Re: The Symbolic Species

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Mon Jan 28 2002 - 03:09:19 GMT

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    Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2002 22:09:19 -0500
    From: Ray Recchia <>
    Subject: Re: The Symbolic Species
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    Hi Grant,

    I read this book a few years ago. I liked it and I recommend it. My
    favorite example from the book was the chimpanzee covering his mouth to
    prevent a reflex scream when he discovered some berries as a way
    illustrating the difference between our semi-conscious vocal control (with
    emotions still controlling tone and some cries) with the complete lack of
    vocal control of a chimpanzee, and the near completely conscious control
    both humans and chimps have of their hand movements.

    I think his symbolism hypothesis does a better job of explaining the
    difference between humans and other animals than anything else I have read
    although I suspect he would be the first to admit that it still remains
    unproven. If humans do possess a unique ability to combine symbols it has
    to be differentiated from the ability to recognize abstract properties like
    color and quantity that even parrots possess.

    I also do not equate 'symbol' and 'meme'. My interest has been in studying
    non-genetic replication, and this would apply more broadly to non-symbolic
    behavioral imitation (like imitating someone's mannerisms). I do think
    that linguistic symbolic replication has special properties but I suspect
    that what can be learned from studying non-symbolic replication will help
    in understanding symbolic replication and vice versa.

    Ray Recchia

    At 06:49 PM 1/26/2002 -0800, you wrote:
    >I'm just starting The Symbolic Species: The co=evolution of Language and
    >the Brain by Terrence W. Deacon. Have many of you read it? What did you
    >think of his approach and the use of the term "symbol" to mean much the
    >same thing we use meme to mean? He seems to have pretty good credentials
    >but his bibliography seems to have a number of notable omissions.

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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