Re: teleology and language

From: Trupeljak Ozren (
Date: Wed May 01 2002 - 00:17:51 BST

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    From: Trupeljak Ozren <>
    Subject: Re: teleology and language
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    Re: the eye bit

    Infamous Dawkins described separate evolution of eye(s) quite well in
    "Climbing Mount Improbable". I can't find real flaws in his argument,
    and therefore accept it as (provisional) truth.

    Re: the teleology bit

    I agree that sometimes it is more useful to think in terms of "evolving
    towards". It still doesn't change the truth of the matter - that a
    number of similar-looking adaptations are actually results of a process
    that works "away from" the base.

    --- "Douglas P. Wilson" <> wrote:
    > This eye example is most interesting to me because I remember rather
    > vividly
    > listening to Noam Chomsky lecture on why language should be thought
    > of as an
    > organ like an eye, which we evolved as a species and individually
    > grow,
    > We don't learn language, Chomsky said, we grow it.

    This is one where I actually agree with Chomsky. My intepretation of
    the meaning of his words is that through time, we have to levels of
    change with language - one is strictly genetical, the capability to
    have a language of certain complexity. The reason why today we don't
    have "inferior" languages as far as gramatical complexity is measured,
    is because we are all so damn geneticaly similar. The other level of
    language adaptation (change, evolution, however you want to label it),
    is culturaly driven - and is rather obvious across the board.

    > > Our current languages are the result of thousands of years of
    > > evolution and are actually quite versatile and diverse
    > Unless the discipline of linguistics has changed very much since I
    > went to
    > school, that statement must be rejected as entirely contrary to what
    > we know
    > about human language. The early linguists, prior to the mid-20th
    > century,
    > expected to find that illiterate indigenous people in Africa, New
    > Guinea,
    > and the high arctic spoke inferior languages without the expressive
    > capabilities of modern languages used by literate people. But that
    > proved
    > not the be the case. No languages primitive enough to be considered
    > inferior to English or Russian have ever been found.

    I think I explained that above. We do not have a representative sample
    to determine whether languages can evolve geneticaly or not - simply
    because we are the only hominids left on the planet with *any*
    language. (Of course, recent work with chimpanzees, baboons etc. may
    invalidate part of my point). There is, though, a very visible
    difference in how easy it is to express a certain thought, idea, story,
    in certain languages. This is one of the main driving forces behind the
    extinction and "creolization" of languages.

    > There are various interpretations of this empirical fact, and some
    > people
    > remain convinced that language does evolve, but I don't agree.
    > Brains
    > evolve. Language doesn't. Unlike Chomsky I don't believe that
    > languages
    > are organs, and I don't believe we grow them.

    Good, you are aware that this is a belief. :)

    > I think they are
    > technology,
    > and we invent them. What seems to Chomsky and others as the
    > evolution of
    > language, I see as the accumulation of various inventions and ideas
    > -- the accumulation of culture.

    I seriously don't see the difference.

    > To put it another way, languages are not biological things, they are
    > mathematical things.

    I again fail to see the distinction. Sufficiently complex formal system
    can have the property of being able to evolve.

    > I have some web pages on this, somewhere. I have too damn many web
    > pages,
    > and it is getting harder and harder to find what I want, but I'll
    > look
    > around and send you a URL when I can.
    > dpw

    heh, sure...:)

    There are very few men - and they are exceptions - who are able to think and feel beyond the present moment.

    Carl von Clausewitz

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