Monday, May 26, 2014

Nicholas Wade on the development of language

Nicholas Wade, in The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and why it Endures, wrote

“The human form has undergone extraordinary changes since its lineage split from that of chimpanzees some 5 to 6 million years ago. Our brain tripled in size, our body hair was shed, we downsized our teeth, shriveled our gut and gained a fine facial appendage for conserving moisture in dry climates—the nose.

“Equally radical and transformative, though less well appreciated, have been the changes in human social behavior. In the societies of our apelike forebears, coordination was achieved relatively simply, through a strict hierarchy dominated by the alpha male. Hunter gatherer societies are organized on a very different principle— they are completely egalitarian. It was during the transition from male dominance to egalitarianism that religious behavior emerged.

“Many other social innovations developed in the human lineage as this new species, driven by the increasing intellectual capacity of its individuals, experimented with one novel mechanism after another for communicating among members of a group and governing the interactions among them. The surprising gift of music appeared in the repertoire of human faculties. Even more remarkable was language, a wholly novel system for conveying precise thoughts from one individual’s mind to that of another.” [Kindle Locations 662-672]

Comment: I am ready to accept or at least be open to the early part of what Wade writes, but fell into a coughing fit during his last sentence, “conveying precise thoughts”???? Has he never been married? Has he never been in a discussion forum on any subject? Has he never read Gadamer or any of the other philosophers who describe the difficulty of communicating, or, if I recover sufficiently from my coughing fit and read on, will he define “precise” in some new way I’ve never thought of?

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