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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« Pinker's Anti-Whorfian Hypothesis | Main | Concept or Attention? »

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TLTB

So in Pinker's understanding would it be possible to have abstract thought, even at the level at which humans experience it, without language? Can we imagine a species that has evolved the ability to form abstract categories and use them in a 'language of thought', but which has not evolved language itself?
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BLOGGER: Pinker would not say animals, including the great apes, can think abstractly at our level, but he does say that the abstract concepts supporting language are older, much older, than humans. That's why I did not include another step in the evolution of speech: the evolution of the "language of thought" that preceeded the language of sound. That language is like our senses and other prerequisites of speech, an evolutionary gift from our deep ancestors already on hand as speech evolved.

Pinker has a very long chapter on the Kantian categories that underlie our language and they are much older than Homo or Australopithecus. It is their presence, I believe, that enables chimps to learn some sign language. True language separated our concepts from our senses so that we can think abstractly at a very advanced level.

Speaking personally, I don't think a non-linguistic species could advance much further than chimpanzees in terms of abstract thought because each individual would start out with very few ideas. No matter what had already been discovered, the newborn has to relearn it all over again. Language gives us the capacity to develop enormous intellectual capital. A non-linguistic Euclid would be very smart, but would not pass along his genius.
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MORE FROM BLOGGER: Here's the relevant passage in Pinker, "[I]magine an evolutionary step that allowed the neutral programs that carry out such reasoning to cut themselves loose from actual hunks of matter and work on symbols that can stand for just about anything. The cognitive machinery that computes relations among things, places, and causes could then be co-opted for abstract ideas. The ancestry of abstract thinking would be visible in concrete metaphors, a kind of cognitive vestige. ... If all abstract thought is metaphorical, and all metaphors are assembled out of biologically basic concepts, then we would have an explantion for the evolution of human intelligence. Human intelligence would be a product of metaphor and combinatorics." [pp242-43]

Concrete

Interesting info... thanks much.

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