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More Than Nature Needs: Language, Mind, and Evolution [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Derek Bickerton

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7. Januar 2014
The human mind is an unlikely evolutionary adaptation. How did humans acquire cognitive capacities far more powerful than anything a hunting-and-gathering primate needed to survive? Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder with Darwin of evolutionary theory, saw humans as "divine exceptions" to natural selection. Darwin thought use of language might have shaped our sophisticated brains, but his hypothesis remained an intriguing guess--until now. Combining state-of-the-art research with forty years of writing and thinking about language evolution, Derek Bickerton convincingly resolves a crucial problem that both biology and the cognitive sciences have hitherto ignored or evaded. What evolved first was neither language nor intelligence--merely normal animal communication plus displacement. That was enough to break restrictions on both thought and communication that bound all other animals. The brain self-organized to store and automatically process its new input, words. But words, which are inextricably linked to the concepts they represent, had to be accessible to consciousness. The inevitable consequence was a cognitive engine able to voluntarily merge both thoughts and words into meaningful combinations. Only in a third phase could language emerge, as humans began to tinker with a medium that, when used for communication, was adequate for speakers but suboptimal for hearers. Starting from humankind's remotest past, "More than Nature Needs "transcends nativist thesis and empiricist antithesis by presenting a revolutionary synthesis--one that instead of merely repeating "nature and nurture" cliches shows specifically and in a principled manner how and why the synthesis came about."

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Wide-ranging A novel inquiry into the evolution of language Deeply thought-provoking Highly stimulating.--Stephen Levinson"Science" (06/27/2014)"

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Origin and evolution of language and thought 4. März 2014
Von Michael Studdert-Kennedy - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Bickerton is the first writer on the topic to recognize that every evolutionary change answers a specific need and then to seek a likely early hominid need to which a crucial property of language, displaced reference, might have been the answer. The need he finds is recruitment of fellow hominins to cooperate in butchery and in fending off rival scavengers of dead megafauna, beginning in east Africa some 2 million years ago. He is also the first to follow Ernst Mayr's dictum, "Behavior [is] the pacemaker of evolutionary change", through to recognition that behavior builds brains, not vice versa. From recruitment cries and gestures arose the first signs or "words" of displaced reference. So began the process of neural reorganization and brain self-organization,filtered through natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years, by which human ancestors freed themselves from the "here and now" and came to possess words, symbols,concepts, leading not only to language, but also to an independent capacity for conceptual thought. Finally, Bickerton is also the first to propose a stripped down universal grammar -- essentially a capacity to form phrases and clauses by a variant of Chomsky's Merge -- that might have evolved before the diaspora out of Africa, affording an innate armature around which readily learnable morphologic and syntactic forms might grow in diverse human communities. In short, this is the most deeply thought, rigorously argued, empirically driven explanation of the immense cognitive gap ("More Than Nature Needs") that separates humans from other apes, a work of which all future work in the field will have to take account.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Intriguing hypotheses on the origins of language, compellingly presented 9. Juni 2014
Von Benjamin Goertzel - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
I've been a fan of Derek Bickerton's writing and thinking on linguistics since happening upon Language and Species in a Philadelphia bookstore, disturbingly many decades ago. More Than Nature Needs, the latest addition to Bickerton's canon, is an intriguing and worthy one, and IMO is considerably deeper than its predecessor Adam's Tongue.

Adam's Tongue argues that the elements of human symbolic language likely emerged via scavenging behavior, as this was an early case in which early humans would have needed to systematically refer to situations not within the common physical enviroment of the speaker and hearer. This is an interesting speculation, showcasing Bickerton's inventiveness as a lateral thinker. MTNN continues in this vein, exploring the ways in which language may have emerged from simplistic proto-language. However, MTNN draws more extensively on Bickerton's expertise as a linguist, and hence ends up being more profoundly thought-provoking and incisive.

As I see it, the core point of MTNN -- rephrased into my own terminology somewhat -- is that the developmental trajectory from proto-language to fully grammatical, proper language should be viewed as a combination of natural-selection and cultural/psychological self-organization. To simplify a bit: Natural selection gave humans the core of language, the abstract "universal grammar" (UG) which underlies all human languages and is in some way wired into the brain; whereas cultural/psychological self-organization took us the rest of the way from universal grammar to actual specific languages.

The early stages of the book spend a bunch of time arguing against a purely learning-oriented view of language organization, stressing the case that some sort of innate, evolved universal grammar capability does exist. But the UG Bickerton favors is a long way from classic-Chomskian Principles and Parameters -- it is more of an abstract set of word-organization patterns, which requires lots of individual and cultural creativity to get turned into a language.

I suspect the view he presents is basically correct. I am not sure it's quite as novel as the author proposes; a review in Biolinguistics cites some literature where others present similar perspectives. In a broader sense, the mix of selection-based and self-organization-based ideas reminded me of the good old cognitive science book Rethinking Innateness (and lots of other stuff written in that same vein since). However, Bickerton presents his ideas far more accessibly and entertainingly than the typical academic paper, and provides interesting stories and specifics going along with the abstractions.

He also bolsters his perspective via relating it to the study of creoles and pidgins, an area in which he has done extensive linguistics research over many decades. He presents an intriguing argument that children can create a creole (a true language) in a single generation, building on the pidgins used by their parents and the other adults around them. I can't assess this aspect of his argument carefully, as I'm not much of a creologist (creologian??), but it's fascinating to read. There is ingenuity in the general approach of investigating creole language formation as a set of examples of recent-past language creation.

The specific linguistics examples in the book are given in a variant of Chomskian linguistics (i.e. generative grammar), in which a deep and surface structure are distinguished, and it's assumed that grammar involves "moving" of words from their positions in the deep structure to their new positions in the surface structure. Here I tend to differ from Bickerton. Ray Jackendoff and others have made heroic efforts to modernize generative grammar and connect it with cognitive science and neuroscience, but in the end, I'm still not convinced it's a great paradigm for linguistic analysis. I much more favor Dick Hudson's Word Grammar approach to grammatical formalization (which will not be surprising to anyone familiar with my work, as Word Grammar's theory of cognitive linguistics is similar to aspects of the OpenCog AGI architecture that I am now helping develop; and Word Grammar is fairly similar to the link grammar that is currently used within OpenCog).

Word Grammar also has a deep vs. surface structure dichotomy - but the deep structure is a sort of semantic graph. In a Word Grammar version of the core hypothesis of MTNN, the evolved UG would be a semantic graph framework for organizing words and concepts, plus a few basic constraints for linearizing graphs into series of words (e.g. landmark transitivity, for the 3 Word Grammar geeks reading this). But the lexicon, along with various other particular linearization constraints dealing with odd cases, would emerge culturally and be learned by individuals.

(If I were rich and had more free time, I'd organize some sort of linguistics pow-wow on one of my private islands, and invite Bickerton and Hudson to brainstorm together with me for a few weeks; as I really think Word Grammar would suit Bickerton's psycholinguistic perspective much better than the quasi-Chomskian approach he now favors.)

But anyhow, stepping back from deep-dive scientific quibbles: I think MTNN is very well worth reading for anyone interested in language and its evolution. Some of the technical bits will be slow going for readers unfamiliar with technical linguistics -- but this is only a small percentage of the book, and most of it reads very smoothly and entertainingly in the classic Derek Bickerton style. Soo ... highly recommended!
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5.0 von 5 Sternen An exciting and valuable contribution 4. März 2014
Von Chauncey J. Mellor - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
After two readings of More than Nature Needs, I can state without qualification that my pleasure in it has been immense. I particularly value Derek Bickerton's incorporating a range of relevant fields from paleontology, developmental biology, ecology, animal behavior , as well as language and linguistics into a more cohesive, coherent and structured argument for the origin of language. His careful presentation of evidence for, as well as objections to, his proposals evidence a sound awareness of the tentativeness of all scientific endeavor-in-process. The book is incisively written and argued with exquisite attention to crucial details in language origin and development. William of Ockham is surely smiling down on this fine work.
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