Thursday, 8 December 2011

Symbiotic language

In a sense we have a symbiotic relationship to a nonmaterial being which we call language.
- Terrence McKenna, The Evolutionary Mind.

On that note, Mark Changizi has a new book out - called "Harnessed". It's about how language evolved to match humans.

Mark explicitly endorses memes in the book:

These poor pre-language Homo sapiens schmucks are in for a severe chimp-schooling, because what makes us modern language-wielding humans formidable compared to chimps is not what's in our genes, but what's in our memes. It is the cultural artifacts that have evolved to fit our minds and transform ancient event-recognition software into communication software that makes us kick-arse. The rise of the planet of the apes - the first such rise, when we humans rose and took over the planet - was due to culture having nature-harnessed us, and transforming us into a new kind of creature.
...and here:

This is a selection process that selects not on biology, but on human artifacts that are used by biology. The human artifacts are animal-like, in the sense that they themselves have evolved over time, under selection pressure. These artifact-creatures (in the realm of “memes”), like naturally selected biological creatures, can be highly complex, with all the hallmarks of an engineering masterpiece.
Mark has the language as being composed of "symbionts":

“Aha!” the alien prober exclaimed. The modern humans are not merely learning language and music, they’re being raised in an environment with symbionts. Language and music are technological masterpieces that evolved to live with non-linguistic hominids and transform them into something beyond their biology. What makes these modern humans no longer the non-linguistic Homo sapiens apes they biologically are is not on the inside, and not in the ancestral environment. It is due to a novel variety of evolving entity the humans have been evolving with. Language and music are evolved organism-like artifacts that are symbiotic with these human apes. And like any symbiont, these artifact symbionts have evolved to possess shapes that fit the biology, namely our brains. As a metaphor with symbionts, these aliens could then begin digesting what we modern humans are.

What are we, then, in the eyes of alien probers? We are our biology, from the genes on up. But we are more than that, indicated by the fact that the probers don’t abduct just a human, but entire human habitats. We are our biology within its appropriate habitat. But that’s true about all animals on Earth. The special thing the aliens had to grapple with when they started probing humans was that biology and habitat are not enough. They needed to abduct the cultural artifact symbionts that were co-evolving with us. That’s not something any other animal can lay claim to. The pieces of what we are can be found in our wet biology, the habitat, but also in the artifactual symbionts we have been co-evolving with.

Language-as-symbionts seems to be gradually catching on. It is a theme of Simon Kirby and George van Driem - as well as all the memeticists, of course.

This Podcast from Mark - mentions memes briefly.

I see that elsewhere Mark says:

My research suggests that language and music aren’t any more part of our biological identity than reading is. Counterintuitively, then, we aren’t “supposed” to be speaking and listening to music. They aren’t part of our “core” after all.
Er that isn't right! Check out babbling babies!

No comments:

Post a Comment