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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

« Words Are More Human than Syntax | Main | Neanderthals Had Language »



OK, a formal account may be given of how to generate a grammar with minimal ingredients. Chomsky would be happy enough with that. There remains though a case for evolutionary discontinuity, since the interpretation of these recursions and ever more complex boxings requires a processing ability that animals do not have. The ingredients of the grammar are simple enough, but their combinations soon become unwieldy for a parrot's bird to handle. This account of grammar still requires an ability to draw imaginary mental frames around formal units - a framing ability of the mind which is beyond the abilities of animal brains. Which is the neural mechanism which allows this complex framing? How did it develop? There's some kind of discontinuity there, even though the mechanism may be based on more basic or general cognitive abilities.
BLOGGER: I have no trouble with the notion of “discontinuity,” if it means that there is some fundamental break between what humans do and what other animals can do. I balk at the idea that we must have “an ability to draw imaginary mental frames around formal units,” because the argument assumes the reality of those formal units. They may be real, but I see no reason to assume as much from the outset. The history of science is full of abstractions (including the gravitational force) that once were taken to be real, but were not. Questions like <> and <> strike me as off target precisely because they try to explain an abstraction rather than a phenomenon.


But that's what the whole thing is all about - abstractions, the ability to see either "two" or "one plus one" in something which is the "same" phenomenon. Or, to put it otherwise, to see that "1+1" both is and isn't "2". Frames may be imaginary, but they do acquire a substantiality, and semiotic phenomena are phenomena all right.
BLOGGER: The phenomena require explanation, but the description does not. Something is going on, and it needs explaining, but I am very leery of going after what may be a modern version of crystaline spheres supporting visible motions.

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