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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

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J. Goard

Really interesting paper! I’m especially impressed by the succinct explanation (in section 2.1) of evolutionary problems for a detailed language module a la P&P. It’s remarkable how arguments that are just about mirror-image opposites both argue against UG. On the one hand, there are stable properties of local environments which ought to show themselves in microevolution, but don’t. For example, why are (all) ethnic Koreans still setting a switch to “head-final” after hundreds of generations, rather than some of them having it fused in that position, such that infant adoptees to the US would show a deficit in English word-order acquisition? On the other hand, local environments (languages) are in many respects far too unstable for domain-specific phenotypic adaptations to gain a foothold.

It’s hard to pass up a comparison with a certain other crucial bodily system whose phenotypic “learning” mechanism has to be quite general, since the replicators it interacts with change much faster than the human genome can…

Notice that when a local environment is persistent enough, we see microevolution (e.g. sickle cell allele) that peripherally affects interaction with those other replicators, not a hardwiring of specific antibodies. Seems like a much better analogy than the eye.

(Wow, the work on “immune cognition” out there looks fascinating!)

The blogger writes:

Although the thesis sounds plausible, it does raise a question. If true, then why are eyes so widespread while language is unique to one species?

If we’re talking about cultural replicators here, then one possible answer presents itself immediately: language-like systems might tend to interfere with a host’s survival or reproduction, thus selecting against those phenotypes which provide a slightly “richer soil” for their propagation. Our primate ancestors presumably had the right mix of social structure, diet, and environmental risks to make their phenotypes right for symbiosis with large populations of symbolic replicators, but this might not hold for many other animals. The kind of theory C&C are presenting is based upon the premise that languages quickly get good at replicating languages, not necessarily host genes. Disadvantages of protolanguage infection may have led other potential host species to keep their cognitive capacities low, or else to develop means of "quarantining" symbols in domains where they are directly useful.
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BLOGGER: Don't take those teases to turn the page too literally.

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