Thanks to commonalities in our genetic code, essentially every human being on the planet has the same basic anatomy. Two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth, and so on until you reach your toes. In some fundamental respects, we are all the same.
I find it remarkable, however, that within such uniformity there is nearly infinite variety. Consider the mechanics of human speech to understand what I mean. In between our mouths and our lungs is the larynx, which has two mucus membranes that stretch across it. These membranes are our vocal cords, and as air moves out from our lungs, the vocal cords open and close, causing different vibrational patterns. These vibrations create audible sounds, and the characteristics of those sounds depend on the positioning of the cords, our tongues, our mouths, and the speed and amount of air that is moving.
This incredibly intricate combination of our physiological features allows me to say “watermelon” and “astronomy” and for you to understand the difference. The exact same mechanics allow me to sing, hum, growl, laugh, cry and scream. Tiny little differences create every imaginable human sound. There is so much variety, yet uniformity as well – this is how every human being on the planet speaks.
Beyond just the remarkable range of sounds that we can make, there is also tremendous variety in our own unique voices. The same tiny little differences that turn a whisper into a roar make your voice sound like you and mine sound like me. If my anatomy were just sliiiiiiiiightly different, perhaps I’d be able to belt it like Billy Joel.
What got me thinking about all of this was an interview I listened to recently. My dear and brilliant friend Janine Benyus was featured on Marketplace Tech, and I think giving it a listen will be well worth your nine minutes of time. Janine gives an excellent summary of the practice of biomimicry and why it matters. At a basic level, making biomimicry mainstream will make humans better at design while simultaneously deepening our appreciation and care for nature. Both are important.
Just listening to Janine though, I sat spellbound by the sound of her voice. She is not a radio professional, but she definitely has a radio voice. Just listening to her allows you to feel the warmth, gentleness and passion that are mirrored perfectly in her character. I’d happily listen to Janine just count to one thousand, and I enjoy it all the more when I listen to her describe the majesty of our natural world.
And just like all of us, it’s the tiny differences in her anatomy that make her voice sound like her. Those differences aren’t chosen, but rather natural and evolved. How amazing would it be if humans could design something as intricate as a human voice? With nature as our guide, maybe someday we will.