behavior · community · creativity · emotion · happiness · language · Nature · play · Social · writing

Email-a-Tree Service Turns Into Love Letters to Melbourne’s Urban Trees

This is beautiful.

We humans love nature.

And now, the residents of Melbourne have found a way to express it.

The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

Officials assigned the trees ID numbers and email addresses in 2013 as part of a program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems like dangerous branches. The “unintended but positive consequence,” as the chair of Melbourne’s Environment Portfolio, Councillor Arron Wood, put it to me in an email, was that people did more than just report issues. They also wrote directly to the trees, which have received thousands of messages—everything from banal greetings and questions about current events to love letters and existential dilemmas.

“The email interactions reveal the love Melburnians have for our trees,” Wood said. City officials shared several of the tree emails with me, but redacted the names of senders to respect their privacy.

Read more of the love letters via Email-a-Tree Service Doesn’t Go As Planned, But in the Best Possible Way – CityLab.

I bet this is something Seattle could really get behind, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or any city with multiple older trees.

Do you have a tree that you love or loved? Write your city about it, or on Twitter, or if you’re feeling shy you can share it here in the comments.

behavior · cognition · creativity · design · education · emotion · language · learning · mental health · play

How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD

This is a very well thought out and researched article about the benefits of pretend play, specifically creating and playing with puppets.

How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD

The [Puppet School] curriculum establishes the tenets of puppeteering education, which put educational theories about the importance of play and grit and resilience into practice.

In the beginning classes, students start to learn basic head and mouth movements, using motor skills in both hands and both arms, choreographed to pre-existing sound tracks of well-known pop songs. Students learn to articulate vowels and develop a sense of rhythm with their bodies. As the exercises advance, students learn to improvise using their own voices and hand movements, and eventually choreograph movement to material they’ve written. From motor skills, to communication and improv skills, then finally written skills, students exercise many parts of their brains at Puppet School, increasing communication between their two brain hemispheres.

According to Eric Jensen’s Teaching with the Brain in Mind, when brain signals are passed from one side to the other quickly, or when the left and right sides of bodies work simultaneously, the brain is able to function more efficiently, and the stronger the brain’s connections become—thereby improving literacy, movement coordination, processing data, and communication skills.

more via How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD.

language

Pictish art may be a language

The ancestors of modern Scottish people left behind mysterious, carved stones that new research has just determined contain the written language of the Picts, an Iron Age society that existed in Scotland from 300 to 843.

The highly stylized rock engravings, found on what are known as the Pictish Stones, had once been thought to be rock art or tied to heraldry. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, instead concludes that the engravings represent the long lost language of the Picts, a confederation of Celtic tribes that lived in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland.

“We know that the Picts had a spoken language to complement the writing of the symbols, as Bede (a monk and historian who died in 735) writes that there are four languages in Britain in this time: British, Pictish, Scottish and English,” lead author Rob Lee told Discovery News.

Read the story on Discovery News
Scientific American‘s take on the story

language

Primate metacommunication

Jonah Lehrer, mastermind behind Front Cortex, has “always been fascinated by tip-of-the-tongue moments. It’s estimated that, on average, people have a tip-of-the-tongue moment at least once a week. Perhaps it occurs when you run into an old acquaintance whose name you can’t remember, although you know that it begins with the letter “J.” Or perhaps you struggle to recall the title of a recent movie, even though you can describe the plot in perfect detail.
What’s interesting about this mental hiccup is that, even though the mind can’t remember the information, it’s convinced that it knows it, which is why we devote so many mental resources to trying to recover the missing word. (This is a universal experience: The vast majority of languages, from Afrikaans to Hindi to Arabic, even rely on tongue metaphors to describe the tip-of-the-tongue moment.) But here’s the mystery: If we’ve forgotten a person’s name, then why are we so convinced that we remember it? What does it mean to know something without being able to access it?
The larger question is how the mind decides what to think about. After all, if we really don’t know the name – it’s nowhere inside our head – then it’s a waste of time trying to find it. This is where metacognition, or thinking about thinking, comes in handy. At any given moment, we automatically monitor the flux of thoughts, emotions and errata flowing in the stream of consciousness. As a result, when a name goes missing we immediately analyze the likelihood of being able to remember it. Do we know the first letter of the name? Can we remember other facts about the person? Are we able to remember the first names of other acquaintances from high school? Based on the answer to these questions, we can then make an informed guess about whether or not it’s worth trying to retrieve the misplaced memory.
Interestingly, a new experiment with a variety of primates (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans) demonstrated that great apes also demonstrate some rudimentary metacognitive skills. The study, conducted by Josep Call at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, involved presenting the primates with two hollow tubes. One of the tubes came with a food reward, while the other was empty. The apes were then observed as they searched for the reward.

Read on for the results.

language

Monkey calls translated

Reported by Nicolas Wade, NYT:

Walking through the Tai forest of Ivory Coast, Klaus Zuberbühler could hear the calls of the Diana monkeys, but the babble held no meaning for him.

Today, after nearly 20 years of studying animal communication, he can translate the forest’s sounds. This call means a Diana monkey has seen a leopard. That one means it has sighted another predator, the crowned eagle. “In our experience time and again, it’s a humbling experience to realize there is so much more information being passed in ways which hadn’t been noticed before,” said Dr. Zuberbühler, a psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Do apes and monkeys have a secret language that has not yet been decrypted? And if so, will it resolve the mystery of how the human faculty for language evolved? Biologists have approached the issue in two ways, by trying to teach human language to chimpanzees and other species, and by listening to animals in the wild.
The first approach has been propelled by people’s intense desire — perhaps reinforced by childhood exposure to the loquacious animals in cartoons — to communicate with other species. Scientists have invested enormous effort in teaching chimpanzees language, whether in the form of speech or signs. A New York Times reporter who understands sign language, Boyce Rensberger, was able in 1974 to conduct what may be the first newspaper interview with another species when he conversed with Lucy, a signing chimp. She invited him up her tree, a proposal he declined, said Mr. Rensberger, who is now at M.I.T.

But with a few exceptions, teaching animals human language has proved to be a dead end. They should speak, perhaps, but they do not. They can communicate very expressively — think how definitely dogs can make their desires known — but they do not link symbolic sounds together in sentences or have anything close to language.

Better insights have come from listening to the sounds made by animals in the wild. Vervet monkeys were found in 1980 to have specific alarm calls for their most serious predators. If the calls were recorded and played back to them, the monkeys would respond appropriately. They jumped into bushes on hearing the leopard call, scanned the ground at the snake call, and looked up when played the eagle call.

More details!

language

Why chimps don’t talk?

All the news came out last week about the FOXP2 gene, but I can’t help and post it here a week late anyway:

Chimps, our nearest relative, don’t talk. We do. Now scientists have pinpointed a mutation in a gene that might help explain the difference.

The mutation seems to have helped humans develop speech and language. It’s probably not the only gene involved, but researchers found the gene looks and acts differently in chimps and humans, according to a study published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Lab tests showed that the human version regulated more than 100 other genes differently from the chimp version. This particular gene — called FOXP2 — mutated around the time humans developed the ability to talk.

“It’s really playing a major role in chimp-human differences,” said the study’s author, Daniel Geschwind, a professor of neurology, psychiatry and human genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. “You mutate this gene in humans and you get a speech and language disorder.”

This tells you “what may be happening in the brain,” he said.

Read the full Associated Press story.

language

Laughter

I know this is OLD news at this point, but it is still so cool! This comprehensive (I think) compared vocalizations made by different apes, including us, and found them to be all pretty similar.

Ha ha!

And, some new research on rats being tickled: The Woody Allen/Eeyore type rats of the world don’t like being tickled (yikes, I hate being tickled, so what does that say about me? That I’m an Eeyore of the people world?)

brain · culture · language

Dyslexia and language

A cool post from Culture & Cognition about human language and how dyslexia differs between languages:

In a new paper Gabrieli highlight the recent results of cognitive neuroscience research on dyslexia and its potential consequences for the treatment of dyslexic children through educative measures.

What Gabrieli show is that dyslexia, an impairement in reading abilities linked to difficulties in phonological processing, can be detected very early on by brain imaging techniques and treated in some cases with specific training in reading during the beginning of learning. If left undetected and untreated, dyslexia can cause prolonged difficulties in reading abilities and decrease motivation to read.

Dyslexia and its orthographic consequences could be of great interest for cognition-and-culture oriented scientists because orthographic errors generated by dyslexia or other processes produce linguistic variation at the origin of language evolution.

Dyslexia, reaching around 10% of children, could therefore be an important factor of language evolution and may orient language evolution in different ways. If some words are more difficult to write and memorize for dyslexic children because the relation between their phonological form and their written form do not concord, dyslexic children may introduce new variants that are easier to learn for them.

Read full post and abstract of paper.

language

Today’s theme: language

Not the dirty kind. Wow, I can’t believe it’s already September with no posting. And they’re only guaranteed to get more scarce once the school year begins.
But onto language:

Animals can speak in different tones, according to one study. As in, they can say the same thing but in a pissed off way. Can they do sarcasm, I wonder?

More and more linguists are finding holes in Noam Chomsky’s idea that language is wired in to all human brains. One is Lise Menn who studies baby’s language development, the other is a guy studying a group in the Amazon, the Piraha, who speak without recursion.

Finally, anyone who’s interested in how humans express ideas should check out the book Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer. The book looks at cognitive scientist through several authors who were exploring these concepts through literature and doing a very good job. I’ve only skimmed it so far, but definitely on my to read list.

family · language

Yelling’s not going to change anything (well, maybe)

This article discusses a study that finds oldest siblings really are disciplined the most sternly. Being an older sister, in some ways that makes me feel better, but not entirely.

This article is about a linguist at my university who has found close connections between indigenous languages here in the Pacific Northwest and indigenous languages in Asia. Language is awesome!