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"I'm not going to get into that because I've already gone on too long already."

Not to mention repetition :)

Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

What you report here is similar to what I am reading in Daniel C. Dennett's "From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds", which also mentions both Chomsky and Searle, a thinker who "insists that there can be no genuine comprehension without consciousness." Dennett's book is an extended argument involving evolutionary theory. I hope I can follow the argument with just a 140-character attention span.

Charles N.Steele

Are you familiar with Julian Jaynes book "Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind?" It's all highly speculative, but one thing he refers to is "aptic structure." It's a an inherent capability or potential one has, but it must be developed by learning. Humans have sufficient brain development (are smart enough) to understand language and humans have vocal organs suitable for language -- those are aptic structures. But language itself is an accretion of knowledge developed and passed on over generations. Language involves the development of concepts, symbols for concepts, and rules or patterns for organizing those symbols to generate new concepts.

Humans have this. I'll not try to prove it, but other species can handle at least some human language, but haven't the aptic structure for vocalizing our language. If so, this refutes Chomsky's "mutation" theory.


The hard thing about all this is conceptualization, not language. Can an individual, human or not human, grasp a concept? IMO, there's spectrum of ability to handle abstractions, and non-humans exhibit varying degrees of being able to grasp human concepts, with some members of some species proving more adept than one might presuppose. They have the brains for it, to one extent or another (that particular aptic structure).

But for concept formation, language provides a tool for forming more concepts, and more complicated concepts, and passing them on. I don't mean anything like the Whorf hypothesis, where language defines the limits to one's ability to form concepts, but language is an accelerant for concept formation. Other species don't have the aptic structure -- our ability to vocalize, and later, to write -- for that.

John Pepple

No, I haven't heard of Jaynes' book. Everett talks about how we can use sign language as quickly as we can use our vocal chords, and that this means that animals aren't dependent on vocal chords for using language. I don't know if or how that fits into these aptic structures you are talking about.

Charles N.Steele

I should read Everett.

It strikes me that our hands are remarkably dexterous, giving us options for sign language that most animals lack. Dogs have sign language with tails, but it seems to me it would be difficult to build a complex language using tail positions and motions. Hence while I suspect dogs can learn a great deal more of our language than is commonly realized, they have no good way of communicating with it and cannot pass it on or develop their own complex concepts.

My point is that humans *are* special, but not in the way Chomsky thinks. It's not our brains, it's our opposable thumbs and our ability to vocalize.

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