Engels and indigenous peoples

Charles Brown CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Tue May 8 12:08:45 MDT 2001

>>> gschofield at one.net.au 05/05/01 01:47PM >>>
You have won me over, my last reservation fell apart with the quote below -
labour itself is premised on symbolic thought - the only way imagination
can be brought to play on production.

>It occurs to me to throw one more famous piece of Marxism into the mix for
>you to think about. Recall that in defining "labour" in _Capital_ , Marx
>says the difference between human and spider or bee ( I think) labour is
>that humans imagine the project first. I dig up the quote. Anyway,
>imagination is basically calling on the experience of other humans through
>ideas that have been learned. Imagination is not some idea that comes out
>of the individual who thinks it but rather an idea in the individual that
>connects them to many other individuals' experience and labor.


CB: Thank you , Greg. It is not only gratifying to be understood, but a comrades "yes"
is a help in making me more certain about my own ideas.


Now the new problem is what general conditions could make symbolic thought,
which implies a grammar, be promoted that was then used later, co-opted
that is, for language proper?

I am starting to think the origin lies not in communications but in
computation, self-thought. Immediate communications is not a problem as
this is not involved. And as apes can be taught language and use it
thinkingly, only shows their adaptability and general smarts.

I mean by this, that an ape taught in such a way to get around the
restrictions it has in vocalisation swiftly mimics humans (that is in the
deep sense) but does not imply the same "mapping" for this task within the


CB: We have had some threads on related topics on this list.

What occurs to me right off ( as pertinent but not a full answer to your question) is
that "symbolling" is the "opposite" of mimicking.

Apes and other animals can mimic or imitate ( "monkey see, monkey do"). But symbolling
is in essence the opposite of imitating because a symbol uses  Not A to represent A,
if you follow.  A spoken word or string of sounds that a spoken word is equates those
sounds with something that they are not and with something that they do not even try
to imitate.  The word "d-o-g" in no way imitates an actual dog the way a picture of a
dog does.

So, the key qualitative brain process that must originate and grow is this , well,
dialectical idea of equating two things that are not the same, none other than a unity
and struggle of opposites.   Symbols are unities and struggles of opposites.   That
which is represented is represented by something that it is not.

The question for me is , how does this create such a powerful ability to store
memories and even allow other individuals to share each others experience , including
living people share the experience of dead people.

By the way, another short statement of the unique human capacity is that we can learn
from the experience of OTHER people. All animals learn from their own experience. But
we learn most of what we know from other people's, other individuals' experiences.
Hearsay is the key to human society (:>)).


Clearly vocalisations (that is modern speech ability) is recent, more
recent by far than the symbolic apparatus, which stands beneath it.

My thought has turned to this aspect. Limited vocal abilities as a starting
point (the ape dilemma) but a brain adapted to using these limited sounds
by patterns pre-established - perhaps chomsky's idea of deep grammar.


CB: I'd say it is not so much the vocalization but the ability to treat as the same
things that are different; the ability to act as if a series of vocalized sounds are
equivalent to a "dog" or a "tree" or a " mother" or a whatever, when clearly the
sounds "d-o-g" are not a dog. The ability to unify opposites , in other words.
Dialectics is the heart of the symbol.

However, perhaps vocalization is or was originally the fastest or most efficient way
to generate symbolic representations and communicate them to others. Body language
such as hand signals or face signals might have been used too.

In this regard, to first tools themselves may have been symbols of a sort.
Levi-Strauss' notion of the logic of the concrete is suggestive in this regard.

I will mull over your computation hypothesis. At another level of development,
writing, I have noticed that much of the earliest writing was computational - the
wedge forms of the Sumerians ( I think) were used by traders.


What has developed in order to aid communication initially (widen the
communication band width by establishing a proto grammar) turns back on
itself to be become an inner language able to "compute" a larger number of
variables (a primitive analog computer is what I am thinking of, something
useful for one thing and takes off in another direction). Later things get
more complex, by an order of magnitude (I have a different pre-established
view on what that might of been) and the now elaborated inner grammar is
voiced by simple changes in the vocal structure which enriches not only
communications but thought itself.


CB: The notion of something developed for one purpose becoming useful for others ,
"exponentially useful" , seems likely.


I speaking my thoughts so forgive the rave. An illustration:

An apelike proto human needs more than warning sounds - the example in the
prior post of scavanging requiring a good judgement based on taking into
account a large number of things. The vocal range is very restricted, but
the emerging brain grammar vastly expands the capabilities.

Now expressed out loud by the proto-human, the type of predator nearby is a
sound simple, number of predators and the size of individuals accurately
expressed by tone, strength and length of the utterance - the two together
being computed by pattern recognition. Distance to water, the pace of the
group, the amount of meat to be found, the lie of the land and the route.
Between gestures and patterns of only a few sounds I cannot see why all of
this cannot be conveyed by a proto-human with a brain case no bigger than
an ape.


CB: Yes, the key is the qualitative shift from imitation to unifying differences .

And then I would say the next key becomes passing "it" along to the next generation.
By the way , in this regard,  length of childhood, a biological issue is as important
as brain size, in a way.   The whole system of symbols takes a longer and longer time
to learn, because it gets bigger and bigger.


Moreover, the extra complexity available directly leads to inner dialog and
computation which may prove a lot more valuable than simple communication
itself - the proto-human now communicates an intention which is a step
above a report of conditions.

In a sense something like this bows in the direction of the great apes
(recognising their potential to be taught language and the general
usefulness of their brains for they too can form intentions when this
language is taught to them) but distinguishes a specific human biological
pathway and supplies some of the tools for full human development far
further down the track (a jump in brain size and an extension of vocal
control at the same time).

I need to consider the "speaking" apes, as I do not think they can be
dismissed, but rather than proving we both have the ability - the need to
teach them proves that they do not -


CB: Yes, I agree with this. No apes on their own develop symbolling


but that once learnt the
distinguishing difference between them and us evaporates - ironically
proving that the difference is not only a biological fact (that they lack
the deep grammar a child uses to self-comprehend language).

I must admit that until now I had viewed the ape experiements as simply
diminishing the biological differences - now they seem to positively
underscore it and prove what you said in the first place.

I would be interested in what you thought about this, because it seems that
adding computation is  the way to add imagination to activity and making it


CB: I have to think about this computation issue more. We are talking about counting.
We have right now a thread going on fundamental mathematics.

Of course, we have ten fingers, and so the origin of base ten is suggestive.

Thanks for your thoughts.


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