Re: poly: Darwin and Chomsky

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Thu Apr 23 1998 - 10:43:14 PDT

Damien B. writes:
>Bill Calvin's new book (with Derek Bickerton), *Lingua ex machina*, tries
>to solve the evolution of language:
>... nonlanguage predecessors of
>structured language. ... reciprocal altruism, cognitive categories handy
>for detecting cheaters, and of ballistic movement planning, handy for
>toolmaking and hunting.

I haven't read the book, but is sounds pretty speculative, if intriguing.

In particular, they see the root of language recursion in the "ever more
detailed planning of the complex sequences of segmented movements -- upper
body, shoulder, arm, wrist, etc. -- that precision hammering and aimed
throwing require." Are human body movements really much more recursive
than other animals'?

And is it really true that human brain signals are much more precise, in
timing and brain-location specificity, than other animals? This should
be testable. They say: "perhaps the most crucial event was the
achievement of coherence in the transmission of long-distance
corticocortical messages, ... This arose in part as a result of ballistic
movement planning. It made possible the large cell assemblies necessary
not merely to establish consistent codes for nominal and verbal concepts,
but to handle the composite codes ... all to be transmitted, coherently
and without any learning prerequisite, to the motor organs of speech that
would execute the resultant sentence."

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Thu Apr 23 17:48:58 1998

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