Friday, November 16, 2007

The Evolution of Man

Thanks for your interesting email Mark. As I have never been a great believer in "innate whatevers" my enthusiam about Fetzer's counter claims are correspondingly lukewarm. Actually I often think about the differences between our own minds and those of domesticated animals: the latter are quite smart in some ways, but are often totally incapable of putting 2 and 2 together. The past hypothesis that makes sense to me is the one put forward by most evolutionary biologists. Man lived in the trees at a time when Africa was full of tropical forest. Due to climate change, the trees started to disappear and the ancestor of man had to find a way to get across desert regions to the next oasis--and the best way of doing this was walking upright. Of course this was a desperation measure of survival and for a long time man became an easy prey of big cats and other animals (interestingly, lions still suffer from a pancreatic disorder which was apparently caused by a lion eating a human in the distant past!). However, this desperation measure also led to making man far more resourceful than the other creatures and he began to protect himself using weapons constructed from wood and stone: a stupendous leap forward as regards the other animals. In the process the hands also developed dexterity--and of course with our subtle hands we can do things no other animal is capable of. Eventually fire was controlled and a creature that had been easy meat, suddenly became king of the beasts. I am sure that during this long and desperate process of crisis evolution the brain also had to develop subtlety in order to use the hands and make the tools and generally avoid extinction. Eventually the process of survival was too great and complex to survive without simple language. My suspicion is that communicable languages began from a very early date--though not in the complex forms which exists now. In the early days, no doubt man communicated with different types of grunt, eye contact, body language, etc. Over a long period simple but effective methods of communication emerged and developed into languages.

I am aware that Fetzer might not disagree with much of this, but he is concerned with a polemical exercise to prove Chomsky wrong. Personally I never really invested in Chomsky's kind of idealism in the first place, so I feel no urge to defend my views against his. While there is clearly a lot of hocus pocus in his views, he may be right in thinking that a cognitive approach to language learning is often better than behaviourist techniques.

I would agree with what you say about the human brain. For me, the great problem with Freudian and even Lacanian psycho-analysis is the idealistic--not to say simplistic--view of the human brain. Freud is essentially an idealist in that he postulates a structure of the brain without anatomical study. Why should anyone believe that the brain is divided into 3 parts: pre-consciousness, consciousness, and the unconscious? This is an idealistic concept that avoids the question of the anatomical structure of the brain. I also tend to believe that most of his work on dreams is, in essence, a kind of literary criticism rather than being scientifically valid.

Conspiracy theories are interesting and, sometimes, even true as well. However one also has to defend against becoming a serial conspiracist seeing cover ups and green visitors from other planets everywhere!

At present I'm reading Foucault on Greek tragedy. Fascinating!


Anonymous Darwin's Monkey said...

Smart thinking!

6:26 AM  
Anonymous srendipity said...

Loved this!

12:20 PM  

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