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Nice to observe this conversation developing a helical thread of its own,
which was precisely my point -- language has a life of its own. It seems we
are its carrier. Not the Pinker stance at all, which is amusing to read and
with which I completely disagree.

If I glean correctly what Carroll and Nancy are saying -- I agree. The real
difference between humans and other life forms begins with the evolution of
mammals and their real difference between the other predominant life forms
which preceded them. Their brains were almost all ROM. Essentially
non-programmable read only.

When we get to the evolved mammal it's more RAM. The more evolved the animal
the more RAM, the less ROM. This means less behavioral information is
genetically transmitted -- basic behavioral information is learned from the
nurturing adult, usually the mother, sometimes both parents. Subsequent
information is transmitted in social situations by the group or through
external experience. But it is the extreme programmability of the mammalian
brain that has made mammals so adaptable.

When you get to primates, specifically humans it's almost all RAM. The
biological DNA of language in humans is a unique laryngeal-pharyngeal
epiglottal and lingual configuration that enables the complex and
continually self-evolving patterns we call speech. In the few known cases of
children who have spent their formative years in the wild, they seemed to
have little capacity for learning language by the time they were found.
Apparently the base patterns for language narrow as the organism grows.

I think speech and prehensile thumbs are the two things in combination that
really set humans apart from other animals. Speech allows us to transmit
larger more complex blocks of information than any other animal --
prehensile digits to act upon that information.

True that other primates, even squirrels and raccoons all have the
prehensile grasp -- but I don't see them rigging elections and fighting
religious wars. Yet. Should their speech capacity change, however, watch
out.


on 11/1/04 11:12 AM, Carrol Cox at [log in to unmask] wrote:

> There is not really much difference between the position I expressed on
> this and what Nancy has now expressed. What differences exist may be
> only matters of emphasis. I certainly do not reject biology (obviously,
> there is nothing in human behavior which is inconsistent with biology).
>
> Sixty years ago Susanne Langer suggested that ritual came first and that
> language was derivative from 'oral' accompaniment to ritual. That
> position is not too different from Tattersall's speculation, since
> children's group play tends to be highly ritualistic.
>
> Language as we know it has implicit in it not only thinking about the
> world but thinking about thinking -- and it is hard to imagine that
> emerging suddenly with the birth of the first homo-sapiens: hence the
> assumption that the history of language is not coterminous with the
> history of biologically modern humans.
>
> Carrol
>
> P.S. One of the puzzles of animal psychology relevant to this topic is
> that a number of animals engage in deceitful behavior: and deliberate
> deceit implies some analogue at least to consciousness of the other's
> thought processes.