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Author Topic:   What makes homo sapiens "human"?
custard
Inactive Member


Message 46 of 125 (119818)
06-29-2004 2:37 AM
Reply to: Message 45 by crashfrog
06-29-2004 2:33 AM


hey, I added a link and excerpt to my previous post that covers this.
This message is a reply to:
 Message 45 by crashfrog, posted 06-29-2004 2:33 AM crashfrog has responded

Replies to this message:
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pink sasquatch
Member (Idle past 2466 days)
Posts: 1567
Joined: 06-10-2004


Message 47 of 125 (119819)
06-29-2004 2:40 AM
Reply to: Message 43 by custard
06-29-2004 2:20 AM


No offense, but re-read the article.

No offense taken, since I'm not sure what article you are referring to here (and doubt that I read it once).

As for the death argument, yeah, I hear that all the time. I hear it about cats and dogs too.

Right, but cats and dogs don't produce sign language to spontaneously discuss their deceased acquaintances.

Chicken Soup for Your Pet's Soul stories aren't convincing...

I would like to state for the record that I never have, and never will, read a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. (I did cite "Wild Minds" and "Next of Kin", both written by PhDs, the first an animal behaviorist, the second a primatologist - I'm not sure if you relegate those to Chicken Soup city or not...)

Anyway, here's a peer-reviewed article on child vs. chimp language:


Comparing communicative competence in child and chimp: the pragmatics of repetition.
Greenfield PM, Savage-Rumbaugh ES.
J Child Lang. 1993 Feb;20(1):1-26.

Through an analysis of chimpanzee-human discourse, we show that two Pan troglodytes chimpanzees and two Pan paniscus chimpanzees (bonobos) exposed to a humanly devised symbol system use partial or complete repetition of others' symbols, as children do: they do not produce rote imitations, but instead use repetition to fulfil a variety of pragmatic functions in discourse. These functions include agreement, request, promise, excitement, and selection from alternatives. In so doing, the chimpanzees demonstrate contingent turn-taking and the use of simple devices for lexical cohesion. In short, they demonstrate conversational competence...

Basically the apes are capable of conversation, though they repeat themselves much like two-year olds. Also, the study states that the length of ape statements are about half as long as human statements in the conversation.


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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 48 of 125 (119820)
06-29-2004 2:56 AM
Reply to: Message 44 by custard
06-29-2004 2:21 AM


Abstract thought would be if your cat understood what it meant to be 'fluffy' not that the other cat who lives in this house is called 'fluffy.'

Or, say, what it meant to have color? Or what it meant to be a number? That sort of thought?

quote:
Dr. Pepperberg, listing Alex's accomplishments, said he could identify 50 different objects and recognize quantities up to 6; that he could distinguish 7 colors and 5 shapes, and understand "bigger," "smaller," "same" and "different," and that he was learning the concepts of "over" and "under." Hold a tray of different shapes and colored objects in front of him, as Dr. Pepperberg was doing the other day as a reporter watched, and he can distinguish an object by its color, shape and the material it is made of. (Dr. Pepperberg said she frequently changed objects to make sure Alex wasn't just memorizing things and that she structured experiments to avoid involuntary cues from his examiner).

from http://www.123compute.net/dreaming/knocking/alex.html

Learning to recognize relationships between objects, like "over" or "under", and apply them to different objects, is abstract thought.

I'm not saying that Alex the Parrot settles the issue. But to simply dismiss the evidence because you don't like the outcome is just plain bad science.


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 Message 44 by custard, posted 06-29-2004 2:21 AM custard has responded

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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 49 of 125 (119821)
06-29-2004 2:59 AM
Reply to: Message 46 by custard
06-29-2004 2:37 AM


Alex the parrot knows what things are made of. He can count.

The recognition that "peach" is a kind of "fruit" is thinking in sets (ala the peach is a member of the set "fruit", while "table" is not). Alex the parrot can think in sets.

Again you haven't presented an example of anything that is fundamentally different than what animals can do.


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custard
Inactive Member


Message 50 of 125 (119831)
06-29-2004 3:41 AM
Reply to: Message 48 by crashfrog
06-29-2004 2:56 AM


Or, say, what it meant to have color? Or what it meant to be a number? That sort of thought?

No. Look, I'm not explaining myself well. Yes, animals can count, but they have trouble with concepts like 'six is more than four.' They don't understand why six is more. Even apes have problems with concepts regarding time and cause and effect such as 'if I do this now, I'll get a reward for it tomorrow.'

Learning to recognize relationships between objects, like "over" or "under", and apply them to different objects, is abstract thought.

No it isn't. That is simply the animal's physical relation to the real world. 'Abstractnessí does not deal with the physical world. It's a concept in which one does not take in account a specific value, but any of all possible values related to whatever one is dealing with.

The concept of 'fruit' is an abstraction.
Ask a chimp 'what is fruit?' and you won't get a meaningful answer. Like petitbone said, the apes can identify a pear, but they don't understand why it is a type of fruit.

I'm not saying that Alex the Parrot settles the issue. But to simply dismiss the evidence because you don't like the outcome is just plain bad science.

If you provided better evidence that would help. You neglect the actual, and valid, criticism of your own evidence.

From the same article you just cited in http://www.123compute.net/dreaming/knocking/alex.html:

It shows Alex is a smart bird," he said. But if you take away Alex's ability to vocalize in a way that seems human, he went on, it would not seem as impressive: "The words are responses, are not language."

So no, you haven't really presented any convincing evidence at all. In both cases, the body of the articles you cite explain how the animals are not really using language. At best you could say they use elements of language - but that is not the same thing.

Here, check this out.

From wikipedia:


These are the properties of human language that are argued to separate it from animal communication:

'Arbitrariness:' There is no relationship between a sound or sign and its meaning.

'Cultural transmission:' Language is passed from one language user to the next, consciously or unconsciously.

'Discreteness:' Language is composed of discrete units that are used in combination to create meaning.

'Displacement:' Languages can be used to communicate ideas about things that are not in the immediate vicinity either spatially or temporally.

'Duality:' Language works on two levels at once, a surface level and a semantic (meaningful) level.

'Metalinguistics:' Ability to discuss language itself.

'Productivity:' A finite number of units can be used to create an infinite number of ideas.(some say this dosn't happen in human language)

Research with apes, such as the research Francine Patterson has done with Koko, suggests the apes are be capable of using language that meets some of these requirements. Koko's achievements were with a human language that she was taught, so her example only shows that apes are capable of using "language" but not that they are necessarily capable of inventing one on their own.

Arbitrariness has been noted in meerkat calls; bee dances show elements of spatial displacement; and cultural transmission has occurred with the offspring of many of the great apes who have been taught sign languages, the celebrated bonobos Kanzi and Panbanisha being examples. However, these single features alone do not qualify such instances of communication as being true language.

I will say that you and pink (and the data I've found during this discussion) have managed to convince me that animals are capable of using elements of language, but I stand by my contention that comparing this to actual language is the same thing as comparing a termite stick to a suspension bridge: The gulf between them is so large that I do not think they are in the same class.

I'll refer you once again to the Noam Chomsky quote:

"Humans can fly about 30 feet -- that's what they do in the Olympics," he said in an interview. "Is that flying?

Is it?

(good discussion btw guys, I've learned some good stuff)

This message has been edited by custard, 06-29-2004 02:46 AM


This message is a reply to:
 Message 48 by crashfrog, posted 06-29-2004 2:56 AM crashfrog has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 51 by crashfrog, posted 06-29-2004 3:55 AM custard has responded
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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 51 of 125 (119833)
06-29-2004 3:55 AM
Reply to: Message 50 by custard
06-29-2004 3:41 AM


Even apes have problems with concepts reagarding time and cause and effect such as 'if I do this now, I'll get a reward for it tomorrow.'

Well, most people have a problem with that concept, which suggests to me that that's a complex situation of abstract reasoning, not the simplest fundamental case of it. I'm not saying that animals have a human-scale ability to address abstract concepts. I'm saying that fundamentally, there is no barrier to an animal communicating and thinking about abstract concepts.

Look, if you raise a human without language, they have exactly the same problems with abstraction that you've described. That suggests to me that the crucial factor is language exposure, not some "organ of abstraction" found in the human brain.

No it isn't.

Yes, it is. Relationships are abstraction. Disagree? Show me under. Not something under something else. Just under.

The ability to generalize a relationship from a specific arrangement of objects is abstraction.

If you provided better evidence that would help. You neglect the actual, and valid, criticism of your own evidence.

Dr. Terrence makes claims in the article but no support is given. I wouldn't consider that valid criticism.

At best you could say they use elements of language - but that is not the same thing.

Oh, right. They use the elements of language, in the way that language is used and for the same purpose that language is used, but they're not using language, because we know animals don't use language.

Absolutely, perfectly circular. You claim that animals can't use language, and you rebut each counterexample as mere imitation of language, which you're able to conclude because you know animals don't use language.

Is it?

Humans can get into an airplane and fly across the globe. The same principle lifts birds into the air. Are those the same thing? Of course not. Are they fundamentally the same kind of flight? They are indeed.

Oh, were you ever going to explain to me how I know anybody but me actually uses language, and not simply its elements? I'm not asking that to be an asshole or tell you you don't know how to speak. I'm trying to see what you believe the fundamental difference is between using "genuine" language and simply its exact elements, grammar, and context.

This message has been edited by crashfrog, 06-29-2004 02:57 AM


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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custard
Inactive Member


Message 52 of 125 (119841)
06-29-2004 4:25 AM
Reply to: Message 51 by crashfrog
06-29-2004 3:55 AM


Dr. Terrence makes claims in the article but no support is given. I wouldn't consider that valid criticism.

What support is needed? He just described what the bird was doing. Of course that is valid criticism. Because you don't agree with him doesn't make it less valid, it just means you don't agree.

Yes, it {under} is. Relationships are abstraction. Disagree? Show me under. Not something under something else. Just under.

You are making my point for me. The concept 'under' is an abstraction. Now show me where Alex demonstrated he knew what the concept 'under' means and that he is not simply responding to a command.

I have taught my dog 'on your blanket,' and he'll go sit on his blanket, but he has no comprehension of the concept 'on.' Please show me where there is any indication that Alex is doing something different than what I have described. You can't. All the article said was that Alex

quote:
was learning the concepts of "over" and "under."
What the hell does that mean? That's not evidence.

Oh, right. They use the elements of language, in the way that language is used and for the same purpose that language is used, but they're not using language, because we know animals don't use language.

Dude, I never said 'I know animals don't use language,' I said I have yet to see compelling evidence that they use language.

And yes, frankly, if the definition of language is such that something must fulfill all, not one, not a few, but all of the criteria to be considered language, then something that does not fulfill all of said criteria is not language. It might be similar to language, it might contain elements of language, but it is not the same as language. Communication does not equal language.

I'm not equivocating - you seem to think I am - because I have no vested interested in maintaining human 'superiority' over animals. If the definition of something is that it meets 100% of the criteria, then anything that is 50% is not the same thing.

That is why birdsong is not 'language.' That is why bee dances are not 'language.' Are you arguing that if a form of communication uses any element of language, then it is considered language? Bee dances and Shakespeare are actually comparable?

I'm trying to see what you believe the fundamental difference is between using "genuine" language and simply its exact elements, grammar, and context.

But dude, that's one of the main criticisms animal language proponents keep bumping into: animals do not use all the exact same elements. And as for grammar and syntax, which many linguists consider key components of what comprises language, animals have yet to successfully demonstrate this ability.

This message has been edited by custard, 06-29-2004 03:34 AM


This message is a reply to:
 Message 51 by crashfrog, posted 06-29-2004 3:55 AM crashfrog has responded

Replies to this message:
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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 53 of 125 (119843)
06-29-2004 4:45 AM
Reply to: Message 52 by custard
06-29-2004 4:25 AM


What support is needed? He just described what the bird was doing.

No, he described what the bird was thinking (or rather what it was not thinking). The article desacribes what the bird was doing - assigning the right number to objects presented to it, making the right noise according to the material.

But making an assertion about what's going on in the bird's head when he's doing that is a claim that requires some proof, and none was provided in the article. It's not a great article for either side, but it's an example of a bird doing things that you said it couldn't - give right answers when interrogated about abstract concepts.

The concept 'under' is an abstraction.

Well, I'm glad you agree, but it sort of confused me when we had this exchange:

Learning to recognize relationships between objects, like "over" or "under", and apply them to different objects, is abstract thought.

No it isn't.

I have taught my dog 'on your blanket,' and he'll go sit on his blanket, but he has no comprehension of the concept 'on.'

No, of course it's not. But if an animal could accurately report which objects were on the other objects, for any conciveable object, that would be a conception of "on".

Just like how I know you know what "on" means; you're able to recognize an "on" relationship regardless of which specific objects are used.

I said I have yet to see compelling evidence that they use language.

And I did say that the matter is far from settled. But there is very suggestive evidence that animals are capable of rudimentary abstraction. Certainly nothing on a human scale. But enough to suggest, along the evidence of humans who can't use abstraction, that abstractive ability is not the unique ability of the human brain. Certainly the proficiency is. But the ability itself is not.

I have no vested interested in maintaining human 'superiority' over animals.

And I have no vested interest in rebutting such a claim. But the claim was made that there was no evidence for abstract thought in animals, and that claim is false. There is evidence.

Bee dances and Shakespeare are actually comparable?

Shakspeare contains abstraction. Bee dances contain abstraction. In that sense, yes, they are comparable.

On the other hand, bee dancing isn't the world's most versatile language. Since it's only capable of making two abstractions (heading and distance), I wouldn't suggest bees have the ability to learn any other languages. (Bees don't even have brains, exactly - they have neural ganglia.)

And as for grammar and syntax, which many linguists consider key components of what comprises language, animals have yet to successfully demonstrate this ability.

Well, are you saying that they have to be perfect at it in order to be considered capable of it? Are you saying that, when I encounter a person with less than perfect grammar (as I so often do in my job) that I should consider them not a speaker of a language but simply a master of its appearace?

You still haven't told me how I'm supposed to know you're really using language, by the way.

Look, let me ask you this. If language was such a fundamental and unique component of the human brain, how is it that you can have a human without language? Why is it that if developing humans "miss out" on language development at an early age - the age that much of the brain structures itself - they never achieve language proficiency better than that we see in these chimpanzees?

This message has been edited by crashfrog, 06-29-2004 03:48 AM


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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custard
Inactive Member


Message 54 of 125 (119849)
06-29-2004 5:30 AM
Reply to: Message 53 by crashfrog
06-29-2004 4:45 AM


No, he described what the bird was thinking (or rather what it was not thinking).

I think you are splitting hairs here. He was asked, based on the bird's behavior, if it demonstrated the ability to think:

[quote]
But is Alex thinking? "I would say minimally," Dr. Terrace responded. "In every situation, there is an external stimulus that guides his response." Thought, he said, involves the ability to process information that is not right in front of you.

"It shows Alex is a smart bird," he said. But if you take away Alex's ability to vocalize in a way that seems human, he went on, it would not seem as impressive: "The words are responses, are not language."
[/qs]

Secondly, and I can't believe I missed this, even Dr. Pepperberg HERSELF says the bird isn't using language!

quote:
Dr. Pepperberg refuses to call Alex's vocalizations "language." "I avoid the language issue," she said. "I'm not making claims. His behavior gets more and more advanced, but I don't believe years from now you could interview him." She continued: "What little syntax he has is very simplistic. Language is what you and I are doing, an incredibly complex form of communication."

Funny that you ascribe linguistic abilities to the animal that its trainer won't even venture. But then, you go on to state that bees communicate using language.

Shakspeare contains abstraction. Bee dances contain abstraction. In that sense, yes, they are comparable.

On the other hand, bee dancing isn't the world's most versatile language.

You are either ignoring ,or just don't agree with, the definition of language I presented. Saying bees have language pretty much puts you in the position that almost any kind of communication is language.

I could not disagree with you more in this regard, and in my opinion I have presented enough evidence for why I do not agree with you.

Well, are you saying that they have to be perfect at it in order to be considered capable of it? Are you saying that, when I encounter a person with less than perfect grammar (as I so often do in my job) that I should consider them not a speaker of a language but simply a master of its appearace?

You are confusing being able to understand grammar and syntax, with its application.

Look, let me ask you this. If language was such a fundamental and unique component of the human brain, how is it that you can have a human without language?

I don't recall making that claim.

Why is it that if developing humans "miss out" on language development at an early age - the age that much of the brain structures itself - they never achieve language proficiency better than that we see in these chimpanzees?

Well, before I respond, let me remind you that I challenged you to present evidence to support this claim the first time you made it. What evidence do you have, or have you at least seen, that supports this position?

I read something tonight that referred to children who were not exposed to language early on had difficulty being able to master 'normal' language, but it didn't describe what 'normal' was, and it certainly didn't compare them to chimpanzees.

This message has been edited by custard, 06-29-2004 04:40 AM


This message is a reply to:
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Mr Jack
Member (Idle past 368 days)
Posts: 3475
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 55 of 125 (119850)
06-29-2004 5:39 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by Lam
06-28-2004 12:55 PM


Based on this logic, I can claim that there is some exceedingly poor evidence that Americans (or English native speakers) cannot be taught Vietnamese and speak it the way that will make us Vietnamese understand. Therefore, I conclude that you don't really speak a language at all.

Don't be absurd. I said the evidence from the chimps wasn't evidence that they speak language, not that it was evidence they don't.

The point is we haven't broken any code that the whales use or the elephants use. The whales could easily say to each other that humans lack language because there is little evidence that any human being at all could learn whale.

Whale song, elephant vocalisations and dolphin noises can all be analysed, looking for syntactic patterns and data density. They don't have the patterns, complexity or data density that are (apparently) needed for language. All human languages do.


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Mr Jack
Member (Idle past 368 days)
Posts: 3475
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 56 of 125 (119851)
06-29-2004 5:43 AM
Reply to: Message 13 by pink sasquatch
06-28-2004 1:07 PM


How would humans accomplish those things (expressing emotion, organizing a hunting party) without "language"? I'm guessing you mean through such things as facial expressions and gestures - which is language.

Rubbish. How would you communicate in a non-ambiguous way 'the cat sat on the purple hat last tuesday when it was raining' using just facial expressions and gestures? Assuming I don't know sign language that is.

Just ask anyone whose first language is American Sign Language (considered by many to be far more expressive than spoken English).

Sign language is not equivalent or comparible to simple facial expressions or gestures.

I feel like you are also contradicting yourself by commenting that animals have "a short vocabulary," since you can't have vocabulary without language; and again, that is only the vocabulary that humans have deciphered.

Vocabulary may not be the best word. Repotoire perhaps? The point remains, the have a few calls which carry different meanings. These meanings cannot be combined in a combinatorial fashion; i.e. not language.


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Mr Jack
Member (Idle past 368 days)
Posts: 3475
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 57 of 125 (119852)
06-29-2004 5:45 AM
Reply to: Message 14 by jar
06-28-2004 1:15 PM


However there are some very clear examples that wild chimps use planning, spatial awareness, time sense and communication during a hunt.

Yes, animals are capable of impressive feats. And some impressive examples of communication - however, the level of communication involved even in chimp hunts is tiny compared to the level of communication that is going on just in the debate. Still not language.


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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 58 of 125 (119853)
06-29-2004 5:46 AM
Reply to: Message 54 by custard
06-29-2004 5:30 AM


I could not disagree with you more in this regard.

Well, maybe it's not "language" in the strictest sense, but it is abstraction, and I thought that was the topic under discussion.

You are confusing being able to understand grammar and syntax, with actually applying them.

Ok, well, help me with my confusion. For instance I have no idea how that statement applies to our discussion.

Well, before I respond, let me remind you that I challenged you to present evidence to support this claim the first time you made it. What evidence do you have, or have you at least seen, that supports this position?

The phenomenon of children raised without language. Here's a link with much information. I found it quite informative the last time I looked at it:

http://www.feralchildren.com/en/index.php

I read something tonight that referred to children who were not exposed to language early on had difficulty being able to master 'normal' language, but it didn't describe what 'normal' was, and it certainly didn't compare them to chimpanzees.

Why would it? A) That comparison would be spectacularly inconsiderate; and B) The chimpanzees able to do the things we were talking about were raised under some pretty exceptional conditions. It is not the habit of wild chimpanzees to think abstractly to the degree they have been observed to do in these experiments.

But, from that page:

quote:
It seems that Victor of Aveyron was eventually able to respond to some spoken commands, although to what extent he was genuinely understanding the language we don't know. He never spoke.

quote:
Kaspar Hauser was visited by the Feuerbach in July 1828, who reported on his linguistic abilities. He said that conjunctions, participles, and adverbs were virtually entirely lacking in his speech, and that his syntax was seriously deficient.

quote:
Even if they've missed out on the critical period for language acquisition (such as Genie), feral children can be taught a few words, and very simple grammatical constructions.

That sounds to me very much like the communication developments described in the chimp examples, don't you think? Now, there's the possibilty also that the language difficulty stems not from missing language acquisition during a critical period but from the severe physiological and psychological trauma of a feral development. But the similarity is striking.


This message is a reply to:
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custard
Inactive Member


Message 59 of 125 (119854)
06-29-2004 5:50 AM
Reply to: Message 51 by crashfrog
06-29-2004 3:55 AM


forgot about this
Humans can get into an airplane and fly across the globe. The same principle lifts birds into the air. Are those the same thing? Of course not. Are they fundamentally the same kind of flight? They are indeed.

No they are not. The man is not flying, the airplane is. It is not a subtle distinction. Putting a person, a horse, or a toaster on an airplane does not imbue it with the ability to fly.


This message is a reply to:
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custard
Inactive Member


Message 60 of 125 (119856)
06-29-2004 5:54 AM
Reply to: Message 58 by crashfrog
06-29-2004 5:46 AM


That sounds to me very much like the communication developments described in the chimp examples, don't you think?

At first glance I agree. And not to belabor the point, but to make a real comparison, I would have to see juxtaposed examples of what they consider 'simple grammar' for a feral child and what the ape langauge researchers would consider 'simple grammar' for an ape.

It's too easy to read what you want (either way) from such a paucity of data.


This message is a reply to:
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