Re(3): Paper on chimp culture

Ilfryn PRICE (
Tue, 29 Jun 1999 11:56:30 +0100

Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 11:56:30 +0100
Subject: Re(3): Paper on chimp culture
From: (Ilfryn PRICE)

(Ther subject being which cam first 'thought' or 'language'

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

I am likewise uneasy but cannot 'disprove' it. You get either to Mario's model (language ex song), or to an emergent selection
process between lets say 'grunts' (or proto vocalisationss) in a primate which - perhaps for other reasons entirely - had
developed an enhanced vocalisation capability. 'Grunts' which happened to convey survival advantage on groups which shared them
succeeded, hence emergent order.
>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 is difficult not to be linear but 'language and thought' are something of a chicken and egg. They have presumable
co-evolved. I reserve judgement on Mario's singing ape hypothesis and on the hypothesis that it is all down to language; i.e.
minds are languaged into existence. The process of Creoles emrging over a generation (see Jared Diamond's third chimpanzee for
references, and someone, Aaron perhaps, on the list recently' shows speedy evolution of language and with it a set of social
>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.

Or primate 'grunts'. I don't hold any particular aversion to either. Are you clutching at some aversion to have culture
evolving from 'grunts'?
>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.

Granted, but these are distinctions 'languaged into existence'. Western Europe has the problem too.
>It's not right or wrong, it is just instinct.

Or memetic selection at work as the source of tyranny.

>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.

Selfish memes
>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.

I am not denying the possibility of links just suggesting that the case for consciousness benin languaged into existencwe has
not been disproven. I am interested in scientific work if any on the idea and am not prone to wade through Derrida, Saussure et
al, even while being unsure that their ideas can be discounted.
>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.

Was this tongue in cheek. I would have (if I were advocating one hypothesis and remember please I am inquiring into lines of
reasoning of one or other) language emerge from several million years of fairly advanced grunting - c.f. prokaryotes to
eurkaryotes. And btw one or more environmental 'events' on the evolutionary timescale of language / culture may have triggered
step changes - perhaps memetics had its Cambrian Explosion around about the time of the end of the last ice age.
>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?

Perhaps because 'Humans' / hominids happened to posess a descended larynx and other vocalisation capability that chimps did not.
>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.

I prefer the idea that swimming produced the mechanical ability to express ourselves. Singing or grunting provided the means of
>What am I missing? How do those asserting 'minds are languaged into
>existence' find an evolutionary path to the first conversation?

As above. Now it is only a 'just-so' story. I doubt we will solve it from speculation, which brings me back to present day
memetic research. Can we determine ways of separating 'thought' memes and 'language memes' ?


If Price
Facilities Management Graduate Centre
Sheffield Hallam University
Unit 7, Science Park, Sheffield S1 1WB
P +44 [0]114 225 4032
F +44 [0]114 225 4038

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