Tuesday, October 24, 2017

So not only me on why only us

The facts are clear: nothing does language like humans do. Nothing even comes close. I've repeatedly made this point. But it comes with pushback, often from Darwinian acolytes who insist that if this cannot be so. Such qualitative divides are biologically unbridgeable and so it what I deem obvious cannot be so. It must be that other animals also do language, at least in part, and what we do is just a souped up version of what they do.

I mention this because every now and then I come across an ego biologist who sees exactly what I do: that we are linguistically unique. And sees this in roughly the way I do, as obvious! Here is a recent discovery.

Massimo Pigliucci has a blog, Footnotes to Plato (which I recommend btw), and here he discusses various issues in biology and philosophy. He also gives extended reviews of books. His latest post (here) discusses a recent book by Kevin Laland which touch on the topic of human uniqueness. Not only does nothing do language like we do, but nothing does culture like we do and nothing does mind reading like we do and ... (no doubt all of these facts are related, though how is as yet unclear). At any rate, the facts are clear: "...if a complex mind, language and a sophisticated culture are truly advantageous for survival and reproduction, why did they evolve only in the human lineage?" (1).

Thems the facts. The biological problem is how to explain this. A good first step involves understanding the contours of the problem and this involves recognizing the obvious.

It will also require more: precisely identifying those properties that we have that are unique. If it is language, then what about language is species specific? You know the MP line; it's recursion. But there may be a lot more (e.g. the labile nature of our lexical items). And once one has identified these features we need to ask what mental powers they require. These are first steps towards a rational discussion, not final ones.  Sadly, they are rarely taken. But don't believe me on this. Read Pigliucci's post and his discussion of the push back one gets from spotting the obvious.

So, take a look at the post and at the book (something I have not yet done but intend to do). It looks like there may be someone worth talking to out there.

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