Bards, Poets, and Cliques

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Humans have a unique form of complex communication called language. While some academics have argued that language is a purely cultural invention—Humans used their brilliant brains to reason that language was the best way to communicate.—there is ample evidence that language is a biological adaptation that evolved after our ancestors split from the ancestors of chimpanzees. For example, the face, mouth, and throat contain adaptations for the physical production of spoken language. Children acquire language through an innate ability, not using their higher reasoning skills. And regions of the brain have been shown to be critical locations for cognition specifically associated with language.

As a complex adaptation, there must be some genes underlying our language ability. However, the evolutionary dynamics of language-associated genes is poorly understood. Earlier this year, I published some research that I hope will help fill this gap. (I’ve been working on this research off and on for nearly 10 years.) The paper is entitled “Bards, Poets, and Cliques: Frequency-Dependent Selection and the Evolution of Language Genes” and appeared in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology. The journal is offering free access this month, so you can download the paper for free.

As a complex adaptation, language did not miraculously evolve all at once. As the saying goes, natura non facit saltum (nature does not do “poof”). Likely the communication ability of our ancestors passed through several stages eventually producing moden language ability. Some well studied transitions are the origin of combinatoric language from holistic communication and the replacement of hand gestures with vocal communication.

Now imagine that you have a human population that contains two different language phenotypes. “Bards” have the ancestral phenotype, and “Poets” have a new phenotype that is potentially more efficient and fitter.—Two Poets interacting have a higher fitness than two Bards.—This increase in fitness can come from the ability of poets to confer more information to one another, communicate more accurately, or many other things. Note, we are talking about biological differences in language faculty, not cultural differences like whether Bards speak French and Poets speak Cajun.

However, because Poets are due to a recent mutation, they are initially rare in the population and mostly interact with Bards. Thus whether Poets are initially selected for depends on how well they can communicate with Bards, not on the potential to be really fit when communicating amongst themselves. This system is an example of positive frequency-dependent selection.

Now it turns out that if there is any communication problem between Poets and Bards, then Poets will be selected against when rare and cannot “invade” the population. Thus it would seem impossible for our language ability to have evolved to be as complex as it is, and some recent researchers have argued that language is a cultural innovation based on this result. While creationists would just give up, declare science over, and announce “goddidit”—“What good is half a language?”—science marches on.

The actual problem faced by novel language alleles is that their frequency must reach a threshold, above which selection will sweep them to fixation. This threshold is where c measures the relative difficulty that Bards and Poets have in communicating with one another, and the gene for Poets is assumed to be dominant. While selection directed at this trait is unable to increase the frequency of novel alleles above this threshold, genetic drift operating in a small tribe can do it over several generations. Once the threshold is passed, selection favoring the abilities of Poets will cause them to fix in the tribe. This tribe can then act as a source for the migration of Poets to other tribes. However, Poets migrating to new tribes would still become rare again and thus selected against. Thus, higher level events like tribe splitting or war are needed to explain the spread of Poets through humanity.

However, I show in my paper that the threshold problem is solved if individuals form language-based cliques.—Given how ubiquitously we form cliques, it is reasonable to assume that our ancestors also could form cliques.—In this formation, cliques encourage the interaction of Poets with Poets, reducing or eliminating the penalty that they encounter when rare. If f measures the rate at which Poets chose to interact with Poets and Bards with Bards, then the threshold becomes which decreases as f increases. The threshold disappears completely when .

If cliques are common, then novel language-associated alleles can sweep through a population and improve the language faculty of humans. This is shown via simulation in the figure below. Clearly, the origin of language ability can be sufficiently explained by Darwinian processes operating on genetic diversity in a finite population of human ancestors.

fig.png

Selective sweeps of language-associated alleles occur for many different values of cliquing rates and interaction penalties. Each panel represents a different value for the selective coefficient (s) and contains 441 combinations of f and c. Points above the solid line are sets where the threshold is positive. For each set, the probability of a selective sweep occurring for Poets in a population of size 10k was estimated in simulation from the number of attempts it took to get 1000 selective sweeps. They are color-coded based on their ratio to the neutral expectation. Blank areas represent sets for which sweeps were too rare to study.

Note that this model is applicable to social interactions beyond language as long as the fitness scheme is similar.

38 Comments

Maybe it was more than “cliques”.

Yes, the pun is intentional.

It was said here that hand gestures was the beginning and words came to replace ideas thereof etc. Aas a creationist I would say that only people have language because only we think so quickly in such complexity and segregation of thoughts that we must manipulate sounds into memorized and accepted sequences. Animals simplicity of thoughts, to call them that, has no need, even if there was ability, to organize sounds into such sequences. We are so far removed from apes on this point as to make it hard to see intermediate steps.

One point about children. Is their language learning not from higher reasoning skills? is there this INATE ability. I say its not innate and its simply showing children are very intelligent. I suggest only lack of memorizing abilities slows them down. not lack of understanding complex ideas. Innate claims are presumed beacuse lack of smarts is presumed in kids.

Robert Byers said:

It was said here that hand gestures was the beginning and words came to replace ideas thereof etc. Aas a creationist I would say that only people have language because only we think so quickly in such complexity and segregation of thoughts that we must manipulate sounds into memorized and accepted sequences. Animals simplicity of thoughts, to call them that, has no need, even if there was ability, to organize sounds into such sequences. We are so far removed from apes on this point as to make it hard to see intermediate steps.

One point about children. Is their language learning not from higher reasoning skills? is there this INATE ability. I say its not innate and its simply showing children are very intelligent. I suggest only lack of memorizing abilities slows them down. not lack of understanding complex ideas. Innate claims are presumed beacuse lack of smarts is presumed in kids.

Yes I remember reading the peer reviewed studies by creationists on the ability of children to learn languages compared to adults. Oh wait, sorry that was real scientists Robert Byers is just making things up again.

Byers, has it ever occurred to you that your opinion is worth nothing unless you show evidence for it? How much research did you do into developmental psychology before you delivered yourself of the above rumination?

I will bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in yours that the answer is “none”.

Thanks for the paper Reed. A very nice example of biological principles applied to human social evolution.

As for Byers, he obviously hasn’t progressed very far beyond the hand signal stage. Thus, he himself represents an intermediate stage in human evolution, the very thing that he denies.

What about the possibility that poets are both somewhat better at communicating with bards, and a lot better at communicating with other poets? That would drive poets rapidly to fixation.

(Humans can use language to enhance communication with other intelligent species that don’t have language, but can learn complex new behaviors under human guidance, learning the meanings of words (sometimes many, many words, and usually more words than human companions intend) via operant conditioning.)

One point about children. Is their language learning not from higher reasoning skills?

No. Children have an innate ability to learn language.

Although adults trying to learn a new language are often forced to make use of conscious memorization and organization strategies, adult language abilities are also biologically seperable from other cognitive abilities to some degree.

Damage to some brain areas can produce selective inability to produce, or to understand, spoken language or written language. These can occur in isolation, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysgraphia, or in combination with each other and other issues if damage is less localized. This has been well known for well over a century.

Another interesting feature of the human brain is that some pathological conditions cause patients to fill in memory gaps with confabulation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confabulation. In a very real sense, many creationists confabulate to an extreme degree. Lacking any knowledge whatsoever of something, they unconsciously make up a self-serving fantasy and convince themselves of it. We’re all prone to some (significant) degree of such bias, hence the Dunning-Kruger effect etc, etc, etc, but it is alarming that so many of our society’s members, and especially, political and business leaders, have such a high degree of this tendency.

Robert Byers said:

It was said here that hand gestures was the beginning and words came to replace ideas thereof etc. Aas a creationist I would say that only people have language because only we think so quickly in such complexity and segregation of thoughts that we must manipulate sounds into memorized and accepted sequences. Animals simplicity of thoughts, to call them that, has no need, even if there was ability, to organize sounds into such sequences. We are so far removed from apes on this point as to make it hard to see intermediate steps.

One point about children. Is their language learning not from higher reasoning skills? is there this INATE ability. I say its not innate and its simply showing children are very intelligent. I suggest only lack of memorizing abilities slows them down. not lack of understanding complex ideas. Innate claims are presumed beacuse lack of smarts is presumed in kids.

Hasn’t your language been confused because of your overweening pride yet?

I have downloaded the paper, but I have not yet read it. I’m commenting based on the blog post.

I agree with those who say that language is a cultural invention. That is not to deny that there are biological structures involved.

Knitting is a cultural invention. The possibility of knitting does depend on being able to carry out finely articulated motions with the fingers and hands. What we mostly need for language, is the ability for finely articulated motions of the vocal apparatus. There’s apparently also some innate drive to communicate. But I think you have to be careful about distinguishing between what is evolved biological structure, and what is learned behavior.

It seems easy to talk about language ability as being biological. But I’m not sure that is correct. If we came across a feral child without language, we would probably say that he has no language ability. Yet he would have the same evolved biological structures that we have. This is partly a semantic point about the meaning of “language ability”.

My point: I’m skeptical of your “Poets and Bards” thesis. From the way that I look at language, it seems likely that you are trying to explain the part of language that is really a matter of cultural innovation instead of the part of language that is biological.

On language itself, it is far from clear that it is unique to humans. Bird songs seems to have some language features. It might turn out that prairie dogs have some communication system available to them to help them sustain their societies. Some researchers believe whales and dolphins have some kind of language ability. We see our own human languages from within our cultural milieu, while we see the communication systems of other organisms from outside of their cultural milieu. Hence our view of ourselves as special might turn out to be very biased.

As to complexity - I’m not convinced that language is all that complex, though it depends on what you mean by “complex.” For comparison, if we look at a computer language we see nested hierarchical structures. There seems to be far less of that in natural language. What we do see is complexity of detail due to the accumulation of many ad hoc constructs.

The hardest part of language is the semantics. I’m inclined to think that our semantic ability comes from our perceptual abilities, so it actually originates outside of language. Computer natural language programming cannot get the semantics right because computers do not have perceptual systems.

Your post echoes fairly well the convention wisdom on language. However, the conventional wisdom can be wrong.

Sorry, I cannot provide citations. My comments are based on my own research into human cognition. That research is unpublished, and probably unpublishable (because it is contrary to the conventional wisdom). However, perhaps the lack of citations doesn’t much matter. I am not trying to persuade you that I am right. I am merely trying to alert you to the fact that the nature of language is very much a contentious issue, much disputed between Chomskyans and anti-Chomskyans, and that it is far from certain as to what part of language is biological and what part is cultural.

Was the Bard of Avon not a Poet?

nwrickert -

I have some civil, fair-minded critiques of your post to share with you.

To begin with, I will note that you offer no data whatsoever, and make pronouncements.

But I think you have to be careful about distinguishing between what is evolved biological structure, and what is learned behavior.

As my comment above made clear, human brain structures which are required for and highly specific for development and maintenance of human language ability are well known, and have been for over a century.

This is not the case for knitting. Knitting is a poor analogy.

If we came across a feral child without language, we would probably say that he has no language ability. Yet he would have the same evolved biological structures that we have.

You might say that, but I think a better explanation would be that a highly abnormal environment led to missed milestones, lack of environmental stimuli, and thus, missed opportunity to develop language at a normal pace. (“Feral children” are extremely rare; it does seem true that wolves, a highly cephalized and social species, can and will keep human children alive until near adulthood, under very unusual circumstances.)

On language itself, it is far from clear that it is unique to humans. Bird songs seems to have some language features. It might turn out that prairie dogs have some communication system available to them to help them sustain their societies.

So your claim is that other auditory communication systems with strong innate components are languages (this part of the claim is reasonable), but simultaneously, human language is a purely learned behavior? That seems highly contradictory to me.

Your post echoes fairly well the convention wisdom on language. However, the conventional wisdom can be wrong.

The post echoes current research-supported scientific consensus about language, although going beyond that. “Conventional wisdom” is often wrong, but those who refer to evidence-supported scientific explanations as “conventional wisdom” are usually wronger still.

Sorry, I cannot provide citations. My comments are based on my own research into human cognition.

This makes no sense. You can’t discuss the methods and results of your research?

That research is unpublished,

So what? You could still discuss it. As it stands, your claims are completely lacking in empirical or logical support; they are merely proclamations.

and probably unpublishable (because it is contrary to the conventional wisdom).

You may have something interesting to say, but this is a conventional whine of people who have wrong ideas, and lack the character to accept critical feedback.

Pessimistic prediction - Here’s a prediction, and you have an excellent opportunity to prove me wrong and make me look silly for making it. I hope you do. However, I predict that you will respond by ignoring valid critical points rather than dealing with them, repeating unsupported assertions, and becoming increasingly hostile.

I also predict, less strongly but somewhat confidently that, if you will answer these questions, you will answer at least one of them wrong - 1) what is the age of the earth? 2) Do you personally share recent common ancestry with chimpanzees? 3) Does the United States Constitution support teachers leading public school students in required prayer, when interpreted correctly?

Helena Constantine said:

Hasn’t (Robert Byers’) language been confused because of your overweening pride yet?

If Byers knew that, he would have realized he presents himself as a deluded, moronic, pompous know-nothing a long, long time ago.

Watch the negative comments! Don’t turn this into a flame war.

harold:

I have some civil, fair-minded critiques of your post to share with you.

Sure - for some meanings of “civil” and “fair-minded”.

To begin with, I will note that you offer no data whatsoever, and make pronouncements.

I was only making a comment to a blog post. Get real.

As my comment above made clear, human brain structures which are required for and highly specific for development and maintenance of human language ability are well known, and have been for over a century.

I think it was clear enough that I was not disputing this.

So your claim is that other auditory communication systems with strong innate components are languages (this part of the claim is reasonable), but simultaneously, human language is a purely learned behavior? That seems highly contradictory to me.

No, there’s no contradiction there. There’s perhaps a semantic disagreement about “language”. While there’s a lot of innate brain structure associated with language, I don’t include those in the meaning of “language”.

You can’t discuss the methods and results of your research?

My research is on cognition. The implications for language are only peripheral. How many volumes should I be expected to write in a simple blog comment?

As it stands, your claims are completely lacking in empirical or logical support; they are merely proclamations.

The only important claim I made, was that the issues are controversial and contentious. I had thought that was well know. There was a debate between Piaget and Chomsky on some of the disagreements. I’m pretty sure that Piaget’s background was in biology. What has to evolve to support the Piaget view of language is considerably less than what has to evolve to support the Chomsky view of language.

You may have something interesting to say, but this is a conventional whine of people who have wrong ideas, and lack the character to accept critical feedback.

I am not a whiner, and I did not make that whine.

I also predict, less strongly but somewhat confidently that, if you will answer these questions, you will answer at least one of them wrong - 1) what is the age of the earth? 2) Do you personally share recent common ancestry with chimpanzees? 3) Does the United States Constitution support teachers leading public school students in required prayer, when interpreted correctly?

So you are being civil and fair minded. Yet you falsely accuse me of being a YEC creationist.

One click on the link for my name would have taken you to my blog where you would have quickly seen that I am not a creationist. You might even have found that the blog discusses things related to my study of human cognition.

If you had thought just a little about my posted comment, you should have seen that I was suggesting that the evolution of language might have been simpler than the “Bards, Poets” paper implies - that’s hardly the view that a creationist would take.

Pessimistic prediction - Here’s a prediction, and you have an excellent opportunity to prove me wrong and make me look silly for making it. I hope you do. However, I predict that you will respond by ignoring valid critical points rather than dealing with them, repeating unsupported assertions, and becoming increasingly hostile

Prediction fulfilled.

(I forgot to include “play word games”.)

So you are being civil and fair minded. Yet you falsely accuse me of being a YEC creationist.

1) Questions are not an accusation.

2) Why didn’t you answer them directly, then? Here they are again - “1) what is the age of the earth? 2) Do you personally share recent common ancestry with chimpanzees? 3) Does the United States Constitution support teachers leading public school students in required prayer, when interpreted correctly?”

After all, the way to disprove my second prediction is to answer them.

Matt Young said:

Was the Bard of Avon not a Poet?

Not a Drab Nova, either.

Perhaps a palindromist.

nwrickert said:

If we came across a feral child without language, we would probably say that he has no language ability. Yet he would have the same evolved biological structures that we have. This is partly a semantic point about the meaning of “language ability”.

This specific point can be misleading.

Vision for sure strongly relies on evolved biological structures. Yet, conditions such as strabismus can turn an otherwise normal eye to a functionally blind one ( see amblyopia).

According to your point, we should conclude that vision is a learned ability.

harold said:

What about the possibility that poets are both somewhat better at communicating with bards, and a lot better at communicating with other poets? That would drive poets rapidly to fixation.

(Humans can use language to enhance communication with other intelligent species that don’t have language, but can learn complex new behaviors under human guidance, learning the meanings of words (sometimes many, many words, and usually more words than human companions intend) via operant conditioning.)

One point about children. Is their language learning not from higher reasoning skills?

No. Children have an innate ability to learn language.

Although adults trying to learn a new language are often forced to make use of conscious memorization and organization strategies, adult language abilities are also biologically seperable from other cognitive abilities to some degree.

Damage to some brain areas can produce selective inability to produce, or to understand, spoken language or written language. These can occur in isolation, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysgraphia, or in combination with each other and other issues if damage is less localized. This has been well known for well over a century.

Another interesting feature of the human brain is that some pathological conditions cause patients to fill in memory gaps with confabulation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confabulation. In a very real sense, many creationists confabulate to an extreme degree. Lacking any knowledge whatsoever of something, they unconsciously make up a self-serving fantasy and convince themselves of it. We’re all prone to some (significant) degree of such bias, hence the Dunning-Kruger effect etc, etc, etc, but it is alarming that so many of our society’s members, and especially, political and business leaders, have such a high degree of this tendency.

What is innate? Innate is saying nothing of mechanism. Nothing. Your example of brain damage and selective inability easily could just be memory loss. Why should this example show innate ability functions.

It is the more simple idea that language is just showing complexity of thoughts. So these thoughts need to organize sounds into accepted and memorized sequences. Kids language ability reflects their thoughts. Their thoughts are complex very soon or right away. In fact its just lack of understanding of the accepted words and then memory that gets in the way. I don’t see a reason to say there is any difference in kids learning language and adults a new one.

I also don;t see any reason for a ape not to be able to repeat any sounds we make. The ape doesn’t organize the sounds into words because they have no need or ability. I don’t see how there could be intermediate steps in language from primates to man. If you got the thoughts you should have organized sounds into words. Animals can make noises when they want to.

nwrickert said:

I have downloaded the paper, but I have not yet read it. I’m commenting based on the blog post.

I agree with those who say that language is a cultural invention. That is not to deny that there are biological structures involved.

Knitting is a cultural invention. The possibility of knitting does depend on being able to carry out finely articulated motions with the fingers and hands. What we mostly need for language, is the ability for finely articulated motions of the vocal apparatus. There’s apparently also some innate drive to communicate. But I think you have to be careful about distinguishing between what is evolved biological structure, and what is learned behavior.

It seems easy to talk about language ability as being biological. But I’m not sure that is correct. If we came across a feral child without language, we would probably say that he has no language ability. Yet he would have the same evolved biological structures that we have. This is partly a semantic point about the meaning of “language ability”.

My point: I’m skeptical of your “Poets and Bards” thesis. From the way that I look at language, it seems likely that you are trying to explain the part of language that is really a matter of cultural innovation instead of the part of language that is biological.

On language itself, it is far from clear that it is unique to humans. Bird songs seems to have some language features. It might turn out that prairie dogs have some communication system available to them to help them sustain their societies. Some researchers believe whales and dolphins have some kind of language ability. We see our own human languages from within our cultural milieu, while we see the communication systems of other organisms from outside of their cultural milieu. Hence our view of ourselves as special might turn out to be very biased.

As to complexity - I’m not convinced that language is all that complex, though it depends on what you mean by “complex.” For comparison, if we look at a computer language we see nested hierarchical structures. There seems to be far less of that in natural language. What we do see is complexity of detail due to the accumulation of many ad hoc constructs.

The hardest part of language is the semantics. I’m inclined to think that our semantic ability comes from our perceptual abilities, so it actually originates outside of language. Computer natural language programming cannot get the semantics right because computers do not have perceptual systems.

Your post echoes fairly well the convention wisdom on language. However, the conventional wisdom can be wrong.

Sorry, I cannot provide citations. My comments are based on my own research into human cognition. That research is unpublished, and probably unpublishable (because it is contrary to the conventional wisdom). However, perhaps the lack of citations doesn’t much matter. I am not trying to persuade you that I am right. I am merely trying to alert you to the fact that the nature of language is very much a contentious issue, much disputed between Chomskyans and anti-Chomskyans, and that it is far from certain as to what part of language is biological and what part is cultural.

You said your work was unpublishable (because it is contrary to conventional wisdom). Creationists make this point. That merely being contrary to the establishment on origin issues has here or there or some more been a unjustified and interfering prejudice.

I don’t agree animals have language unless every memorized noise counts as a language. Body language is more important but this is not the same thing. Body language shows some thoughts but the greatness of human language shows speed and complexity of thoughts.

But there are steps in language use from apes to humans. Gorillas and chimpanzees can be taught to use words, and signs for words, with meaning. Quite a large number have been. They are capable, not merely of parroting expressions back, but coining new expressions by themselves, and creating new expressions with new meanings - and this with intent. Their vocabularies can run into hundreds of words, quite enough for basic communication.

Where they do not equal human language use is in the overall vocabulary, and in the concepts of grammar and syntax. Apes may use words with intent for meaning, but they produce them in no particular order, and attempts to impose a particular grammar have failed. Several human language structures have been tried without success.

But the fact remains - apes can use language, albeit not at a human level. They can’t sound words, because they lack the necessary physical structures, but they can use some parts of language. Evolution explains this fact. Creation does not.

Robert Byers said:

I also don;t see any reason for a ape not to be able to repeat any sounds we make. The ape doesn’t organize the sounds into words because they have no need or ability. I don’t see how there could be intermediate steps in language from primates to man. If you got the thoughts you should have organized sounds into words. Animals can make noises when they want to.

Robert, your entire argument appears to be predicated on the idea that everything in Creation has to be constrained by your understanding of it. Have you ever had a Eureka! moment when your lack of understanding of something takes a quantum leap to enlightenment? Have you never thought “I would not have thought that possible unless I had seen it with my own eyes”? With a bit more learning it can happen again. The noise an animal can make is constrained by its anatomy. A crow can simply caw, but some birds can mimic anything from other bird calls to camera shutters and chain saws, including human language without any understanding of the meaning. Even “words” are not distinct to humans (try extracting them from even a familiar spoken foreign language), and progressively removing control of bits of vocal-cord, tongue and lips would incrementally reduce the range of speech an individual could produce.

Robert Byers said:

You said your work was unpublishable (because it is contrary to conventional wisdom). Creationists make this point. That merely being contrary to the establishment on origin issues has here or there or some more been a unjustified and interfering prejudice.

I don’t agree animals have language unless every memorized noise counts as a language. Body language is more important but this is not the same thing. Body language shows some thoughts but the greatness of human language shows speed and complexity of thoughts.

But I understand the noises my cats make including the different noises for ‘Where are you?’, ‘Hello’, ‘I’m fustrated’, ‘I want something’, ‘That’s nice’, ‘Go away’ and ‘F$%@ off!’.

However when it comes to reasoning with them they are somewhat on a par with creationists. But much cuddlier.

I hardly ever get to hear poetry properly recited by someone who understands the poet and the poem. But I remember at school it must have been about 1972 a poet, who I cannot remember his name, came. He had written a poem about Chi Chi and An-An and we all went into the Library to hear him recite it. It consisted of only two words and they were Chi Chi and An-An. I seem to recall him saying, it was a compilation of the interaction of those two words to portray that however much they wanted it to happen it was an unsuccessful union in as much as they didn’t have any baby Pandas.

You said your work was unpublishable (because it is contrary to conventional wisdom). Creationists make this point. That merely being contrary to the establishment on origin issues has here or there or some more been a unjustified and interfering prejudice.

However, the creationists are mistaken about this. It’s not an issue of “interfering prejudice.” The editors and peer reviewers are filtering submitted papers, so that what is published is what the readers are interested in reading. They occasionally make mistakes, but the author then submits to a different journal. It usually works out.

When someone is working outside of the conventional wisdom, either he is talking nonsense and the paper should be rejected, or the editorial staff were unable to find anything important enough to be worth publishing. That’s not prejudice. That’s the editorial staff doing their job.

In my own case, clearly I have not yet found a way of explaining what I am doing that has been able to get through to the editors and peer reviewers (or to other researchers in the area). That’s my failing, not theirs.

I don’t agree animals have language unless every memorized noise counts as a language.

I’m sure many people don’t agree with me. But you are missing the point. We don’t really have a clear way of characterizing “language.” We see our own language from the inside, but we only see the communication systems of other species from the outside. So we are not really in a position to determine whether they are languages.

In any case, my main point was that I don’t believe language is all that complex. I see it as simple enough that it does not need a special “Bards and Poets” explanation as to how it might have evolved.

nwrickert said:

When someone is working outside of the conventional wisdom, either he is talking nonsense and the paper should be rejected, or the editorial staff were unable to find anything important enough to be worth publishing. That’s not prejudice. That’s the editorial staff doing their job.

In my own case, clearly I have not yet found a way of explaining what I am doing that has been able to get through to the editors and peer reviewers (or to other researchers in the area). That’s my failing, not theirs.

This makes no sense to me. There is a huge camp in the evolution of language community that argues that language is a byproduct of human cognition. One of the most traditional explanations for language is that it evolved to allow humans to organize their thoughts. However, most of these proponents are not evolutionary biologists or geneticists. They are more likely to be social scientists or in the humanities. Of course, I think they are wrong because we can identify numerous anatomical features of language production that would not have evolved if language was not selected for communication. From what I can tell you are not bucking “conventional wisdom” since there is an entire, established arm of the community that would seem to agree with you. Thus I suspect that you haven’t even tried to publish your ideas.

I’m sure many people don’t agree with me. But you are missing the point. We don’t really have a clear way of characterizing “language.” We see our own language from the inside, but we only see the communication systems of other species from the outside. So we are not really in a position to determine whether they are languages.

Again, it makes no sense for you to say this and claim to be doing research in this area. Language is typically defined as a form of communication that has a vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. In other words, in language one can take a large but limited set of concepts, and combine them using rules to produce an infinite set of meanings.

In any case, my main point was that I don’t believe language is all that complex. I see it as simple enough that it does not need a special “Bards and Poets” explanation as to how it might have evolved.

The bards and poets model does not depend on language being complex. It depends on language being under selection for communication or another social interaction. My comments about complexity are to motivate the study of language as an evolved biological system.

I should also point out that this paper went to 6 or more journals before it was accepted. And in one journal, I did get dinged by a reviewer for putting my feet too far into the “language ability is biological” camp. So clearly there are reviewers out there who would be receptive to papers that advocated that language ability is cultural.

Dave Luckett said:

But there are steps in language use from apes to humans. Gorillas and chimpanzees can be taught to use words, and signs for words, with meaning. Quite a large number have been. They are capable, not merely of parroting expressions back, but coining new expressions by themselves, and creating new expressions with new meanings - and this with intent. Their vocabularies can run into hundreds of words, quite enough for basic communication.

Where they do not equal human language use is in the overall vocabulary, and in the concepts of grammar and syntax. Apes may use words with intent for meaning, but they produce them in no particular order, and attempts to impose a particular grammar have failed. Several human language structures have been tried without success.

But the fact remains - apes can use language, albeit not at a human level. They can’t sound words, because they lack the necessary physical structures, but they can use some parts of language. Evolution explains this fact. Creation does not.

I presumed them had the same physical structures. If not then included in evolutionary ideas the structures must evolve hand in hand with the need for words or the structures evolved and then they were taken advantage of as a secondary point. For sure they don’t have the physical structures?

Your saying adult apes can be taught a bigger vocabulary then very young children? Its not memorized expressions or a row of them that is a intermediate steps in language. Language is just our thoughts expressed in sounds of received order and acceptance of meaning.

As you said apes make no order with their memorized words. So no language. In fact i would say their expressions have nothing to do with us. Our words are just ordered sounds and so we need great complexity to allow the great complexity of our thoughts. not the same thing with animals .

Dave Lovell said:

Robert Byers said:

I also don;t see any reason for a ape not to be able to repeat any sounds we make. The ape doesn’t organize the sounds into words because they have no need or ability. I don’t see how there could be intermediate steps in language from primates to man. If you got the thoughts you should have organized sounds into words. Animals can make noises when they want to.

Robert, your entire argument appears to be predicated on the idea that everything in Creation has to be constrained by your understanding of it. Have you ever had a Eureka! moment when your lack of understanding of something takes a quantum leap to enlightenment? Have you never thought “I would not have thought that possible unless I had seen it with my own eyes”? With a bit more learning it can happen again. The noise an animal can make is constrained by its anatomy. A crow can simply caw, but some birds can mimic anything from other bird calls to camera shutters and chain saws, including human language without any understanding of the meaning. Even “words” are not distinct to humans (try extracting them from even a familiar spoken foreign language), and progressively removing control of bits of vocal-cord, tongue and lips would incrementally reduce the range of speech an individual could produce.

We were talking about primates. I don’t know if they lack the vocal cords etc for talking. If so then evolution must first happen with these structures or in union with language evolution.

Yes our words/language will fail with missing parts. yet it is our thoughts that are being expressed with language that is important for language. Creatures have no need for language as they don’t really think in complexity. Its not language that separates us but thinking. Language (organized sounds) exists only for rapid complex ideas. otherwise we could grunt our way around. Some do.

nwrickert said:

You said your work was unpublishable (because it is contrary to conventional wisdom). Creationists make this point. That merely being contrary to the establishment on origin issues has here or there or some more been a unjustified and interfering prejudice.

However, the creationists are mistaken about this. It’s not an issue of “interfering prejudice.” The editors and peer reviewers are filtering submitted papers, so that what is published is what the readers are interested in reading. They occasionally make mistakes, but the author then submits to a different journal. It usually works out.

When someone is working outside of the conventional wisdom, either he is talking nonsense and the paper should be rejected, or the editorial staff were unable to find anything important enough to be worth publishing. That’s not prejudice. That’s the editorial staff doing their job.

In my own case, clearly I have not yet found a way of explaining what I am doing that has been able to get through to the editors and peer reviewers (or to other researchers in the area). That’s my failing, not theirs.

I don’t agree animals have language unless every memorized noise counts as a language.

I’m sure many people don’t agree with me. But you are missing the point. We don’t really have a clear way of characterizing “language.” We see our own language from the inside, but we only see the communication systems of other species from the outside. So we are not really in a position to determine whether they are languages.

In any case, my main point was that I don’t believe language is all that complex. I see it as simple enough that it does not need a special “Bards and Poets” explanation as to how it might have evolved.

I agree that our thoughts are what is complex and so words(organized sounds) are needed for this complexity communication. language is complex is there is a complexity of these sounds. Animals have only a few needed sounds or noises to do the trick. Its all about human thinking. Language is a mechanical expression of this thinking and therefore as complex as the thinking. High or low communication in humans is still very high.

Three more posts of YAWN by Booby Byers. And YECs wonder why real scientists won’t take them seriously. YAWN, Booby.

Robert Byers said: I agree that our thoughts are what is complex and so words(organized sounds) are needed for this complexity communication. language is complex is there is a complexity of these sounds. Animals have only a few needed sounds or noises to do the trick. Its all about human thinking. Language is a mechanical expression of this thinking and therefore as complex as the thinking. High or low communication in humans is still very high.

Previously:

I presumed them had the same physical structures… For sure they don’t have the physical structures? Your saying adult apes can be taught a bigger vocabulary then very young children? I don’t know if they lack the vocal cords etc for talking.

Given the many things you don’t know or presume (even the most basic facts), your latest post is an amazing collection of certainties.

otherwise we could grunt our way around. Some do.

Now, who am I to disagree?

nwrickert -

When someone is working outside of the conventional wisdom, either he is talking nonsense and the paper should be rejected, or the editorial staff were unable to find anything important enough to be worth publishing. That’s not prejudice. That’s the editorial staff doing their job.

In my own case, clearly I have not yet found a way of explaining what I am doing that has been able to get through to the editors and peer reviewers (or to other researchers in the area). That’s my failing, not theirs.

This is a highly reasonable statement. My first comment was meant to be skeptical, not hostile. I think you now see what it was about the use of the term “conventional wisdom” that set off a mild alarm. My other points still stand for now.

There is a great deal of semantics involved, but for now I stand by the point that modern humans have a “more hard wired”, for lack of a better term, tendency to learn language, than to learn purely cultural technical skills. Learning to walk is similar. There is a massive cultural component to language learning too, of course. See below.

Robert Byers -

In your zeal to disagree with everything any science supporter says, you are contradicting even other creationists. ID/creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor would strongly agree with me that there are specialized brain structures for language, and that damaging them in isolation can lead to highly specific language defects, without significant disruption of memory or other cognitive functions.

I’m not trying to educate you, as that seems to be impossible, but to illustrate this point to others

Reed A. Cartwright -

I assume no-one would disagree that cultural background determines what language we speak, what accent we use, our level of language education, etc. The evidence still seems to strongly suggest that the tendency to learn and use a human language at all is highly innate; exposure to other humans is required. Groups of children have been known to invent languages, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicara[…]ign_Language, which certainly weakens any “it has to be memorized” claim (for children).

harold said:

nwrickert -

When someone is working outside of the conventional wisdom, either he is talking nonsense and the paper should be rejected, or the editorial staff were unable to find anything important enough to be worth publishing. That’s not prejudice. That’s the editorial staff doing their job.

In my own case, clearly I have not yet found a way of explaining what I am doing that has been able to get through to the editors and peer reviewers (or to other researchers in the area). That’s my failing, not theirs.

This is a highly reasonable statement. My first comment was meant to be skeptical, not hostile. I think you now see what it was about the use of the term “conventional wisdom” that set off a mild alarm. My other points still stand for now.

There is a great deal of semantics involved, but for now I stand by the point that modern humans have a “more hard wired”, for lack of a better term, tendency to learn language, than to learn purely cultural technical skills. Learning to walk is similar. There is a massive cultural component to language learning too, of course. See below.

Robert Byers -

In your zeal to disagree with everything any science supporter says, you are contradicting even other creationists. ID/creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor would strongly agree with me that there are specialized brain structures for language, and that damaging them in isolation can lead to highly specific language defects, without significant disruption of memory or other cognitive functions.

I’m not trying to educate you, as that seems to be impossible, but to illustrate this point to others

Reed A. Cartwright -

I assume no-one would disagree that cultural background determines what language we speak, what accent we use, our level of language education, etc. The evidence still seems to strongly suggest that the tendency to learn and use a human language at all is highly innate; exposure to other humans is required. Groups of children have been known to invent languages, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicara[…]ign_Language, which certainly weakens any “it has to be memorized” claim (for children).

This innate thing is simply a thinking being. We think in such complexity that to communicate it (diversity of thoughts and speed) requires a complexity of sounds organization. Grunting and yelping ain’t good enough.

If a child was alone they might never develop a language but upon meeting some one else they would very quickly or copy. Its fine that kids invent languages. Language is just agreed sounds sequences and segregation. Its easy to make languages and we just never went far from our origins in languages and so connections of language heritage are easily shown. its all about communicating thoughts. Rapid thoughts demand common agreement on what words(or rather joined sounds) mean. Our languages really are just more complicated sequences of sign language which is rather involved. In fact writing is just the same equation of what language is. Agreement on visual or verbal symbols. Thats all it is. The error is missing that its our unique complexity of thinking that is the glory of language. Not the methodology. In fact its possible animals have this very primitive agreements on audial symbols. Few and raw but there. The problem is they don’t think like mankind. One must split the atom here on mechanism and ability to use it. i suspect apes have the mechanism but not sure. If not then this would stop language in them even if they were as sharp as you or me.

Robert wrote:

“Language is just agreed sounds sequences and segregation.”

Now that folks is a self defeating argument, literally.

Robert Byers said:

This innate thing is simply a thinking being. We think in such complexity that to communicate it (diversity of thoughts and speed) requires a complexity of sounds organization. Grunting and yelping ain’t good enough.

Where in the Bible does it specifically state this?

Robert Byers said: i suspect apes have the mechanism…

We know of one ape which has language, Robert Byers.

phhht said:

Robert Byers said: i suspect apes have the mechanism…

We know of one ape which has language, Robert Byers.

Better yet, where in the Bible does it state that apes have language?

After all, Byers incessantly boasts about how using the Bible is not only scientific, but better than actual science. Though, he never, ever once produced an example.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on December 19, 2011 11:00 PM.

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