DATE: Saturday, June 13, 2009
TIME: 2:00 PM-3:30 PM
VENUE: NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
MODERATOR: Faith Salie
PARTICIPANTS: Erich Jarvis, Irene Pepperberg, Jonathan Rosen, David Rothenberg, Irena Schulz, Ofer Tchernichovski

How do we learn to speak? What is the connection between language and movement? Join a broad and distinguished panel of biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, musicians and writers, including leading bird scientists Erich Jarvis and Irene Pepperberg, on an exploration of how striking parallels between bird and human brains are providing sharp new insights into how we acquire language and links between hearing and movement. Featuring a special appearance of Snowball, the dancing cockatoo of YouTube fame.

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Faith Salie_200px
Author, Journalist, Comedian

Faith Salie is an Emmy-winning contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning and a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! Her first book, Approval Junkie, was just published by Crown and chronicles her meaningful/embarrassing lifelong quest for validation. She is a host of the PBS and CUNY.org show, Science Goes to the Movies. Salie is a Rhodes scholar whose classmates went on to become governors and Pulitzer Prize winners, while she landed on a Star Trek collectible trading card worth hundreds of cents.





At Duke University, neurobiologist Erich Jarvis leads a team that studies the abilities of songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds to learn new sounds and pass along a vocal repertoire into the next generation. His research in the neurobiology of vocal learning has led to the discovery of natural behaviorally regulated gene expression in the brain, social context-dependent gene regulation, convergent vocal learning systems across distantly related animal groups, the FoxP2 gene in vocal learning birds, and the recent finding that vocal learning systems may have evolved out of ancient motor learning systems.

In 2002, the National Science Foundation awarded Jarvis its highest honor for a young researcher, the Alan T. Waterman Award. In 2005 he was awarded the National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award providing funding for five years to researchers pursuing innovative approaches to biomedical research. In 2008 Dr. Jarvis was selected to the prestigious position of Investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Dr. Jarvis received his undergraduate training in Biology and Mathematics at Hunter College in New York City and his doctorate in Molecular Neurobiology and Animal Behavior from the Rockefeller University in New York City.

Ethologist, Author

Irene Pepperberg is Adjunct Associate Professor at Brandeis University and Research Associate and Lecturer at Harvard. She has studied the cognitive and communicative ability of Grey parrots for over two decades. Her book, Alex and Me, a description of life with her famous subject, became a New York Times bestseller.

She has won fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim, Harry Frank Guggenheim, and Whitehall Foundations, the Radcliffe Institute; National Science Foundation grants, and the 2000 Selby Fellowship (Australian Academy of Sciences).

Author, Editor

Jonathan Rosen has written about the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird long thought to be extinct. His most recent books are The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature and The Talmud and the Internet. His writings have also appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine, the American Scholar, and numerous anthologies. He is currently the editorial director of Nextbook, where he is general editor of the NetbookSchocken “Jewish Encounter” series.

Philosopher, Musician, Author

Musician and philosopher, David Rothenberg, is the author of Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution, Bug Music, and a CD of the same name featuring music made out of encounters with the entomological world. In 2006, his book Why Birds Sing was turned into a feature-length TV documentary by the BBC. Rothenberg has also written Sudden Music, Blue Cliff Record, Hand’s End, and Always the Mountains. His articles have appeared in Parabola, Orion, The Nation, Wired, Dwell, Kyoto Journal, The Guardian, The Globe and Mail, and Sierra, and his writings have appeared in at least eleven languages. His book Thousand Mile Song, about making music with whales, is currently being developed into a feature documentary entitled Whalestock.

As a musician, Rothenberg has performed and recorded with Jan Bang, Scanner, Glen Velez, Karl Berger, Peter Gabriel, Ray Phiri, and the Karnataka College of Percussion. His latest major label music CD, One Dark Night I Left My Silent House, a duet with pianist Marilyn Crispell, came out on ECM in 2010. Rothenberg is a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.


Irena Schulz is the founder and president of Bird Lovers Only Rescue Service, Inc., but is perhaps best known for her cockatoo, Snowball, the famous dancing bird on You Tube. Irena worked as a molecular biologist studying Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, but has dedicated her entire life to owning, studying, and caring for parrots. She is currently collaborating on cognitive music studies with Snowball as the subject of study. Snowball has appeared on countless TV programs, radio shows, magazines, newspapers, and commercials around the world.


Ofer Tchernichovski is an Associate Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Animal Behavior at City University of New York’s City College. His work involves mapping the mechanisms of song learning by studying the behavior and dynamics of the sound production of song birds.