Saturday, December 26, 2015


Hominin model.

Every line of thought, just like every bodily physical development, is capable of evolving through changes that confer an advantage of some kind or reach back to empower some previous change.  Then that changes the future.

The brain’s "big-jump" ability that Clive Gamble proposes as the trigger for the modern hominin is the formation of the “screen” of the brain that lets the person form concepts through the use of the senses to make metaphors from experience.  The screen is closely related to the “working platform” where all sensory information comes together and decisions allow action that fits the world.

It seems very likely that animals, esp mammals, have working platforms and screens.  This may be part of the “theory of mind” skill — knowing what others are thinking and acting on for purposes of predation and protection.  In humans this ability emerges at about age three which is about the time a child begins to feed itself.  Evidently it is an ability “called out” through interaction with parents, or at least adults, as part of what we call learning.

These developments allowed the invention of speech, often impelled by “emotions” which are sensory reports to the working platform that convey over-all mood, the kind of thing collected and created by the autonomic nervous system which monitors the viscera and interacts with the molecular blood and other fluids, coordinating the whole body through variations in circulating fluids.  These molecules include enzymes, hormones, and a plethora of homeostatic controls of things like glucose, cortisol, salt, adrenaline, pheromones and so on.  Being able to speak greatly improves the ability to get the mammalian emotions into sync with one’s companions.  (Remember that women in the same household will unconsciously synchronize their menstrual cycles, evidently through hormones circulating in the air, the same ones circulating in their bodies.)

Chimps marching to war.

Getting persons linked through sharing moods and actions means that there is a major increase in their power.  Recall the image of the line of chimps who have somehow felt the trigger for war and predation and therefore march off single file to attack another band.  Singing is a powerful use of this kind of speech, but doesn’t require words, just synchrony.  Consider coyotes, whales, birds and so on.  Even speech has a melody pattern in it, often quite different from one country to another.  In fact, language is a “niche” skill, only understandable among a group always interacting and sharing an ecology.  (No need for an 
Inuit to have a word for bananas.)  It’s likely that grammar emerges from the melody and word patterns of music, particularly poetry which was often sung with an instrument.

The greater the intensity of visceral involvement, the greater the sensitivity to the melody of words, the broader the experience of an ecological niche or several of them plus experience in them, the more skill there is in the ability to say things.  This is called being “verbal.”  These are “emergent” skills which require participation in a group and interaction — being heard and understood.  Feminists used to talk about “listening the stories out of each other.”  It is the careful attention and understanding of others that complete speaking, sometimes even enable it.  Of course, doing that makes the listener more verbal by extending experience to include at least some of the speaker’s world.

"Writing" is dependent on the spoken word, an emergent skill that includes all the demands of speaking plus the mechanical skill of making sequences of marks that can be interpreted by others.  It is a symbol system that uses the same relationships as verbal sounds, but in terms of marks.  In more developed stages, it can be done on the “working platform” of the brain or something very close to being like that.  A screen that becomes permeable allows silent reading.

Writing as marks can be elegantly produced, which is why some cultures emphasize beautiful handwriting.  But they must be standardized to some degree, and therefore can be marks that machines can make, using a keyboard letter-by-letter or even translating sound words to written words.

Writing means that speech can be saved on paper or sent via paper and all the variations and interactions of those acts.  They make legal records, treaties and laws, and other unchanging records of agreements or Holy Books that give cultures muscle and permanence.  It is a HUGE advantage that still hurts cultures like reservation dwellers whose own language education system doesn’t include skill in writing — only in speaking.  One of the problems of those saving the tribal languages is that there's very little to read.

Another emergent point is happening right now.  Today concepts in images might or might not include speech, song, writing, or all other sound or visual codes and systems.  A writer might be something called a “meaning maker” and might be nimble and resourceful enough to escape one niche of shared code into a deeper and more universal system of meaning. A screened sequence like a movie might be understood (once the convention of a flat representation is accepted) and be meaningful to everyone from physicists in Italy to urban ghetto teenagers in China to small-band aboriginals in Australia.  A meaning maker would speak to all of them and be heard.  How can they call out the stories they want and value?  Appreciative feedback, the same as reading and listening.

Real “meaning making” is a loop that includes both input and output, matching them to each other in order to produce a homeostasis of flow, avoiding both banks of meaninglessness — too much and too little.  “Depth” might be something like the vertical dimension, the interplay of the layers of means and meaning.

All this is abstract in meaning but concrete in means.  The abstract concept part is visceral, “felt.”  It depends upon experience well-digested, usually in a community — though the community might be mental representations, even drawn from a written text like a novel.  A culture is what supports and guides all this, right back to the level of sensory abilities in an infant and on up through these levels in a recapitulation of culture rather like the recapitulation of the embryo repeating evolution.

Many people try to “correct” writing and speaking in order to make it conform to niche culture expectations.  This is much like the impulse to control evolution, maybe by altering gene code to what the outside force wants, but it leads to death.  Correctness is only useful so long as it’s necessary to provide meaning.  If words are misspelled badly enough, the reader can’t tell what the word is.  But if it is misspelled to convey some meaning, and it succeeds, then it has evolved.  Cross-fertilizing different culture niche meanings can create a NEW and more powerful meaning because it begins to borrow metaphor, one of the basic thought functions.  In general, the more basic speaking or writing is, the more powerfully meaningful.  Sometimes it is meaningful to be meaningless, in the way that a journal that suddenly skips a week suggests something surprising and significant.  Maybe catastrophic.

Technical codes, like the transmission of letters to make words, must be accurate — at least that is a value.  Numbers require precision.  But those values, significant for people doing computer coding, can destroy irregularities of speech and writing that are meaningful.  To impose the values of one onto another might possibly be meaningful, but more likely not.  Convention, conformity, repetition, the valuing of previous generations of meaning at the expense of the present are useful in the right place.  Limited.

Writing in a computer niche (platform) context is risky.  It requires two languages that contradict each other.  But this is the sort of situation that encourages mutation and evolution.  Automatic spelling correction can be frustrating but it can also accidentally create new meanings of some accuracy and surprise, like typos.  That is very rare.

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