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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

« Deciphering a Metaphor | Main

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jeff kessen

Flattered that you thought my e-mail worthy of a Post. Ill try to be brief, always at the expense of persuasiveness. First: I agree that the establishment of a speech-triangle is a pre-condition on the origin and development of language (even if there's still a lot of people talking past one another). Second: I do not deny politeness and other culturally-evolved norms in linguistic exchange (e.g. in the giving of directions). I also do not deny the impulsiveness and reflexivity in toddler speech, nor would I deny the importance of the evolution of cooperativity in the rise of the hominem line. Third: I'm not so flat-footed a defender of behavioural-control theory, in the current context, as I might seem (subtleties abound, if not a great deal of evidence). Lastly, proto-linguistic exchange was a highly improvisational, effortful, form of behaviour, likely to have required particularly galvanizing motives and intents. I've tried to be brief here, not abrupt---I've learned through harrowing experience that long e-mails, or long Comments on another's blog, tend to exasperate. Do you have any opinion on the evolution of hominem general-intelligence in the context of proto-linguistic exchange? Thanks again for your response to my e-mail.
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BLOGGER: Actually, I don’t have any opinions worth mentioning about the evolution of general intelligence (assuming there is such a thing). I could come up with something for the spur of the moment, but I’ve worked hard to develop my opinions on language and don’t feel like undermining all that work with stuff off the top of my head. I will say that I suspect language and intelligence are but loosely related.

jeff kessen

If I could follow-up, just a bit. I agree that a capacity for cumulative cultural epistemic inheritance (of knowledge and know-how) was crucial to the success of the hominem line, and that, first, proto-language, and second, natural-language proper, greatly enhanced the fidelity of transmission of knowledge and know-how (inter- and intra-generationally). I doubt only the "disinterest ("disinterestedness"?) of the communicative acts whereby information was shared. Think of the number of possible motives and intents behind the impulse to misinform another---and since there is no generic intent to misinform another, why should there be a generic intent to inform another?

jeff kessen

When I'm wrong, I would prefer to be profoundly wrong. I'm not yet sure that I'm profoundly wrong about your take on the relevance to hominim cognitive/cultural evolution of a disinterested kind of information-sharing, but the more deeply I research the matter the less confident (certainly!) I feel in my criticisms. Have re-read a lot of your stuff lately and have also looked into Kim Sterelny's, "The Evolved Apprentice" (a book you might find surpassingly congenial to your way of thinking). On a lighter note, check out Tim Lewens' review of Sterelny's book in," The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science". The writing is so bad that, initially, I thought it might be some sort of spoof or hoax. But Lewens is a professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge!

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