Re: Silent memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon 07 Jul 2003 - 13:31:56 GMT

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    At 11:09 AM 06/07/03 -0400, you wrote:
    >Thanks for sharing this reference Keith,
    >Being new on this discussion and not having had the time to read a lot of
    >previous discussions, I hope my post will not repeat some ideas that have
    >been already discussed.
    >Concerning silent memes, and learning without verbal expression, there was
    >an excellent contribution made by Michael Corballis on the "building up of
    >language". In his 2002 book(1), Corballis defends the idea that language
    >may very well have started by sign language, and only later on moved to
    >verbal expression. His theory is in opposition to that of most
    >evolutionary psychologists (Apenzeller 1998 (2), Klein 2002(3), Mithen
    >1999(4), Tattersall 2001(5)) who tend to believe in a fundamental change
    >in cognitive function of Homo Sapiens Sapiens circa 50 K years ago
    >enabling the rather quick acquisition of language. Corbalis on the
    >contrary argues for a progressive acquisition of language starting from
    >the first Homo Sapiens Sapiens circa 150 to 200 K years ago.

    Supporting a sign language origin is the fact that apes can be trained to use sign language.

    As a counter argument, endocasts (the inside of the skull) of the human line show development of the language area going way back, well before this time. The area might have been used for something else though.

    There is also the high drive kids have to acquire language which indicates to me a long period of heavy selection. As little as 50-100k years? Maybe. If the variation is there, high selection pressures can change things fast. (Like killing all the kids who reach three and can't speak.)

    >This last theory seems to me to be more in line with a memetic view of how
    >languages evolved. Corbalis makes a short reference to memetics himself.
    >Language may have evolved from very simple non verbal memes, followed by
    >ever more complex ones, getting more and more freedom from the model being
    >imitated(6), up to the point where verbal expression became a far more
    >efficient means of memes transmision/replication, or at least of
    >complementing gesture imitation.
    >Comments welcommed.

    There is also the fact that if there are enough deaf kids in a group they will generate a full capacity sign language out of nothing.

    Calvin (see his excellent web site) makes a case that the brain's sequencing mechanisms were developed for projectile hunting and later found use in generating speech.

    I am reluctant to take a hard line in this area since eventually we will track down all the genes involved--and eventually recover enough DNA from our long gone ancestors to either answer questions about speech or at least have a lot more information to constrain speculation.

    Keith Henson

    PS, good references

    >Paul Trehin
    >(1) M. C. Corballis, "From Hand to Mouth, The Origins of Language",
    >Princeton University Press, Princeton 2002
    >(2) T. Appenzeller, "Evolution or Revolution?", Science 1998 282: 1451.
    >(3)R.G. Klein, B. Edgar,"The Dawn of Human Culture", John Wiley & Sons,
    >inc, NY 2002
    >(4) S. Mithen, "The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art,
    >Religion and Science", Thames & Hudson; ISBN: 0500281009, 1999
    >(5) I. Tattersall, "How we came to be human", Scientific American,
    >December 2001, Volume 285, Number 6 (pp 42-49)
    >(6) I wrote some notes about memes classification according to these two
    >criteria : complexity of the model, distance from the model :

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