Where Does Research Begin?

By Celia Coates

The headline for a small article in New Scientist caught my attention: “Fish recorded singing dawn chorus on reefs just like birds.” Robert McCauley and his colleagues from Curtin University in Perth, Australia had noticed a fish choir off the coast and then spent 18 months recording the sounds,
“Most of this underwater music comes from fish soloists repeating the same calls over and over. But when they overlap, these solo calls can form a chorus. … There’s the low ‘foghorn call of the black jewfish, the grunting call of Terapontid species, and a quieter ‘ba-ba-ba’ call of batfish, for example.”

 McCauley said, “ ‘I’ve been listening to fish squawks, burble and pops for nearly 30 years now, and they still amaze me with their variety. … We are only just beginning to appreciate the complexity involved and still have only a crude idea of what is going on in the undersea acoustic environment.’ ”
(NEW SCIENTIST, page 16, 1 October 2016)

One of the stories that Shin-ichiro Terayama tells about his healing from stage four cancer is about listening to a different chorus – the dawn songs of birds. (See the July 6, 2017 WINNpost – Three Healings and One Cello.)

The morning after he returned home following five months spent in the hospital, Shin went up to the rooftop of his family’s apartment building to see the sun. He had been released because there was nothing further that conventional medicine could do to treat his advanced cancer but, awake before sunrise, he was filled with gratitude at still being alive. In 2010 he told me that the day he thought might be his last day on earth he wanted to be the whole person he really was. He wanted to watch the sunrise and to say to the sun, “I am still alive!” Then it turned out that it was not his last day after all. He began to go to the roof – even when it was cloudy – to start each new day by greeting the sun and rejoicing.

When Kelly Turner interviewed Shin for her book on radical remission, he told her that, “When I saw the sun, I realized that the only energy we receive from the universe is the sun. It was the first time I had noticed this kind of thing.” **

His terminal diagnosis set Shin loose from the old constraints of his ordinary life and he began noticing life around him in very new ways. He noticed that the birds were already singing when he reached the rooftop. Birds (usually the males) call or sing for two reasons: to signal the boundaries of their territories to rivals, or to attract mates. But Shin was curious about the timing rather than the reasons for the birds’ singing – when did the chorus begin? He told Kelly Turner,
“That was my question. And so I got up ten minutes (earlier), twenty minutes earlier – still they were singing. Thirty minutes – still singing. And then I got up one hour before sunrise, and it was completely quiet…. I tried to see when they started singing and it was forty-two minutes before the sunrise. Every day!”

Shin is a scientist who was originally trained as a solid state physicist. It was natural for him to go on to develop a hypothesis and design his own experiment to research the dawn chorus.

As Turner describes it,
“He had an idea about it that he wanted to investigate, so he asked his son to buy a cylinder of oxygen from the local pharmacy. Shin’s family happened to own three pet birds, whose cage they covered at night to help the birds sleep. One night Shin decided to stay up late to conduct his experiment. Around midnight, he silently released some oxygen into the birds’ room. A few minutes later, the birds began chirping. After a few more minutes, presumably when the oxygen had dissipated, the birds grew silent again and slept. Excited by this development, Shin waited until around 2:30 A.M. and then silently released more oxygen. As predicted, the birds began singing again and stopped a few minutes afterward. Finally, later that morning, the birds began singing yet again, this time forty-two minutes before the sunrise, and they chirped continuously until the sun rose.”

Shin theorized that the timing of the dawn chorus depended on the release of oxygen by trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide at night and, in the presence of light, emit oxygen. It begins to get light each morning about forty-two minutes before the sun rises. Following his observations of the birds’ behavior Shin put his discovery to practical use. He began to breathe the early morning air each day and to develop a practice of exhalations and toning with the chakras that became a part of his healing.

As far as I know, no research about oxygen levels has been done for the timing of underwater fish choirs. The real point of this post though, is not what we’ve already discovered, but that everyone can do “research.” Research often begins with some form of curiosity – we notice something and wonder about it. We want to know “What was that?” We want to learn how, why, or when something happens. Then we can formulate a question and design a way to answer it – as Shin did. Modern science has a vast array of tools and technologies to use but we, each of us, still have the original equipment humans have always used for making discoveries: curiosity, our questioning minds, and our ability to organize and test our observations.


** RADICAL REMISSION: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds, Kelly W. Turner, PhD.,Harper One/Harper Collins, 2015

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Lucia Thornton says:

    Wonderful post . . . inspires curiosity and exploration!!!!! Love hearing Shin’s story – how remarkable!!!!

  2. sally burman says:

    …a lovely way to begin the day…the text AND the beautiful picture of the birds
    a real treat?!

  3. Lisbeth Bagnold says:

    Looking beyond what we think we know to be open to something new. Inspiring!

  4. Lydia says:

    It brought to mind a familiar slogan – “Enquiring minds want to know!” I would say, as this post points out, many of us NEED to know.

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