Forwarded from Anthony (biology)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 22 09:46:11 MST 2001


Regarding carrots, people, posture, thumbs grammar and more

In response to Charles -"(Humans)  Need to eat, drink, sleep. Sexual
reproduction. ", Joan Cameron wrote,

"This is too easy, Charles. These features we all share with animals;
and, therefore, they do not address the question of human nature per
se.

"Carrots, also, do the first four."

Carrots do not sleep.

Joan continued,

"Upright posture and the opposable thumb laid down the
*preconditions* for the development of the uniquely human. Language,
I'm not too sure about. I'm halfway through the Carling paper; and
where he talks about symbols, I get confused. My dogs *seem* to
assign their own unique meaning to voice commands. They quite
obviously have no grasp of grammar; and I'm not too certain about
those various primates who seem to use grammar in signing."

I think that upright posture and the opposable thumb were only two
aspects of the 'preconditions' for the development of uniquely human
beings. The other key aspects were the linked evolution of helpless
infants, tribal childrearing, and the development of language.

As for grammar

'Grammar' can be very simple. A one word sentence, "Eat" has only one
possible structure, although it has several possible meanings (e.g.
'I want to eat.' 'He is eating.''I ate.' etc.) A sentence with two
words, "I' and "eat", has more possilities ('Eat I', 'I eat'), a
three word sentence even more. The possibilities increase
exponentially. Grammars are essentially sets of rules that lmiit the
number of possibilities to meaningful structures (e.g. it is
meaninful to say "I like to eat grilled salmon", but not, "Grilled
like I to salmon eat.")

Non-human apes can learn to use very simple grammars, and
demonstrably use even simpler grammars when communicating among
themselves without human intervention. Dolphins, whales, and
elephants may have much more complicated grammars than do the
non-human apes.

Dog grammar usually is limited to one, or possibly two, morpheme
constructions. I think just one, but my daughter insists that if you
pay attention to tonal variations, dog sentences can be shown to use
more than two morphemes (as in "Grrr, rowf, grr", versus "Rowf, rrr,
rowf.")

All the best, Anthony

--
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 12/22/2001

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