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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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I have a very cute picture that I took of lion cubs sleeping in a tree in Manyara.

Navigation and food scarcity could be good motivators for nature to select for communication, but again why syntax? Why the system we have? Surely this isn't necessary. Afterall, bees accomplish the same thing by dancing around in circles and it is very easy to give fairly complex directions by a series of grunts and hand motions. Something like proto-language would seem more than adequate to do the job.


The statement "bees accomplish the same thing by dancing around in circles" assumes that bee communication and human communication are fundamentally alike; but bee communication is concerned with control and human communication is concerned with joint attention. One is not merely an extension of the other.

Adrian Morgan

This seems as good a place as any to quote the line from Night Watch by Terry Pratchett, in which a character states that "it's very hard to talk quantum using a language originally designed to tell the other monkeys where the ripe fruit is".

I think I can predict how you would respond if asked to illuminate your own thoughts about speech evolution by comparing and contrasting them to the orthodox view here expressed in fiction. First, I think you would point out some basic deviations from fact, e.g. that we were not monkeys by the time speech began to evolve, while agreeing that this is a trivial point when analysing the quotation on a metaphorical level. Second, I think you would agree that the quotation contains a significant grain of truth, in that one purpose of speech is indeed to share information of benefit to the group. Third, I think you would argue that the emphasis on information doesn't encapsulate the broad range of functions that speech can serve, while suggesting that an emphasis on attention does so more comprehensively, making better sense of such speech acts as "Look! Bananas!" to "Are you hungry?" to "Let's go hunting".

Would you like to add anything to that?
BLOGGER: Although, all those points are in agreement with my general thoughts, none of them get at my initial reaction to the quotation which, in my opinion, misses the way language adapts (or more precisely, humans adapt language) to changing circumstances. The first talkers weren't Christians or Moslems either, but language has been adapted to those needs. I have written a great many words over many years, but I do have a favorite sentence, the one I most enjoyed writing. It was in my book on the discovery of the Ice Age, The Ice Finders. At the climax of the story I wrote, "The necessary poet had arrived." Poets are necessary because they give us the language that is suitable to present circumstances. But because we have poets, we are not limited to talking about the things that interested our ancestors.

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