Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why sea dwellers have less need for layers of abstraction

This post has been prompted by more thoughts connected to the book “The First Word,” by Kristine Kenneally, as well as the book “Evolutionary Consciousness” by Robert Ornstein.

What I've been thinking about are the considerations one might apply to understand why dolphins, who's brains are larger than ours, don't have the same degree of language that we have. This is probably not that new, but it certainly is a fresh perspective for me.

It boils down to only 4 broad categories:

  1. Movement in three dimensions within a gravity well.
  2. The differences in the ongoing physical variations between sea and land based environments.
  3. The differences in species food chain integration because of the first two categories.
  4. The fact that, also because of the first 3 above, you would have had no need, let alone ability, to create fire, or tools, in the first place.

Let's look at these one by one.

The first consideration is obviously significant when you think about it in terms of adaptation strategies concerning movement up and down, as well as forward and back, when gravity is a prominent factor. Not only do plant species have to be quite clever in the competition for light, as well as to get their seed more widely dispersed, animals have to be at least as clever in negotiating a landscape of these plant variations, as well as the other animals moving within the same arena.

One could well argue that the sensory integration with motor skills, in this context, would be greater than that required for simply thrusting through a medium where relative degrees of buoyancy more effectively counters gravity than air does. Certainly the processing required for echo location under water is significant, as signified by a dolphin's brain. In air, however, processing sight and sound, as well as integrating the more varied motor skills demanded by gravity, would not only be an absolute necessity, it would require its own uniquely capable processor; especially if the creature was ever to develop higher amounts of mass to allow for more strength, size (in the sense of height for better seeing distance), as well as a bigger brain.

Wings certainly have an inherent limit. Multiple legs have advantages and limits, especially when having flexibility for a wide range of environmental conditions are desired. Two legs and two arms, however, with feet that provide subtle balance and leaping abilities, as well as hands that can grasp, with arms that can lift or carry, is quite another matter.

This, in and of itself, would demand a brain with huge amounts of neuronal plasticity so that sensory data could be quickly approximated in one abstracted grouping, so that other groups could have set, very complex motor responses, at the ready for instant reactions.

The second consideration concerns how much continuous variation is a given in a land based, as opposed to a sea based, environment. In this do we see how boundaries that are always in flux will favor the species with the most adaptability. If you think about the explosion of brain size that occurred at about the time of homo erectus; creating a brain able to do so many things that hadn't even been invented yet, in the light of providing maximum plasticity for any combination of physical environments, and the specific sets of unique, neuronal abstractions each would require, perhaps its not so surprising after all.

This is where we can now segue into the third consideration. For it is here that, given the complexities of different, constantly changing, environments, that integrating successfully into whatever given food and risk situation that might be at hand, being able to address the problem with the coordinated action of a group would be undeniably advantageous. It also illustrates why higher orders of motor skills become quite beneficial; especially when you consider how throwing (the first utilization of ballistics) a rock might evolve into throwing a spear, as well as why we were suddenly able to think of making extensions of our faculties with tools in the first place. At that point, grasping, and having a handle on things began to explode. From there coordinated action, in league with ever more abstraction, would lead to task division, and skill specialization.

In all of this do we see the ever present layering of abstractions; first in the grouping of neuron connections to approximate sensory data into instantly recognized bits of experience. Experience that has been associated with set elements of fear, joy, or curiosity. These then access other neuron groupings that experience as has indicated as a successful motor response. Because we then start cooperating, shared experience is given a common reference; at first with gesture and primitive sounds, but with each generation passing things along, giving the benefit of experience already associated to the new generation, and they then building on from there, I don't see that much reason for surprise at all for why we ended up with a language ability that is as amazing as it is now.

The last consideration is simply a logical result of what we've already summed up to this point. As with tools, and extending our various physical faculties, there is no better metaphor for the idea of becoming an effector, and manipulator, of your environment than the mastery of fire. Would there have been alchemy, and then any kind of science, if we first didn't start lighting things up as it were? Would there have been the smelting of metals? Would there have been any kind of applied power beyond that of muscle?

The interesting thing in my mind that still begs a questioning mind is why all of this ended up with an entity so self aware, and contemplative. The individual point of perceptive reference that puts the sentient into consciousness. I'm pretty sure that it has to do with the creation of so many external boundaries that an inner sense of self, separated from everything external, was inevitable, but that's certainly only an opinion. It's an assertion that deserves a lot more observation and consideration.  

#Cosmolosophy #MyCosmosPhilosophy

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The difference between information and language

I have been reading a marvelous book by Christine Kenneally titled “The First Word.”

It was published back in 2007 and seeks to do an overview of linguistics that covers not only how it attempts to explain how language came about, but to do so via the main schools of thought represented by Noam Chompsky, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Steven Pinker and Philip Lieberman.

This is a well laid out, and easily read, contrasting account of how these different schools approached a very complex question. I encourage everyone to get a copy and read it. It is fascinating even if you don't have a deep interest in understanding how language and consciousness go together.

This first post concerning the book is not meant to be a full review by any means. Even if I had finished it now (which I haven't), I would feel hardly competent to pass anything more than a layman's view of how Ms. Kenneally's work here comes across. So far, in that context, it has been great.

What has prompted a Cosmolosophy post now is her explanation of Chompsky's Generative linguistics; it's ground breaking approach that broke language down to its barest skeletal essentials, which could be applied to any language no matter where it originated. What got me thinking here was his, at least initial, insistence that evolutionary adaptations in general were really not useful in considering how language developed. She does point out that he later suggested that language might have had a role to play in adaptive advantage, but that “...its origins were more likely to have been accidental than the result of slow evolutionary change...” (page 38).

This got me to thinking not only because I come from an information, and systems perspective, but also because I was influenced early on by the views of consciousness expressed by Robert Ornstein; especially in works like “The Nature of Human Consciousness” and “The Evolution of Consciousness.”

Especially in the latter book does he talk about the idea of idealized “simpletons;” environmentally determined neuronal organizations of the brain that took the starting slate of immense plasticity and formed useful approximations of various stimuli. Obviously, some of this had the input of lower brain inheritance, and the limbic system of emotional stimulus and response, but in large part what we're talking about here is “down and dirty” interpretations that occur before the conscious part of the mind is aware of them. And as homo erectus had, by this time, a fairly complex array of sensory apparatus in hearing, seeing, smelling, as well as the various tactile aspects of skin, hair and fingers, quickly interpreting external events had to have a lot of discriminatory weighting ability; something that had to be placed at a lower level of abstraction or else the higher reasoning layers would have been overwhelmed. Survival behaviors would have had no chance to develop because there would have been no such thing as “muscle memory.”

What I am trying to get at here is how objectification is essential in any meaning assessment system. Information is useless without this lower level abstraction. The question, however, becomes where does information utilization as a process of environmental interaction end, and the labeling of these abstractions begin; not only for transfer in social settings, but for the necessary further steps of abstraction to begin so that higher orders of concept manipulation can occur?

It seems to me that information, in and of itself, is not necessarily language. Language is certainly the abstraction of information, but is it an unavoidable consequence of social entities who have already undergone significant aspects of objectification? My sense is that this is indeed the case, and more to the point, that this successive layering of abstraction is also an absolute necessity for there to be what we think of as “sentient” in the concept of consciousness. For only in this language topped layering can there be any way for a singular sense of self to form; what is for me the singularity of a meaning processing system that allows for the unique point of reference that is as fundamental to cosmology as it is for healthy social systems.

#Cosmolosophy #MyCosmosPhilosophy