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Hertfordshire, England
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Edmund says: "My favorite argument against cultural evolution alone is the adaptation to vocalization shown by the human body. The control of lips and tongue is quite unlike the less precise control available to apes. The loss of air sacs in the throat, common to all apes, widened the range of sounds available to speakers. The FOXP2 gene supports delicate motor control of vocalizations. Work with songbirds has shown that birds have special modules for learning their local song, and their foxp2 contributes to this process. This assumes that language (at least in a comparatively full sense) developed alongside, and as a driver to, increased vocalisation. But while different languages use different aspects of vocalisation the full range of human sound controls are far wider than is necessary for language – so could there be a reason for vocalisation developing before a comprehensive language. Edmund points out that the FOXP2 contributes to both human vocalisation and the ability of songbirds to sing, and this could be very relevant. When our ancestors first descended from the trees into more open areas and switched to hunting they would have needed communication skills to, for instance, coordinate an ambush style hunt. I have just posted "Babel's Dawn and the Evolution of Vocalisation" ( in which I discuss the possible role of using sounds in hunting – including the imitation of bird calls as signals, and animal calls as a lure. This approach links the need for better vocalisation with the need to get a full belly – which is an excellent evolutionary drive. Of course once our ancestors evolved more local skills they were in a position to use them for other means of communication, initially I suspect, to improve their hunting prowess still further. Chris Reynolds
Toggle Commented Aug 30, 2011 on What Makes Humans Tick? at Babel's Dawn
You say: The genome changes remain the most mysterious, mainly because we aren't clear on how much of language depends on abilities already present in apes, how much has been added by culture, and what comes from biological changes that have happened since the human lineage separated from the chimpanzee/bonobo lineage. The uncertainties in part arise because there is a “black hole” in our knowledge of what the brain actually does with the information it uses at what might be considered the “central processor” level. Inside the ape/human mind there must be a basic genetically defined memory storage and processing structure – based on a neural net foundation – which is probably similar in all mammals. Like other organs evolution will modify its size (or number of operational units – i.e. nerve cells) and function within certain limits. Without detailed knowledge of what such a basic unit can do in terms of information processing potential it is impossible to draw the lines between the genetic and cultural factors – or between the difference between ape and human brains. I have just started a series of brain storm posts at which directly addresses this issue. The aim is to get people discussing what the brain's “central processor” does – looking at the properties nodes in the brain's neural net need to be able to make complex decisions. The line I will be following is that an extremely unconventional computer language called CODIL actually provides a possible partial model which puts comparatively little demand on the individual nodes but on carry out tasks of significant complexity. Hopefully comments may suggest ways in which the model can be extended - or might provide reasons why there are better alternatives. CODIL was originally implemented as a single sequential processor and the comment by JanetK is very relevant – because CODIL provides a highly recursive processor operating on a recursively defined storage structure. I am currently looking at how CODIL would work on a neural net (where the recursion is mapped onto parallel processing) and I hope to reach this stage of the brain storm later this month. Chris Reynolds (AKA HertfordshireChris)
Toggle Commented Jul 5, 2011 on Evo-Lingo at Babel's Dawn
I hadn't realised how my signature would appear in the above post until it did and I had no intention of being anonymous. Chris Reynolds (also posts as HertfordshireChris) Trapped By the Box
Toggle Commented May 10, 2011 on The Language Arch at Babel's Dawn
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May 9, 2011