Natural language as a product of natural selection?

Natural language as a product of natural selection?

Post by Jiri Dona » Wed, 26 May 1999 04:00:00



I was motivated to start this discussion by the following statement:




> > No, I'm not ignoring the patterns in the environment, because these
> > are the essential "food" for our brains. I'm just questioning the
> > "easy way out" of assuming that we already have knowledge in our
> > brains since we're born. That does not seem to be so.

> Ok we agree: There is no knowledge in our brains when we are born.

This is certainly a very difficult statement to accept. Without wanting
to slide to a "label discussion" (I mean discussion about different
possible definitions of terms used in the sentence) I must argue that,
for example, the construction of the brain alone is a very significant
information by itself. This information implies abilities of our brain
to process information and thus it heavily influences its future
developments and even the information it can ever contain (e.g. native
language objects). As you see, we are naturally coming to one of the
basic philosophical dilemma - determinism vs. voluntarism.

I believe we can construct a relevant model of our world by
understanding it in a layered structure. In this model every object
(e.g. organism) is formed by other objects and its development can be
seen in two views: as a development of a single object and as a
development of a "specie". In this view we (you or me - individuals)
are a result of natural selection processed under the rule of DNA,
while "Homo sapiens" is the specie (described by DNA) which was
developed under the rule of physics (= rules our Universe). Etc.
(Such a view also explains some paradoxes like the "chicken and egg"
problem, because it separates these two to two different layers).

This provides us with a view even to our particular problem. People
observes development of a baby with astonishment, as they see that the
individual development is in some way "pre-programmed". We can
understand us in the way that we are just processing our genetic code
or information (with some mutations and noise). The older we get, the
less we are subject to this rigid code and the more we are subject of
noise and mutations. During our individual development we are coming
through phases when we look like fish, like a snake, and eventually
like a human being. Over the time this development rapidly slows down
as we get older. This view is in agreement with other observations,
e.g. that the cancer occurrence is directly related to the age.

And eventually, we can apply this view also to natural language, to the
general development of "family of languages" over the time as well as
to the development of particular natural languages (English, Czech - I
have to mention!). Similarly we can view the languages used for
internal communication inside the neuronal network.

Is anybody aware of any significant achievement in decoding the
"language" used by Nature? Eg. in neuronal communication (neuron
"fires", i.e. sends binary impulses to its neighbours) - but similarly
in the language of DNA? What is (what could be) common between these
languages and the natural languages like English or French? Robustness?
Redundancy? Context-dependence?

In these days we can see different natural languages competing each
with other (like English vs. French) for their importance (for example
on Internet and thus for the amount of resources they eventually win
for their future development). This competition follows the universal
rules of natural selection. According to the layered model of our world
these languages should form something like a "bigger organism", e.g.
the "family of languages", which would contain all possible forms of
communication, incl. languages of animals and body language of animals
and people.
Which are the common rules fulfilled by all the members of this family?
Again: Robustness? Redundancy? Context-dependence?
Any other suggestions?

Regards,
--
Jiri

--== Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/ ==--
---Share what you know. Learn what you don't.---

 
 
 

Natural language as a product of natural selection?

Post by Tim Tyle » Wed, 26 May 1999 04:00:00



:> > No, I'm not ignoring the patterns in the environment, because these
:> > are the essential "food" for our brains. I'm just questioning the
:> > "easy way out" of assuming that we already have knowledge in our
:> > brains since we're born. That does not seem to be so.
:>
:> Ok we agree: There is no knowledge in our brains when we are born.

: This is certainly a very difficult statement to accept.

I can't easily see a context in which it could be correct either.

Probably 'knowledge' is the sticky word.  Genes which are responsible for
brain development certainly encode /lots/ of heritable information
relating to our natural environment.  If some people don't count this as
"knowledge", then I suppose that's up to them.

[much snip]

: And eventually, we can apply this view also to natural language, to the
: general development of "family of languages" over the time as well as
: to the development of particular natural languages (English, Czech - I
: have to mention!).

"Eventually", Steven Pinker wrote a popular book along these lines, called  
"The Language Instinct".
--
__________

Surfers against sewage.

 
 
 

1. Reasoning from Natural Language: new product "Inquisition"

You know, Devin's not the only one with rad ideas that challenge
institutional dogma.

This is not a question of freedom of speech, or whether somehow others
should be limited in their modes or desire to communicate. The issue is
whether it is wise for a young company to disseminate proprietary
information prior to its establishment as a successful economic entity, or
for that matter, after its establishment.

Devin's approach, although I am still reviewing it, is still the same old "I
am the truth, I am the way" outlook on epistemological issues. (Since the
issue of truth itself is the subject of inquiries into the nature of human
understanding, it is definitely a relevant concern).

His Panlingua asserts a claim to be "the" linguistic language, as mapping
for once and for all the fundamental structure of language for all peoples.

In the next few weeks, I will be introducing our product, Inquisition, which
uses an entirely different linguistic perspective as its basis. My work has
occurred without knowledge of Mr. Devin's, and, frankly, is much different.
There are some issues upon which I heartily agree with Mr. Devin, for
instance, how the difference between syntactic and semantic knowledge is an
artificial segregation.
(However, all attempts at building descriptive conceptual models are
ultimately artificial, but some are more accurate representations of their
referents).

Mr. Devin's "Child" does not reason from natural language, Inquisition does.
In that sense, it is more of an "Adult".

K.Kirchman

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