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I must apologise to everyone for not having responded in the last few days, but I’ve been away from home and found it hard to keep up with all the tangled threads on a mobile handset. But back at base now, let me make a few final points:

On the question of evolution and its relevance to homo sapiens, my main argument about language remains the same: that it is essentially a trick, not a trait. By which I mean it emerged as a simple technical advance – digitization – in the oral communication that we, like other animals, were already using. But the effects of that advance were so dramatic in terms of the ability to share and spread ideas, that it gave evolution a reason to select for intelligence in the homo genus over the course of the next several million years as we naturally branched into different types.

That’s not the conventional story, which still clings to the idea that some ‘super-mutation’ must have occurred (whether or not involving a cosmic quantum shift or mysterious expression of an archetype) as part of the otherwise unexplained growth in our brains, a mutation that somehow gave us the gift of language. There’s no practical or even theoretical evidence for that: it’s merely an assumption. But my argument is not only theoretically solid, it is founded on the facts.

For if we look at the actual form of language we can clearly see that at the level of words (and to a less obvious extent, grammar) its core structure is digital – a fact spectacularly confirmed by the success of speech recognition software and the kind of programmes that Susan uses to read with, which rely on that to work. My book takes that fact as a starting point, and attempts to show how everything else that makes us human follows naturally from that – the growth of vocabulary, the emergence of grammar, a social culture (enabled by the ability to talk), the development of religion and a sense of identity, and then the gradual evolution (for ‘evolution’ it is) of science.

That’s a lot to ask a single mutation of the brain to have delivered – and yet another reason to suspect that DNA is the wrong place to look for an explanation. But there’s something else too. Edmond referred at one point to consciousness being a ‘given’. My view is that we need to make a distinction between consciousness and awareness. Awareness is certainly a ‘given’ to the extent that all living things (and possibly inanimate things too; maybe iron ‘wants’ to rust…) are aware of their environment, and interact with it. But to the extent that it is unmediated by language, that interaction is largely instinctive, driven by immediate needs. What language does is to allow us to endlessly ‘tag’ our awareness with the distinctive and unique sounds we call words, and in the process of communication become aware that we are aware – ie conscious. I go into this in more detail in Chapter 4 of my book, as it is perhaps the greatest prize that language confers.

That’s a controversial topic to end on (although I’m quite willing to discuss it further!) as someone else will shortly be taking my place as the AOM. But I’d just like to thank everyone who’s contributed to the discussion for reading my article, taking the time to comment, and perhaps even buying the book! And of course, to extend my thanks to Graham for lending me the space on his platform. It’s a broad church, but we all gain from hearing other views.

With thanks and best wishes to all,

Simon

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Subject Views Written By Posted
Thanks, Simon 223 drrayeye 30-Sep-21 07:14
Re: Thanks, Simon 79 Simon Prentis 30-Sep-21 18:31
Re: Thanks, Simon 61 Eddie Larry 30-Sep-21 21:12
Re: Thanks, Simon 62 Simon Prentis 30-Sep-21 23:41
Re: Thanks, Simon 98 Susan Doris 01-Oct-21 05:25
Re: Thanks, Simon 107 Simon Prentis 01-Oct-21 09:51
Re: Thanks, Simon 59 Aine 04-Oct-21 21:10
Re: Thanks, Simon 98 Simon Prentis 04-Oct-21 23:24


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