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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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Thanks for this interesting post!
However, I feel that your conclusion that:
"This uncertainty of habitat also suggests a reason for speech’s peculiar ability to say anything. We could not evolve a communication system suited for a particular setting because our setting could not be anticipated."
is still not the whole story, because you do not explain how in such an unstable environment a community could stabilize a shared lexicon.
I think it is important to note the crucial role conceptual perspective-taking and some kind of Theory of Mind/Shared Intentionality must have played in establishing a shared frame of reference where you could check for possible meanings of an utterance by placing yourself in the 'cognitive shoes' of another person.
I think that some rudiments of this ability had to be present before some kind of variable displaced reference/speech could develop. And The same holds true, I think, for the ability to form mental representations that are decoupled from the stimulus-bound action system which you described in your post.
BLOGGER; Thanks. I see the framework as the beginning rather than the end point. Readers interested in the commenter's line of thought can follow the discussion on the Shared Symbolic Storage blog at


I don't find A New Framework particularly compelling. 1. No warrants are presented that unstable environments lead to open-ended communication systems. Most, if not all, environmental settings are unstable, i.e., variable. 2. What you call "breaking the link between sensory inputs and motor responses" just seems to be saying that human responses are "voluntary", while animal actions are either reflexes or fixed action patterns. However, the actions of many species of animals are also "voluntary", modifiable, and plastic. 3. Directing attention of others is just one of the many ways that the speech of one person is used to control the behavior of others. Why give it priority over others? 4. What is "true language"? Sounds rather prescriptive to me. And what does it mean "to place a subject against its background". If I point at something and say "dog", I'm not placing the object against a background, I'm pulling out an object from the situational context. Also, holophrastic speech is possible, where the utterance encompasses both the object and the background. The predator calls of vervet monkeys are examples of this. 5. "Speech is a group adaptation that evolved through group selection." This almost seems like a non sequitur. Since speech is mediated by other people, acquiring speech is a behavioral adaptation of the individual to the group. Speech is acquired, shaped, and maintained largely through the mediation of other people. Of course, the mechanisms for acquisition must have a genetic basis. Moreover, speech not only enhances the fitness of the group, but it can also enhance the fitness of the individual. It also seems you neglect that possibility that ideologies, beliefs, etc. can only be expressed through speech may lead to disfunctional groups. 6. "Language does not grow through assertion of power, but through the creation of a larger human community." The creation of a larger community means that control over an individual's language will come from more sources, assuming that the individual comes in contact with more people. Also one could easily argue that the acquisition of speech by an individual is an example of the assertion of power of the speech community over the individual. Thus, assertion of power and creation of a large human community aren't incompatible with each other.

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