The March issue of Biosciencecontains a brief piece by yours truly (Edmund Blair Bolles) on the similarities between the evolutionary history of birdsongs and human speech. You can find the article by itself here.
Every theory of humanity fits into a larger theory which fits into another theory which fits into another theory.And any theory of humanity that claims to be top doll is false.
One of the surprises of Tecumseh Fitch's text on The Evolution of Language is the claim that Chomsky is not hostile to the theory of evolution as a guide to language origins. Opinion is very strong that Chomsky was a big barrier to researching language origins, and in Thomas Scott-Phillips' paper, "Evolutionary Psychology and the Origins of Language," (discussed in last week's post) there is quite an interesting presentation on what Chomsky's objections were (and are) toward an evolutionary explanation of where language came from.
Francesco Petrarch invented the humanities.Can they be improved by adding a dash or two of Darwin?
David Sloan Wilson has an online essay, "Take the Evolution Challenge," calling for the extension of "evolutionary theory beyond the biological sciences to include all things human." It is a radical proposition, perhaps overstated as a way of encouraging people to take the idea to its limit. I'm not sure what new insights the theory of evolution has to offer a history of, say, the crusades, but you never know. And I have to say that I have been amazed by how much I have clarified my understanding of language simply by taking an evolutionary approach to its origins. It turns out that evolutionary theory forces a series of questions that, at least in the study of language, pays off handsomely. So, despite my uncertainties, I want to endorse Wilson's call. No study of anything human should ignore what evolutionary theory has to offer.
I'm trying something different today. Instead of something to read, I'm going to make a presentation on the costs of evolving speech. It may take one or two posts to get the sound and imagery right, but here we go. Feedback is welcome.
What do you think these ravens might be telling one another? Perhaps more than you guess. (By the way, this irresistable illustration comes from a great website: DestopRating.com.)
The big news this week is the coming Evolang conference in Utrecht, but there is also an important new review article on “Social Cognition and the Evolution of language” by Tecumseh Fitch (who will be in Utrecht celebrating his new text book), Ludwig Huber, and Thomas Bugnyar in the latest Neuron journal. The three authors have just created a Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, and with this paper they are off to a fine start. Their primary thesis—“human language and social cognition are closely linked”—will be familiar to anyone who reads this blog, but they provide much comparative biological data for their claim.
The New York Academy of Sciences held a celebration honoring the 150th anniversary of the publication of one of its members books. I wrote a short account of the event for Biosciencemagazine, which you can read here: Darwinian Dynamics
John Hawks' blog has an important report on adoption of orphans by male chimpanzees in the wild, probably as a result of very heavy leopard predation. This is very important in thinking about evolution and the rise of altruism. I'm amazed and impressed.
“Brains don’t compute thoughts, they evolve them,” Terrence Deacon told an audience at the New York Academy of Sciences last November at a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication The Origin of Species. If that claim holds true, then the words we speak are not put together by a computational procedure but emerge from some evolutionary process. Could that be?
Deacon's remark summarized a presentation made that evening by Gerald Edelman, winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on the immune system. Edelman’s Nobel work showed that the immune system evolves its protection against intruders, and now for many years Edelman has been studying how the brain might work as an evolutionary system. Although I’ve been generally aware of this research, it took my evening at the New York Academy of Sciences to get me thinking about the differences between usages that are computed from those that are evolved.
Of course, there is the well-known fact that languages do evolve. That might count a point toward the evolutionist’s side, but computationists say it doesn’t matter because language’s underlying universal grammar persists without changing. Computationists acknowledge language undergoes many small changes (microevolution) but they deny that language ever takes on a new form (macroevolution).
What are the differences between something computed and something evolved?
Language and the language faculty co-evolved and to understand one you must understand the other; however, we do not yet have a good theory of how culture evolves, Luke McCrohon of the University of Tokyo told an audience in Torun, Poland today.