[2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Blame Quintushalls for this.

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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby GUTCHUCKER » Wed Sep 17, 2014 6:28 am

If you don't have a brain that can accomodate that information then you do not have the ability to record and pass on information.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby ReasonablyDoubtful » Thu Sep 18, 2014 4:27 am

DonRetrasado wrote:Gorillas can learn how to make signs and communicate, but no, they do not speak sign language. Language is a separate faculty that is (as far as we know) unique to humans because other animals cannot make novel and creative structures.


If you're talking about imagination, then that's a different matter. I assume you mean that we're the only species capable of discussing things that aren't there? For example, we can discuss how to defend ourselves against potential tiger attacks or explain knapping. That's imagination applied to language, not a necessary component of language itself. Language is "a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings." Linguistical anthropologists and others that study language like to get a bit snobbish and try to act like there's more to language than that, but imagination is not language; we can apply our imagination to language, but it's no more a necessary part of it than, say, words for computer technology or astronomy. We engage different parts of our mind when using language because imagination is such an inherent part of human language that it's almost unavoidable. We can, however, communicate without it. All that means is that we won't be able to discuss things that we imagine.

Because chickens understand a certain call as meaning "predator in the sky," they have language. Their language does not compose many words and they cannot convery imaginative thoughts, but it is still language. Because bees understand a certain dance as meaning "flowers in bloom, bearing 215 degrees, approximately 25 feet away," then they have a language.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby Lethal Interjection » Thu Sep 18, 2014 9:23 pm

The problem here is you are using communication and language interchangeably, while separating imagination and language. Which is making your counterpoint difficult to understand. As (I think?) DR is separating language and communication and maybe even basing it on a determining factor that is (or is like) imagination?
I think the conflict here may be based on etymology.
I guess that perhaps you could define 'predator looming' or 'flower in this direction' as ideas, but only based on etymology. They are ideas in the definitive sense, but they require only spacious derivation. I think, perhaps, you are over-anthropomorphizing animal communication. They are ideas, in the most basic sense, sure. But the derivations are miniscule in the linguistic sense. And I know you made the counterpoint that because of our human context we are unable to separate imagination and communication because we primarily use them in tandem, but again, I think this comes down to etymology.
And, yes, we sure can communicate without language. Using only 'Hey' I could get by in a lot of communication, from indicating emphasis (be it predatorial or simply 'look over there') to a colloquial greeting, but I would strongly hesitate to call that language. And ultimately the vast amount of elocution I could get from simply using 'hey' because of our capacity to inflect and adapt our vocal chords, would likely outpace most of the animal kingdom in terms of communication. With or without imagination as a deciding factor.

I hesitate to fan this flame, but I always enjoy reading DR's posts about linguistics and such.

And on a side note: Using a dictionary definition in your argument is pretty much the internet equivalent to a death rattle.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby ReasonablyDoubtful » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:20 am

Lethal Interjection wrote:The problem here is you are using communication and language interchangeably, while separating imagination and language. Which is making your counterpoint difficult to understand. As (I think?) DR is separating language and communication and maybe even basing it on a determining factor that is (or is like) imagination?
I think the conflict here may be based on etymology.
I guess that perhaps you could define 'predator looming' or 'flower in this direction' as ideas, but only based on etymology. They are ideas in the definitive sense, but they require only spacious derivation. I think, perhaps, you are over-anthropomorphizing animal communication. They are ideas, in the most basic sense, sure. But the derivations are miniscule in the linguistic sense. And I know you made the counterpoint that because of our human context we are unable to separate imagination and communication because we primarily use them in tandem, but again, I think this comes down to etymology.
And, yes, we sure can communicate without language. Using only 'Hey' I could get by in a lot of communication, from indicating emphasis (be it predatorial or simply 'look over there') to a colloquial greeting, but I would strongly hesitate to call that language. And ultimately the vast amount of elocution I could get from simply using 'hey' because of our capacity to inflect and adapt our vocal chords, would likely outpace most of the animal kingdom in terms of communication. With or without imagination as a deciding factor.

I hesitate to fan this flame, but I always enjoy reading DR's posts about linguistics and such.

And on a side note: Using a dictionary definition in your argument is pretty much the internet equivalent to a death rattle.


Y'all fuckers need Merriam-Webster. And it's sad that you think that words shouldn't be bound by their definition, which is essentially your argument in that tiny text. No, seriously, what is your "logic" in dismissing the actual definition of words for definitions you invent? Definitions that you prefer because it fits what you already thought was true? It's funny that the definition includes the phrase "conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings," and yet you want to throw out that, which is pretty much the determining factor in language (that being commonly understood meanings) all because it completely destroys the argument that you're trying to make. This is what the word means. If you're trying to argue about something else, then you're using the word improperly and defending its improper usage after that fact has been proven is just complete idiocy. Arrogant idiocy, at that. You're essentially saying that your personal definition of the word takes priority over the actual, accepted definition.

Would you like me to list your logical fallacies here? Or do you consider fallacies to be wondrous and that pointing out the sheer level of fallaciousness in an argument is also a "death rattle"?

Here's you. Have fun with that.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby DonRetrasado » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:32 am

Lethal Interjection wrote:I hesitate to fan this flame, but I always enjoy reading DR's posts about linguistics and such.

I was just going to ignore this because it's really not worth my time, but I'm willing to write something up if people are genuinely interested in language. Not at this minute though.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby Kaharz » Fri Sep 19, 2014 11:37 am

Y'all fuckers need Merriam-Webster. And it's sad that you think that words shouldn't be bound by their definition, which is essentially your argument in that tiny text. No, seriously, what is your "logic" in dismissing the actual definition of words for definitions you invent? Definitions that you prefer because it fits what you already thought was true? It's funny that the definition includes the phrase "conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings," and yet you want to throw out that, which is pretty much the determining factor in language (that being commonly understood meanings) all because it completely destroys the argument that you're trying to make. This is what the word means. If you're trying to argue about something else, then you're using the word improperly and defending its improper usage after that fact has been proven is just complete idiocy. Arrogant idiocy, at that. You're essentially saying that your personal definition of the word takes priority over the actual, accepted definition.

Would you like me to list your logical fallacies here? Or do you consider fallacies to be wondrous and that pointing out the sheer level of fallaciousness in an argument is also a "death rattle"?

Here's you. Have fun with that.


M-W lists multiple defnitions of language. The first definition refers specifically to words and pronunciation. Something that most people would consider decidedly human, although I guess an animal using ASL would count there. If you look at other definitions around the internet, some define language as specifically human communication. You appear to have chosen the definition that best suited your argument. Then you went and insulted someone else for doing the same thing.

Most dictionaries are descriptive, not proscriptive. They merely describe common usage. Words have the meaning given to them by the people using them. Definitions are social constructs, not immutable laws.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby dangerkeith300 » Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:29 pm

Who would have thought a comic about big asses would prompt such interesting discourse about language...
Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'talking out your ass'. :p
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby Casey » Sat Sep 20, 2014 2:41 am

After years of reading about this debate, I've come to the conclusion that there's a certain necessary human-centric obsession with determining an arbitrary standard of communication that sets us apart from inferior species. The discontinuity position willfully disregards evolutionary science in a way "my grandpa weren't no monkey" folks would be proud of.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby DonRetrasado » Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:28 am

Casey wrote:After years of reading about this debate, I've come to the conclusion that there's a certain necessary human-centric obsession with determining an arbitrary standard of communication that sets us apart from inferior species. The discontinuity position willfully disregards evolutionary science in a way "my grandpa weren't no monkey" folks would be proud of.

I can't decipher this one, sorry

EDIT: I'm too exhausted to write my reply to ReasonablyDoubtful right now but Lethal and Kaharz are pretty right-on in this situation. Definitely it'd be pretty dumb to go "what are we without definitions" and then decide to write off the more technical definition that people who actually study language use. I've mentioned this before but it's kind of a pain how people tend to write linguistics off as a "soft science" when most of what I've studied has actually been fairly rigid and technical
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby Lethal Interjection » Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:03 am

You really want to know what my problem with using a dictionary to back up your point? It is two-fold.
First, as Kaharz rightly pointed out, most words have multiple meanings (and Kaharz went still deeper than that, even touching on post-structuralism in language). They might only be slight derivations in many cases, but those are still important.
Second, you know what the dictionary uses to define words? More words. It's ghastly, I know. But you know what those words have? Multiple meanings.
Which is not to mention that using a dictionary as a bench-mark (which as I mentioned is already a flawed one) removes, I would argue, any chance at reasonable discourse. Since it immediately removes the option of a "let's agree to disagree" resolution.*

And that pretty much sums up two arguments, in a way. Both why using a dictionary definition to back up an argument is a bad idea, and ultimately explaining why I think there is a difference between how humanity use language and other animalia use communication. Language requires a greater derivation than communication does. Which is why you point and lead when trying to communicate with those who speak a different language than you.

Not that I won't read any counterpoints, just RD has inadvertently led me to a place where I'm not sure there is anything more I can say to make my point.


*Also: Small text, in the context of this forum at least, isn't an attempt at concealment, but the suggestion that the comment is tangential to the discussion at hand.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby Kaharz » Sat Sep 20, 2014 11:39 am

Casey wrote:After years of reading about this debate, I've come to the conclusion that there's a certain necessary human-centric obsession with determining an arbitrary standard of communication that sets us apart from inferior species. The discontinuity position willfully disregards evolutionary science in a way "my grandpa weren't no monkey" folks would be proud of.


You're assuming a motive or a value judgement. I don't see how distinguishing how humans communicate from how bees communicate is any different than distinguishing how bees communicate from how wolves communicate. All forms of communication have similarities and differences, as well as many other traits that differentiate species from one another. I don't think humans are better or more "highly evolved." The idea of the tree of evolution with humans at the top is flawed. Every current living species is at the 'top' of the tree of evolution for all practical purposes. The only 'inferior' species is one that went extinct due to not adapting to environmental changes quickly enough.

*inferior is still a bad word. Many were just unlucky and had to deal with changes far to rapid to adapt to by normal biological mechanisms.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby Casey » Sun Sep 21, 2014 7:00 pm

Yes, that is why I used the phrase "inferior," because inevitably the conversation about the difference between language and non-language communication is about the superiority of humans vs chimpanzees or dolphins or whatever animal. Yes, chimpanzees and gorillas can talk to each other through sign language and dolphins use a variety of noises to signify a variety of messages but those don't count because [increasingly complex redefinitions of what real language is that coincidentally includes humans but excludes every other species]. It genuinely would not make very much of a difference if we defined bees doing a little bee-wiggle as a sort of bee language. Pillars wouldn't crumble and linguistics wouldn't significantly change, yet again and again this conversation happens and again and again it bends towards affirming human uniqueness.

I do not think any human is capable of producing a motive-less or value-judgment free argument. It's possible that the scientific method may get us close to this, but we have not in the past and do not now adhere to the scientific method with anything near the sort of rigor that would make it useful in terms of objectivity.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby Kaharz » Sun Sep 21, 2014 11:22 pm

I agree that an argument completely free of bias is not possible. But I don't agree that the bias has to be towards the superiority if humans. Your bias appears to be that any arguement made distinguishing human communication from the communication of other species is motivated by a bias towards establishing human superiority. That may often be the case, but completely ignoring the topic is a poor reaction.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby AmagicalFishy » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:06 am

I don't think Casey is ignoring the topic; this discussion may not be spurred as a result of some human-superiority complex, but it sure as hell is human-centric (in such a way that I think there's no real new information to be derived from this discussion; it's counterproductive). That is, the classifications (i.e. - language) are founded on the assumption that some human-feature is fundamentally different than some non-human feature. Then, everyone starts arguing about this classification while some people question the initial assumption. Inevitably, the conversation arrives at a "Language is [this] with [this] caveat that makes it human" vs. "Language is [this] without [this] caveat" That is not the way things should be done (because caveats ad infinitum don't get anyone anywhere also no one cares).

The point was to figure out what is necessary for the creation of a civilization. I assume that we all consider "civilization" a human-exclusive thing? Great. One suggestion was language. Do we mean the part of language-use that is exclusively human? Or do we mean langauge as simply a means of communicating information? If we mean the former, then it language could be a requirement—amongst other things that humans might have. If we mean the latter, then language could still be a requirement—amongst other things that non-humans might not have.

Are we trying to figure out what, when communicating, humans have that non-humans don't? Imagination was a suggestion. Do we mean ideas that aren't a reality in the thinker's mind? Do we mean things that the thinker does not actually sense, but are there for all intents and purposes (i.e. - a chicken hearing a call, seeing/hearing no predator directly, but acting as if there is one)?

Arguing about denotation can be tempting, but if avoiding it is difficult—just explicitely state the idea and abandon the disagreed-upon word.
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Re: [2014-09-08] Bigger asses for bigger brains

Postby Lethal Interjection » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:12 pm

This conversation turned a different direction than I expected. And I like it.

I can completely concede that any of my prior arguments are based on a human-centric model. How could they not? I am unable to click to communicate, so therefore I can't really be able to speak to the complexity of the language. Nor am I able to waggle my behind in such a fashion to get more than maybe a handful* of responses.

Also, we can raise the scientific method to a great standard, but I don't think we will ever be able to perform it without bias. Complete objectivity requires the removal of all subjectivity, which would only be possible if we were able to remove ourselves from time and space. I think. I'm sure holes could be poked in that. The concept is actually something I was thinking about today as I have been reading the Dune series and there is a quote which explores this idea, though not exactly relevantly to this discussion.



*Pun not intended, but I did intentionally leave my initial phrasing.
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