Ordinarily, it takes a lot of repetition from a father finch to give the baby finch enough to start practicing on their own. They learn to replicate the behavior after practicing tens of thousands of times.
There is a quicker way.
By controlling the interaction between two regions of the brain, Dr. Roberts’ team encoded memories in zebra finches that had no tutoring experience from their fathers. The birds used these memories to learn syllables of their song, with the duration of each note corresponding to the amount of time the light kept the neurons active. The shorter the light exposure, the shorter the note.
“We’re not teaching the bird everything it needs to know – just the duration of syllables in its song,” Dr. Roberts said. “The two brain regions we tested in this study represent just one piece of the puzzle.”
His team found some of those answers by testing connections between sensory motor areas of the brain. Specifically, researchers used optogenetics to manipulate neuron activity in the NIf brain region and to control the information it sends to the HVC, another brain area implicated in learning from auditory experience.
In his lyrical short story The Preserving Machine, Philip K. Dick describes a machine that can preserve music in the form of animals. He writes that the Mozart G-Minor Quintet came out as a bird "slow and slender with the flowing plumage of a peacock."
Phil DIck fans also know that he described the idea of implanted or "extra-factual memories in his wonderful 1966 story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.