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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

« The Evolution of Attention | Main | An Important Breakthrough (Yawn) »

Comments

JohnRoth3

Interesting post. Toward the end you said: “Defenders of the idea that language is grounded in a mentalese and consists of symbol processing without input from subjective experience like to say that symbol processing computes a sentence, just as symbol processing computes the solution to an equation.”

I’d like to break this into two pieces: “Language is grounded in mentalese” and “language consists of symbol processing.” For the first piece, you might enjoy digging into the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (*), which seems to have finally realized Libnitz’ goal of finding a universal language of thought. It’s not Pinker’s mentalese. Their list of primes is the result of a several decade long program of ruthless reduction of concepts in a number of different languages to irreducible concepts; accepted primes have to exist in all languages with the exact same meaning and grammar (combinatorial properties). Concepts like Pinker’s square and red are not only not basic, there are languages that don’t have the underlying concept of color on which “red” depends! On the other hand, the concepts because, move, I, you and someone are basic; they can’t be defined in simpler terms.

For the second piece, I’ve been following a group that’s working on “embedded cognition.” You might enjoy this post, which talks to your contention that computation (in terms of symbol processing) is not an appropriate way of thinking about behavior: http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.com/2015/07/brains-dont-have-to-be-computers-purple.html .

“This” is a prime. It directs the attention.

In chapter 13 of “Imprisoned in English” by Anna Wierzbicka (“Chimpanzees and the evolution of human cognition,”) she describes recent work on finding a similar basis in semantic primes for chimpanzees. “This,” that is, the ability to direct attention, is one of them.

In NSM, “word” is a prime. It’s one of the last, if not the last, prime to enter the human line. (“Say” may have entered at the same time.) There are studies of people who grew up without language and who eventually discovered the power of words as adults. Their testimony is that the entire world changed; they can’t go back. Helen Keller is a good example; there are others. For example, Ian Tattersal summarizes Ildefonso’s experience as described in “A Man Without Words” (Susan Schaller) as follows: (any transcription errors are mine):

“Schaller initially tried to teach Ildefonso the rudiments of American Sign Language (ASL), but soon percieved that he did not grasp even the concept of signs. Modifying her approach, she eventually achieved a breakthrough. Ildefonso, in a flash of insight, understood that everything had a name. ‘Suddenly he sat up, straight and rigid….The whites of his eyes expanded as if in terror….He broke through…. He had entered the universe of humanity, discovered the communion of minds.’” (Tattersal, 2012 p217) (Masters of the Planet, seeking the origins of human singularity.)

(*) https://www.griffith.edu.au/humanities-languages/school-languages-linguistics/research/natural-semantic-metalanguage-homepage

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BLOGGER'S REPLY: Thanks for the fullsome comment and links.

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