Language and Human Nature

Posts related to my book “Language and Human Nature”

At the Rockridge Institute’s site George Lakoff posted his reply to Steven Pinker’s critique of Lakoff’s new book Whose Freedom.

Lakoff and Pinker, both students of Chomsky, have split deeply over the question of whether the brain determines our abilities to talk, to think, to be.

Lakoff’s critique claims that Pinker (and Chomsky) are stuck in a medieval Cartesian account of the human mind, and that it’s finally time to move more into the human actuality.

To go even further and more critically, I hope it’s finally a time when actually observing humans can begin to be done, and to be heard in this conversation. Children (and their m/others) are much more complicated in interaction, in facial expressions, than these forms of thought have led us to note. Time to begin to observe again!

In the ever emerging nature and nuture research, this NY Times article, written by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (1996) and recently Social Intelligence (2006), reports the following:

“Such coordination of emotions, cardiovascular reactions or brain states between two people has been studied in mothers with their infants, marital partners arguing and even among people in meetings. Reviewing decades of such data, Lisa M. Diamond and Lisa G. Aspinwall, psychologists at the University of Utah, offer the infelicitous term “a mutually regulating psychobiological unit” to describe the merging of two discrete physiologies into a connected circuit. To the degree that this occurs, Dr. Diamond and Dr. Aspinwall argue, emotional closeness allows the biology of one person to influence that of the other.

John T. Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, makes a parallel proposal: the emotional status of our main relationships has a significant impact on our overall pattern of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activity. This radically expands the scope of biology and neuroscience from focusing on a single body or brain to looking at the interplay between two at a time.”

Anthropoligists of the ordinary have predicted and deduced this via observation for some time. Will all of what was leading anthropological research 30 years ago need to be restated in neurosciene terms before the pithy qualitative ‘what now’ and ‘what next’ questions can be picked up again? Are anthropologists better predictors than biologists of understanding what is human? Should a new interdisciplinary field be formed?

NYTimes article reports that scientists’ findings show Starlings have complex language skills.

Starlings’ Listening Skills May Shed Light on Language Evolution

Not surprising given that we admit we know little about human language, and even less so about other animals’ language.

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