing the maturation of the sex organs, for a pineal tumour or the surgical removal of the structure can result in precocious puberty. —>

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Natural Asymmetries

When imbalances gain the upper hand

I have written about symmetry once and had pointed out that many animals (and humans) apparently exhibit an innate preference for symmetric over asymmetric patterns. And yet, if we examine Nature and her organisms more closely we find numerous examples of asymmetries. It starts already with the “Big Bang” and the atomic organization of matter and antimatter; you’ll find it with L (left) and D (right) forms of polarized light rotating sugars like glucose (the latter chirality very common, the former very rare). And you’d wonder why cells use only the L-forms of amino acids to build left-handed proteins, when the D-form is nothing but the right-handed mirror image of the L form. But we can move on to whole organisms and although most are at least outwardly symmetric, internal organs (as a look into the human body confirms) are frequently not. —>