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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 Word-Sentence Continuum | Main | Rethinking After a Surprise »


Jesus Sanchis

Another interesting post. It's not easy to imagine a possible date for the beginning of human speech. Further analyses of fossil remains is of course an important aspect of the on-going research.

Reading the excerpt from Ott's article, I have the impression that he's using an a priori assuption which might be false:

"the sudden addition of recursive syntax, paired with a capacity for lexicalization (...) plausibly led to the explosive emergence of symbolic thought that paved the way for modern human behavior".

I think it was the other way round. I don't see why 'recursive syntax' should be considered prior to 'symbolic thought'. In my opinion, there's no reason to establish such a big difference between recursion and symbolic thought. I see them as two sides of the same coin.

John Roth

I threw out Chomsky a long time ago. What's looking more likely all the time is that the critical improvements were to imagination - that is, the ability to model a sequence of actions and their probable consequences in a goal-directed fashion.

Once we've got a basic modeling facility, then it seems like the road would be open to add both capacity and function as mutations popped up and they proved to be advantageous. There is no need to assume that the entire modern facility just appeared out of nowhere.

Pursuing this line of thought leads to the notion that the first inklings of language might have been the ability to ask oneself "what would happen if I did X?"

This process of continuous improvement would, at some point, become Turing-complete. That is probably the point where the "great leap forward" occurred.

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