The Symbolic Species

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The Symbolic Species

Postby Jesse » Sat Feb 11, 2012 1:28 am

I found this book and haven't been able to stop reading it (well, I'm just now finishing chapter 1), but it is probably some of the most interesting and informative stuff I've ever read, well, next to my Buddhism books. :P

A small excerpt from chapter 1:
Where do human minds come from? The missing link that we hope to fill in by investigating human origins is not so much a gap in our family tree, but a gap that separates us from other species in general. Knowing how something originated often is the best clue to how it works. And we know that human consciousness had a beginning. Those features of our mental abilities that distinguish us from all other species arose within the handful of million years since we shared a common ancestor with the remaining African apes, and probably can mostly be traced to events that took place only within the last 2 million. It was a Rubicon that was crossed at a definite time and in a specific evolutionary context. If we could identify what was different on either side of this divide--differences in ecology, behavior, anatomy, especially neuroanatomy--perhaps we would find the critical change that catapulted us into this unprecedented world full of abstractions, stories, and impossibilities, that we call human.



The Symbolic Species
The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/st ... pecies.htm
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: The Symbolic Species

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sat Feb 11, 2012 2:52 am

like this?
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
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Re: The Symbolic Species

Postby Jesse » Sat Feb 11, 2012 3:30 am

Hi, PadmaVonSamba :)

The parts I am finding most interesting are of the description of language as a source of conceptualization and abstraction in our though processes, which allows for the creation of signs and the transmission of signs between individuals.
This world of signs we live in, as a separate distinguished mode of perception than is experienced by sentient beings which do not think in these sorts of abstractions and conceptualizations.

We inhabit a world full of abstractions, impossibilities, and paradoxes. We alone brood about what didn't happen, and spend a large part of each day musing about the way things could have been if events had transpired differently. And we alone ponder what it will be like not to be. In what other species could individuals ever be troubled by the fact that they do not recall the way things were before they were born and will not know what will occur after they die? We tell stories about our real experiences and invent stories about imagined ones, and we even make use of these stories to organize our lives. In a real sense, we live our lives in this shared virtual world. And slowly, over the millennia, we have come to realize that no other species on earth seems able to follow us into this miraculous place.

We are all familiar with this facet of our lives, but how, you might ask, could I feel so confident that it is not part of the mental experience of other species--so sure that they do not share these kinds of thoughts and concerns--when they cannot be queried about them? That's just it! My answer which will be argued in detail in the following chapters, has everything to do with language and the absence of it in other species. The doorway into this virtual world was opened to us alone by the evolution of language, because language is not merely a mode of communication, it is also the outward expression of an unusual mode of thought--symbolic representation. Without symbolization the entire virtual world that I have described is out of reach: inconceivable. My extravagant claim to know what other species cannot know rests on evidence that symbolic thought does not come innately built in, but develops by internalizing the symbolic process that underlies language. So species that have not acquired the ability to communicate symbolically cannot have acquired the ability to think this way either.


I suppose I'm trying to understand scientifically the nature of this sign-based reality, and maybe gain some insight into it. :cheers:
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: The Symbolic Species

Postby kirtu » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:48 am

ghost01 wrote: If we could identify what was different on either side of this divide--differences in ecology, behavior, anatomy, especially neuroanatomy--perhaps we would find the critical change that catapulted us into this unprecedented world full of abstractions, stories, and impossibilities, that we call human.



The Symbolic Species
The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/st ... pecies.htm[/quote]

Charles Sanders Pierce identified thinking as symbol manipulation.

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Re: The Symbolic Species

Postby Jesse » Sat Feb 11, 2012 1:57 pm

Hi, Kirt

I think I found an article like you're describing, is this it?

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subje ... eirce1.htm

I've begun reading a book by Rudy Rucker which is essentially about the same idea, thought as symbol manipulation (or as he calls it, Computation), which draws parallels between natural language and formal languages, and uses this vehicle as a means to explore life.

http://www.rudyrucker.com/lifebox/

It's fascinating to me how it's taken science this long to catch up to the ideas found in Buddhism. The exploration of these concepts via modern logic may ultimately even bring people to investigate Buddhism, which is a cool thought.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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