3 July 2008

The animal that speaks

Tom Wolfe may relay a partial truth [1] when, in conversation with Michael Gazzinga [2], he says:
Speech is an artifact. It's not a natural progression of intelligence, in my opinion — we have to look only at the Pirahã for that. It's a code. You're inventing a code for all the objects in the world and then establishing relationships between those objects. And speech has fundamentally transformed human beings.
Gazzinga counters that speech is an adaptation [advantageous, as Steven Pinker among others observes, for negotiating social relationships]. That's likely true, but speech may do several things apart from provide survival benefits, and Robert Pogue Harrison may get a little closer to identifying at least one of them with this:
We don't house ourselves because we speak, nor do we speak because we house ourselves; we house ourselves for the same reason that we speak -- because we are a fold, a crypt, a wrinkle of insideness in the fabric of nature's externality.
Goethe has different view:
[Nature] has neither language nor discourse, but she creates tongues and hearts by which she feels and speaks.
Is poetry more like an urn or a doorway? Two poems from Basho:
On a white poppy,
a butterfly's torn wing
is a keepsake.

A trapped octopus --
one night of dreaming
with the summer moon.


1. For Lewis Lapham, the whole of our environment is, "in one way or another and to greater or lesser extents, a virtual reality, fabricated by the hand and mind of man":
If it is in the nature of beavers to build dams, and of glaciers to cast off ice bergs, so it is in the nature of man to compose operas, design cows and set in motion the beating of Vice President Dick Cheney's cybernetic heart.
2. Gazzinga says we're only 2 microns down a very long road to understanding the human brain. Does this paper, reported here as if it is a significant advance, add another micron or two?

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