Ani Patel, a senior fellow at the Neurosciences Institute, last week explored the idea of whether music is a biological adaptation aimed at improving man’s chances of survival or whether it is just a byproduct that serves no purpose at all.
One of 17 lecturers in the Darwin Legacy Series marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of British biologist Charles Darwin, he spoke to a full house of students, professors and members of the public about Darwin and other modern biologists’ thoughts on music and biological evolution.
To illustrate his observations, Patel used video clips of a cockatoo named Snowball that chirps and dances to the Backstreet Boys and research showing newborns in intensive care that without the benefit of human touch gain weight and breathe better when lullabies are piped in over a sound system.
His own studies focus on the “relationship between music and language and on how the comparative study of these uniquely human abilities can shed light on their underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms,” according to the Neurosciences Institute’s Web site.
He studies “rhythm and the processes by which humans extract rhythmic information from auditory signals.”
Studying the brain“Music is not innate, it is invented,” he said in his Feb. 19 lecture. “But it is transformational … and a powerful way to study the brain.” Darwin, Patel said, found mankind’s connection to music universal, ancient and powerful but ultimately mysterious.
Professors from all over the country have been invited to come to the La Jolla campus to speak on topics as diverse as “How Our Hands Help Us Think” to “Apes, Sugars and Sperm: Causes and Consequences of Glycan Evolution.”
Series detailsCollege students can enroll in a course associated with the series for credit, but lectures are free and open to the public. While reservations are not required, organizer and CARTA assistant (UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropology) Amy Patterson suggests that those wishing to attend should plan on arriving at least 10 minutes early just to get a seat.
Today, Pat Churchland will speak about “Morality and the Social Brain.” The final lecture in the series is scheduled for March 12. For information, go to
All lectures take place from 11 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in Center Hall Room 115 on the UCSD campus.