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Re: [ontolog-forum] Mirror neurons in language use

To: edbark@xxxxxxxx, "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2010 13:18:16 -0500
Message-id: <4B5748E8.9070801@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

EB> I would recommend a layman's book by Christine Kenneally called
 > "The First Word -- The Search for the Origins of Language".  It
 > is essentially a catalogue of a large part of the related research
 > between Chomsky and 2005, sorted by topic.    (02)

That's a good book, but note that the publication date of 2005
shows that it's based on research that is 6 years old or older.
Researchers used to think that a "Great Leap Forward" occurred about
40K years ago, then they pushed it to 70K, Ramachandran said 100K,
and more researchers are beginning to think 300K or earlier --
which includes the Neanderthals and perhaps earlier species.    (03)

The growth in the brain was accompanied by changes in the vocal
tract over a period of a few million years.  That coincidence is
difficult or impossible to explain without assuming some kind
of protolanguage that drives of both.    (04)

EB> The bottom line is that something happened around 50000 years
 > ago, homo sapiens began to dominate, apparently because of technical
 > and cultural superiority, and the Neanderthals and other hominids
 > gradually disappeared over the next 20000 years, probably because
 > they could not compete.  We know about some of the physiological
 > differences, and we suppose that symbolic thinking and language
 > abilities may have been associated with those differences.  But
 > there is also a lot of evidence for the gradual nature of the
 > evolution of these capabilities, and it may well be that multiple
 > small changes came together to produce effective abilities, and
 > social and environmental factors made them useful.    (05)

No.  Evidence of any kind before 40 or 50K is extremely rare.
But there is evidence of some sort of environmental disaster that
nearly wiped out the Homo sapiens in Africa sometime around 75K
years ago.  A small number of survivors remained in South Africa,
and it took quite a few thousand years before the population could
rebound.  That is why the evidence of symbolic activity (actually
any kind of activity) is so rare before 50K.    (06)

Just look at our most familiar stone-age people:  Native Americans.
Their only artifacts that could survive for 40K years are arrowheads
and stone knives.  But 99.9% of their artifacts were sophisticated
clothing, dwellings, and tools made from wood, bone, vines, fur,
and hides.  The Inuit seldom used stones, and they lived in the
most extreme conditions.    (07)

JFS>> But note the following article:
 >>   http://www.physorg.com/news182439329.html
 >>   New research suggests Neanderthals weren't stupid
 >> Excerpt:
 >>  Neanderthals used makeup and jewelry, challenging the idea that
 >>  they were cognitively inferior to early modern humans, according
 >>  to research published in the _Proceedings in the National Academy
 >>  of Sciences_. Radiocarbon dating by researchers at Oxford University
 >>  suggests that pigment-stained and perforated marine shells were
 >>  almost certainly used as pendants by Neanderthals in Spain 50,000
 >>  years ago.    (08)

EB> Which is also about the time that homo sapiens began to outnumber
 > Neanderthals on the Iberian peninsula...
 > Late Neanderthal settlements (-40000 to -30000) show several elements
 > of homo sapiens culture.    (09)

There is no evidence of Homo saps in Europe before 40K.  Around 50K
or 60K, Homo sapiens were moving into the middle east and Asia,
where some contacts with Neanderthals may have occurred.  But they
didn't move into Europe until much later.    (010)

EB> Neanderthal man existed from about 130000 years ago to perhaps 20000
 > years ago, but demonstrated nearly no increase in sophistication for
 > the first 80000 years.    (011)

They lived in Europe, which was subject to repeated ice ages during
all that time.  There is also evidence from their bones that their
diet was primarily meat -- very much like the Inuit.  Like the Inuit,
most of their artifacts were probably made of bone and hides.    (012)

The Neanderthals had bigger brains than the modern humans, and the
fossils showed that they grew faster and reached maturity faster
than the moderns.  Their dependence on hunting large beasts is
also shown by evidence that the males had lots of broken bones
and tended to die at a fairly young age.  That meant that they
didn't have many grandparents to remember and teach innovations.
But it doesn't imply a lower intelligence than the moderns.    (013)

What probably killed the Neanderthals is their need to move south
during the repeated ice ages.  When the modern humans moved into
southern Europe before the last ice age, the Neanderthals were
squeezed between ice in the north and a south where the game had
been depleted.    (014)

In short, the modern humans outcompeted the Neanderthals because
they were more slender, could survive on fewer calories, and ate
more nuts, berries, and olives.    (015)

Those conclusions depend on a lot of inferences, but each step
is based on geographical and fossil evidence.  By comparison,
the Great Leap Forward assumes some magical switch in the brain
for which there is no evidence at all.    (016)

John    (017)

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