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

To: <edbark@xxxxxxxx>, "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Christopher Spottiswoode" <cms@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2010 20:32:12 +0200
Message-id: <3775425250004650A0595B1788641927@klaptop>
Ed,    (01)

There is further evidence that seems to support the notion of "the 
gradual nature of the evolution of [symbolic] capabilities" which 
you express here:    (02)

> 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.    (03)

Some relevant local background (from here in South Africa) is the 
Blombos engraved ochres, apparently good evidence of early symbolic 
thinking, dated to about 85K years ago.  (See e.g. 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blombos_Cave)    (04)

Even closer to home, I grew up near Stellenbosch, about 50Km East of 
Cape Town and 150Km West of Blombos, and specifically on a site 
which for various reasons seems to be an ideal situation for a Stone 
Age factory.  So I have over the years collected a few Acheulian 
artifacts from what used to be called "the Stellenbosch Culture" of 
paleoliths, predominantly rather crude bifacial handaxes.  That 
culture seems to be variously dated to between 500K and 1.2M years 
ago.    (05)

Now, apparently normal handaxe length in the area is around 15cm, 
but last year I found one of 28cm and another of 4cm, both of 
virtually precisely the proportions of the normal-size handaxe, 
which one would not expect if the abnormal-size specimens were tuned 
to whatever normal uses they might have had.  While the exaggerated 
size specimen is not unique for that site (and such sizes have 
elsewhere been speculated to be pure boasting by their creators), 
the diminutive specimen is totally unique, across all sites, as far 
as my amateur researches have been able to ascertain.  Now (to cut a 
long story short) I can only conclude that it was manufactured as a 
symbol, whether it was a toy, an amulet, a badge of status, or 
whatever else, such as boasting, again.  That is, it had purely 
informational rather than conventionally utilitarian value.    (06)

If my reasoning is valid, that piece of evidence certainly supports 
that supposed "gradual" aspect of symbol evolution!    (07)

(Meanwhile, after some feeble attempts - and having other priorities 
at the moment... - I have been unable to locate a paleolith 
specialist who is as interested as I am in the apparently symbolic 
function of that diminutive and very ancient artifact...)    (08)

Anyway, back to mirror neurons...    (09)

... but still on symbols:    (010)

In all the discussion on mirror neurons it is interesting how the 
"sameness" of the actions supposedly mirrored seems to be unexamined 
or at least unexplained.  That is presumably because we so readily - 
and relevantly! - apply any notion of 'sameness' that we wish.    (011)

But why is that comment interesting?    (012)

It's because 'sameness' is intimately tied to 'abstraction', in the 
sense that the abstract is what different situations have in common, 
whether different situations for the same observer, or the "same" 
situation for different but communicating observers.  And I draw out 
these points here because, as you might recall, the whole notion of 
levels of abstraction is so important in MACK (The Mainstream 
Architecture for Common Knowledge), which I have been trying for so 
long to expound on this list.    (013)

And I believe it highly interesting and significant that mirror 
neurons and artificial symbolism should both apparently be so 
ancient in our natural and cultural evolutionary history.    (014)

(Anyway, I believe the picture I am at present preparing to add to 
my website will be clearer, on the above points too, than the above 
rather impromptu sketch, FWIW now.)    (015)

Christopher    (016)

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