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Raymond Weitzman
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The equation w = n'/n and the examples you present don't really tell us anything about gene selection or at least not unambiguously. The change in population from one generation to the next as to the number of fast runners or the number of people speaking in full sentences could just as easily be accounted for by changes in social learning from one generation to the next. In other words, it can be accounted in terms of changes in training methods, offering more incentives, weight control,and so forth.Only if these social variables were held constant from one generation to the next, would the hypothetical results you got suggest, possibly, that the change was the result of genetic selection.
Toggle Commented Jul 28, 2012 on Language Serves the Group at Babel's Dawn
The notion of recursion developed as a formal way of representing the ancient and hoary grammatical concepts of modification and coordination. If element B modifies element A and element C modifies element B, then the whole structure with elements A,B,and C is a hierarchical one. Tree structures don't adequately indicate this hierarchical relation without some additional conditions. Parenthesis do. For example: (A(B(C)) or (((C)B)A). Originally modification was intended to be interpreted as a semantic relationship, where the modifying element added some kind of meaning to the element modified. On the other hand, coordinated elements were hierarchically on the same level as might be represented with parenthesis as ((A)(B)(C)), which semantically meant they contributed equally to the meaning of the sentence or in some interpretations, functioned in the same way. But the stipulation that recursion is some kind of innate feature of language embedded in the human mind requires having independent warrants beyond the phenomenal occurrence of modifying and coordinating elements in speech utterances. Parsimony would suggest that a recursive mental device that somehow evolved in the human species and no other species is not very likely.
Toggle Commented May 8, 2012 on I, meaning me, say there. at Babel's Dawn
The August issue of National Geographic has an article on A. sediba with a nice chart called Murky Birth trying to trace the ancestry of H. sapiens. As Chris says above it is really a giant jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing, just like trying to recognize a photo with a large number of pixels missing. But we certainly don't need all the pixels to recognize the photo. I wonder how many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle do we need to get a fairly clear idea of our lineage.
Toggle Commented Sep 14, 2011 on A New Account of Human Origins? at Babel's Dawn
But the "standard story" does not seem to be a credible one. At least it is not backed up by good evidence. Pickering, et. al. in the current issue of Science suggests that the evidence of Homo before 1.9Ma has not been unequivocally demonstrated. You are certainly right about finding A. sediba has really stirred things up and probably also adds confusion to trying to trace the origins of speech.
Toggle Commented Sep 11, 2011 on A New Account of Human Origins? at Babel's Dawn
I'm puzzled by your last sentence. What suggestions are you referring to? The paleoanthropologists did actually find the anatomical features they describe in A. sediba. As far as I know, this hasn't been disputed yet. In the news articles I have read, some scholars suggested that A. sediba was a transitional species between the genus's Australopithecus and Homo. One scholar mentioned the possibility that sediba was an ancestor of H. habilis or H. rudolfensis or H. erectus.I didn't find in my sources the suggestion that sediba was a hybrid. It is, of course, a possibility, if it can be shown that Homo and Australopithecus co-inhabited the same territory at the same time. ------------------------------- BLOGGER: What suggestions am I referring to? “…suggests that the brain was being rewired … suggests a double story …suggest both tree climbing and precision grip …suggests a human like arched foot…” The anatomical features are there. The question is whether they are part of the human lineage. The standard story has been that around 2.7 mya the genus Homo appeared. We may be descended from H. habilis or rudolfensis or some other species of early Homo. The two key features suggesting that they are ancestral is that their brain began to get bigger and they began making tools to make other tools, the Oldowan technology of flakes made from hammerstones. An alternate story might be that we are descended from Australopithecus sediba instead. How could that be? Well, the early Homo species might be misidentified and we have no relation to them, but that is a bit of a puzzle because their brain was getting bigger and they were using tools that are clear forerunners of the Homo erectus Acheulian technology. There is speculation that sediba was a tool user too, but no tools have been found. Another possibility is that sediba and Homo crossbred, keeping the big brains of Homo and the sediba rewiring, and bringing Oldowan technology. Yet another possibility is that sediba is entirely off the human lineage. We don’t yet know which answer is correct, but the latest news has the enjoyable feature of stirring things up.
Toggle Commented Sep 9, 2011 on A New Account of Human Origins? at Babel's Dawn
I concur with the main thrust of Paul Strand’s earlier comment. Skinner’s conception of verbal behavior as behavior mediated by social context, that is, other people, encompasses ritual behavior, dance, kin and other interrelationships, manner of dress, humor, tool making, religion, moral behavior, etc. Speech (overt and covert), listening, writing, reading, signing, and other linguistic or communicative activities are naturally included and get discussed the most by Skinner. However, I would be rather reticent to concur that a Bayesian probabilistic learning model really captures verbal behavior. It might serve possibly are a descriptive model, but not an explanatory one. In an interview published in book form, entitled B. F. Skinner: The Man and His Ideas, in discussing scientific methodology, Skinner said, “I don’t accept most current analyses of scientific methodology, however, or statistical methods which are taught as if they were the way scientists think.” In his orientation toward the behavior of the individual, he felt that statistical inferences about scientific methodology were a posteriori reconstructions. He would no doubt say the same for putatively claiming that children as well as adults have built-in Bayesian machines that calculated the probability that a certain hypothesis about “how language works” was more likely than another. All that this does is turn Chomsky’s formalistic language acquisition device into a probabilistic language acquisition device. Skinner recognized that real contingencies were involved in verbal behavior, but didn't think any statistical model could adequately encapsulate them
Toggle Commented Aug 30, 2011 on What Makes Humans Tick? at Babel's Dawn
I am very curious to know what "behavioural experiments" Karthik Durvasula is referring to that are adding a new dimension to the theoretical claims of Chomsky.
Toggle Commented Aug 21, 2011 on Does Language Exist? at Babel's Dawn
My copy arrived yesterday. Looking forward to reading it.
Toggle Commented Aug 17, 2011 on Babel's Dawn in Stores at Babel's Dawn
Sorry. Big mistake in last message. 2.54 centimeters=1 inch.
Toggle Commented Aug 15, 2011 on What is Language About? at Babel's Dawn
It is not sufficient to say just that "e", "m:, and "c" exist in Einstein's equation. They must also be measurable quantities. Otherwise, the equation is vacuous. The "=" sign is stipulating that the two quantities e and mc^2 are equivalent.It should be emphasized, however, that the equation is not an equation relating an dependent variable to one or more independent variables. Einstein's equation is an equation of equivalence or conversion, like 2.54inches = 1 meter. One should be aware that not all "=" signs are equal. A word is not equivalent to whatever it is suppose to refer to. A word is a dependent variable whose likelihood of expression, either in thought, speech, writing, etc. depends on a multitude of independent variables. In any case, Chomsky's argument against the referential theory of meaning seems moot, since most scholars of language abandoned the theory a long time ago.
Toggle Commented Aug 15, 2011 on What is Language About? at Babel's Dawn
Bipedalism in Homo has been claimed by some scholars to have been the result of the environmental change from forest to grassland. This, however, has been disputed by others. In fact, I think there is some evidence to suggest that bipedalism began before the environmental change. It is also interesting to note that chimpanzees can be found in a grassland environment, yet they didn't develop bipedalism. Was that because the food sources were different for Pan and Homo? Also, was bipedalism a factor in brain development? If so, what part of the brain was most influenced by bipedalism? Certainly the cerebellum must have been influenced, and perhaps the visual centers of cortex. Of course bipedalism influenced the development of the vocal tract and the positioning of the larynx. ------------------------------ BLOGGER: Bipedalism is much older than the savanna.
Toggle Commented Aug 12, 2011 on Evidence of Early Speech at Babel's Dawn
There can be no doubt that something interesting started happening to human (Genus Homo) brains about 2.5 to 2.75 million years ago (or earlier) and we see correspondingly that something was also happening to how these early humans were behaving. Around 2.5 million years ago is the earliest evidence for stone-tool making and the controlled use of fire. This suggests that humans were gaining more control over their environment. On the other hand, other hominidae brains, like the chimpanzee, seem to have remained more or less the same—at least in size—and we have no evidence to suggest that they were gaining a better control over their environment. By implication, this does suggest that along with bigger brains humans were gaining more control over each other as a way of gaining more control over their environment (cooperation?) and strengthening the chance for group survival. How was all this being done? As Blair suggests, some kind of incipient language may well be the mechanism. Brain size changes are only suggestive of the qualitative changes that were taking place in humans. From what I understand, most of the changes seem to involve the cerebral cortex and the cerebral cortex seems to be strongly correlated our capacity for speech. Some have referred to speech as one of the means we have to express thought. This seems to imply that thought pre-existed speech. So before there was speech, humans must have been doing a lot of thinking. But what were they thinking about and how was this thinking manifested? Also was this thinking on the same order as that of other hominidaes or was it of a higher magnitude and how shall we ever know? As an aside, I get the impression that Chomsky’s conception of the language module was an innovation first affecting thought. Another interesting point is that communication does not necessarily require a large brain, much less a cerebral cortex. The nervous system of the bee only contains about 960,000 neurons (compared to the 100,000,000,000 of the human nervous system, including 11,000,000 in the cortex). And the bee has no cortex! Yet it has a fairly sophisticated, albeit limited, system of communication. The neurons involved in the bee’s system of communication must be sufficient to allow volitional control over the parts of the body required for doing its communicative dance, but there also must also be neurons involved in the “listener” bee to recognize what all those gyrations mean. But are these specialized neurons or neuron configurations? Or do they perform many other kinds of functions as well? Anyway, I just got word from Amazon that Babel’s Dawn will be released on August 14th! Great news. ------------------------------------- BLOGGER: There was also a great environmental shift 2.75 million years ago. African woodland gave way to grassland,, a very spooky and difficult environment. Food is hard to find, predators are hard to avoid and impossible to outrun. A revolutionary adaptation was required if Homo was to survive in the new setting. It was the end of the upright ape.
Toggle Commented Aug 11, 2011 on Evidence of Early Speech at Babel's Dawn
Chomsky's sense of unboundedness seems to be limited to idealized structural ones. It is completely divorced from the everyday constraints on the contingencies that control language behavior in ordinary conversations. His view of language is strictly limited to form. Chomsky's so-called logical truth is also divorced from reality. If you assume your basic assumptions or axioms are true, logic will lead you to logically true conclusions. But the rub is in assuming the axioms are true and the propositions they entail are true. Chomsky's speculation that language appeared only 50-100,000 years ago as some kind of punctuated or saltational evolutionary development seems to go against what is known about how species are modified with descent. Right now the origin of speech is something of an enigma. Chomsky seems to assume that the inner language led to external speech, but this is sheer speculation and only plausible if inner language can be independently and empirically proven. It is not likely that speech arose via reflexive vocalizations or some kind of Pavlovian conditioning. No doubt speech became potentiated when the human species gained voluntary control over their vocal apparatus, just as signing would not have been possible without voluntary control over facial and body gestures. Once such control was possible, imitation and operant conditioning may have been the likely mechanisms for the development of speech.
Toggle Commented Aug 8, 2011 on How Old is Language? at Babel's Dawn
If using ad hominems is the way you want to weasel out of discussing these issues that's fine with me. But I think you need to learn not only manners but how to cogently and rationally argue with someone.
You haven't really replied to my previous comment or answered any of the issues I raised in it. Of what relevance are the articles you "suggest" I read?
But reflexes need no training. They are genetically endowed and automatically elicited by certain stimuli. Behavior trained and shaped by positive and/or negative reinforcement is behavior that is either emitted without any known stimulus eliciting it or behavior that is produced through imitation and then positively reinforced or punished. I think you are confusing what you call "training" with Pavlovian conditioning learning, where some other stimulus "substitutes" for the eliciting stimulus of the reflex. In Pavlovian conditioning, it is not the behavior that is changed, but the stimulus that evokes it. How can you ask questions or answer them without first learning how to do so? You learn to do this through other people. Thus, aren't other people doing the training and you are doing the learning? I would argue that we are trained how to ask and answer questions and how to "understand" both and through this training we generalize the process so that we can ask and answer questions under circumstances different from how we originally learned them. By the way, the kind of learning involving positive or negative reinforcement is called operant or instrumental learning (or conditioning) and it is quite different from Pavlovian conditioning, since it results in adding to one's behavioral repertoire. If you would like, I would be happy to provide you with references.
It would be helpful if Jerry Moore would explain to us the difference between "training" and "learning", especially when it comes to language. To me they just seem to depend on one's point of view.
In reference to the blogger's response to my earlier comment, to say that pointing is a way of sharing information does not seem to be a particularly useful way of describing the act of pointing. All pointing does is to direct the attention of the pointer's "listener". There is no way to know whether the "listener" gets from the pointing the "same information" as the pointer. We need other behavioral responses to know whether there is a sharing of information, however information may be defined. When my first granddaughter was a toddler and came to visit, she would walk into the kitchen and point up at a cabinet door. I knew from our past interactions with her in the kitchen that what she was doing by that was requesting a cookie from the cookie jar we kept in that particular cabinet. She was sharing information with me as a consequence of those past interactions.I never taught her to point, but I assume that she had learned that gesture through imitation, modeling, and being reinforced in some way for that behavior by others, most likely her parents.
I agree that the statement "Washoe learned ASL." is beyond the pale. All Washoe or Nim or any of the chimpanzees used in these studies learned were just fragmented parts of the gestures associated with ASL. The media often hypes these kinds of studies.
As far as I know, there have been no crucial experiments demonstrating that gestural pointing is a prerequisite to linguistic pointing (naming, labeling, tacting, etc.). So I'm not sure what is the significance of gestural pointing by a bonobo. ------------------------------------------------- BLOGGER: Pointing is a way of sharing information putting it in a category more like language than the normal request and control gestures. Just trying to give bonobos their full due.
A review of this documentary might be better informed by reading what Terrace's take was on the Nim Project. In the 80s he wrote the book Nim, a Chimpanzee Who Learned Sign Language. I believe he thought that Nim didn't understand language but was just mimicking. I don't agree with Terrace's conclusion, because he would sign without any prompts from others. Nevertheless, I agree that the project was misconceived and poorly implemented. I also think your point that perhaps chimpanzees are not cooperative enough to sustain the use and perhaps expansion of their language skills is well taken. But perhaps the results may have turned out somewhat differently if the subject had been a bonobo rather than a chimpanzee. Bonobo's are known to be much more cooperative in their behavior. Also my impression is that Nim's language skills were limited to requesting things and "linguistic pointing" when prompted. Whether that was due to some inherent qualitative lack or the result of the kind of training they received is still unclear. ------------------------------------------ BLOGGER: i agree that work with a bonobo probably would have gone better if only because the animal might not have become so impossible to live with. Kanzi, a young bonobo learned to use lexigrams to communicate by watching his mother struggle in her lexigram lessons. The one possible instance of pointing in the wild concerned a bonobo who may have pointed at an ethologist who was watching a bonobo group..
"So, instead of having to learn the subject-object-verb order and use of postpositions separately, a Japanese child might notice the SOV word order and bring postposition into the system automatically." This seems to me to be just another just-so story. The kind of utterances a Japanese child will hear includes some with SOV order, some with postpositions, and some with a mixture of both. It makes no sense to say that postpositions are brought in the the system (what system?) automatically (by what mechanism(s)?) I might point out that postpositions are often left out as well as subjects in ordinary conversation. Also the sentence isn't the only grammatical unit used. Sometimes people just use single words or phrases. Instead of speculating, wouldn't it better to just look at the data on the process of language learning by Japanese children? --------------------------------------------- BLOGGER: Since Ii end up rejecting this hypothesis the comment seems a l ittle overexcited.
Partee's comment is rather cryptic to me. If her concept of semantics is a formal system, then it makes no sense at all. If she is saying that intelligence is measured according to how a human being interacts with the world and gets something out of that interaction , then it might make some sense. Chomsky's comment is intriguing, but I'm positive that his meaning of meaning is different from mine. His dualism of the meaning of a sentence and the meaning of behavior is curious.He seems to think that both lie in non-overlapping magisteria.
How does one determine whether the behaviors or sets of behavior of an animal, including human beings, are voluntary or involuntary? Or to put it another way, under what conditions do we say that a certain behavior is involuntary and under what conditions do we say that a certain behavior is voluntary? Also is it possible that some behaviors are voluntary and involuntary at the same time? If so, then under what conditions does this happen? I would prefer that these questions be discussed in a scientific, empirical framework, rather than a philosophical or metaphysical framework, unless those frameworks are empirically grounded. To get things started off it might be worth listing some definitions of voluntary and involuntary. These are from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online: Definition of VOLUNTARY 1: proceeding from the will or from one's own choice or consent 2: unconstrained by interference : self-determining 3: done by design or intention : intentional 4: of, relating to, subject to, or regulated by the will 5: having power of free choice 6: provided or supported by voluntary action 7: acting or done of one's own free will without valuable consideration or legal obligation Definition of INVOLUNTARY 1: done contrary to or without choice 2: compulsory 3: not subject to control of the will : reflex The third definition for involuntary seems appropriate for a scientific definition of involuntary behavior. Psychologists have studied reflex behavior in a systematic way since Pavlov. However, none of the definitions for voluntary, however, seem to be good candidates as a scientific definition. They all seem to carry very subjective connotations. Certainly “free will” or “free choice” doesn’t seem to be particularly helpful. Are they even scientific concepts? I know they are used a lot in reference to human beings, but are they applicable in discussing the behavior of other animals? I also checked some recent books on animal behavior and don’t even find the terms voluntary and involuntary, or even volitional, listed in their indices. The Dictionary of Ethology and Animal Learning did have an entry for voluntary behavior, but its discussion was about the differences in how behavioral scientists use the term. So when we say that the action of a human being or other animal is voluntary what do we mean? It seems to me that there is little point of arguing about the origin of language and why other animals seem to lack language as we usually think of it in terms of voluntary and involuntary behavior unless we agree to using these terms in the same scientifically sound way. I have my own view on what is called voluntary behavior, but I doubt that others on this list would necessarily agree with it.
Toggle Commented May 9, 2011 on Is Speech as Old as Language? at Babel's Dawn
On second thought, maybe the core of "Language" is what is left after the apple is eaten.
Toggle Commented Apr 11, 2011 on Social Networks Before Homo sapiens at Babel's Dawn