Re(2): Paper on chimp culture

Mark M. Mills (
Mon, 28 Jun 1999 20:16:53 -0400

Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 20:16:53 -0400
From: "Mark M. Mills" <>
Subject: Re(2): Paper on chimp culture
In-Reply-To: <


At 10:09 AM 6/25/99 +0100, you wrote:
>>My model is just a variation on
>>your 'singing ape' hypothesis. I reverse the causality, saying we 'talk
>>because ancient primates thought.' Your hypothesis suggests 'we think
>>because ancient primates sang.' Seems to me there is plenty of room for
>It is easy to conceive of 'language' (sensu lato) as a product of
'thoughts', i.e part of the phenotype
>through which internalised memes replicate. The alternative position is
that thoughts and minds
>are languaged into existence, in essence the
>mind becomes the extended phentoype of 'language'.

I find the notion that thoughts are 'languaged into existence' very
unsatisfactory. How do you get 'the first conversation' using this model?

Maybe I think in too linear a pattern. Help me out. How does someone
assert that 'minds are languaged into existence' and account for the first
conversation? Getting the first word out is hard enough, but you also need
an understanding first listener. Without divine intervention or UFO
visitation, I can't imagine it.

It seems much simpler to say the first conversation emerged directly from
existing primate consciousness. Most of our culture got over an aversion to
seeing human biology emerge from ancient primates, why not say the same
thing for our culture and cognitive processes? It seems this should be the
starting point until proven otherwise.

It is easier for me to create an evolutionary memetic path to 'minds are
languaged into existence.' From my perspective, the aversion to connecting
human and chimp consciousness reflects an instinctive classification agency
inherited by every human. We all classify other members of our culture in
terms of kinship: mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, cousin, etc.
While we say platitudes about our modern ability to credit all human
'non-kin' with full credentials as a human, our natural classification
response tends to produce behavior suggesting otherwise. Maybe this is not
a problem in Western Europe, but Yugoslavia and America certainly have
troubles with this.

It's not right or wrong, it is just instinct. We have many symbolical
options for filling the niche our instincts carve out. Kin can be family,
community, nation, race, religion, etc. Our experiences provide a rich
variety of choices. I'm just saying the process of defining the
classification is instinctive.

This kin based classification scheme seems to be apparent for chimps and
humans. Assuming chimps represent a picture of ancient primate
consciousness, it would be natural for humans to still carry an instinctive
classification scheme for kin/non-kin which denies the possibility of
linkage between chimp and human consciousness. Chimps are 'non-kin', at
least until Darwin showed up.

It would be natural for ancient primate memes producing anti-kin behavior
(however ancient primates defined kin) to evolve into modern human memes
producing behavior antagonistic to granting kinship to chimp consciousness.

I guess there is the option that language emerged complete via the
evolutionary pressure of a million years of human singing and miraculously
made sense to both speaker and listener in full syntactic glory. Like
Athena, language emerged complete and fully armed in a single instant.

This image just doesn't make sense to me. The main argument against this
is chimp language research. While there is controversy regarding chimp
display of syntax, there are fewer who argue chimps cannot 'name' things in
their world. Just like human infants, they display a natural instinct to
classify and name objects in their environment. If language emerged from a
new and entirely human evolutionary path (like singing), why would human
and chimp infants acquire symbolic references in the same manner?

I like the idea that singing produced the mechanical ability to express
ourselves. In my model, the consciousness wanting to be expressed was
already there. Singing just provided the means of expression.

What am I missing? How do those asserting 'minds are languaged into
existence' find an evolutionary path to the first conversation?


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