Piero Scaruffi(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"
The US evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller believes that the human mind was largely molded by sexual selection and is therefore mainly a sexual ornament. Culture, in general, and language, in particular, are simply ways for males and females to play the game of sex. When language appeared, it quickly became a key tool in sexual selection, and therefore it evolved quickly.
Darwin had already speculated that language may have evolved through sexual selection(as a means to impress sexual mates). Miller agrees, finding that the usual explanation (that language helps a group trade key information) is only a small piece of the puzzle (individuals, unless they are relatives, have no motivation to share key information since they are supposed to compete).
Even more powerful is the evidence that comes from observing the behavior of today's humans: they compete to be heard, they compete to utter the most sensational sentences, they are dying to talk.
Miller also mentions anatomical evidence: what has evolved dramatically in the human brain is not the hearing apparatus but the speaking apparatus. Miller believes that language, whose intended or unintended effect is to deliver knowledge to competitors, must also have a selfish function, otherwise it would not have developed: individuals who simply delivered knowledge to competitors would not have survived. On the other hand, if language is a form of sexual display, then it makes sense that it evolved rapidly, just like any other organ (bull horns or peacock tails) that served that function. It is unique to humans the same way that the peacock’s tail is unique to peacocks. It is pointless to try and teach language to a chimpanzee the same way that it is pointless to expect a child to grow a colorful tail.
The Origin of Communication
Where does language come from is a question that does not only apply to humans, but to all species, each species having its own "language".
One might as well ask the question, "Where do bee dances come from"? The bees are extremely good at providing details about the route and the location of food. They do so not with words but by dancing. The origins of bee dances are no less intriguing than the origins of human language.
The point is that most species develop a social life and the social life depends on a mechanism of communication, and in humans that mechanism is language. But language may be viewed as a particular case of a more general process of nature, the process by which several individuals become aggregated in a group.
There is a bond within the members of a species, regardless of whether they are cooperating or competing: they can communicate. A dog cannot communicate much to a cat. A lion cannot communicate with an ant. And the greatest expert in bees cannot communicate much with a bee. Communication between members of different species is close to impossible. But communication within members of a species is simple, immediate, natural, and, contrary to our beliefs, does not require any advanced skills. All birds communicate; all bees communicate. There is no reason to believe that humans would not communicate if they were not taught a specific language. They might, in fact, communicate better: hand gestures and facial expressions may be a more efficient means of communication among humans than words.
Again, this efficiency is independent of the motives: whether it is for cooperation or for aggression. We can communicate with other members of our species. When we communicate for cooperation, the communication can become very complex and sophisticated. We may communicate that a herd is moving east, that clouds are bringing rain, that the plains are flooded. A bee can communicate similar information to another bee. But an ant cannot communicate this kind of information to a fish and a fish cannot communicate it to a bird. Each species has developed a species-specific form of communication.
The origin of language is but a detail in a much more complex story, the story of how intra-species communication evolved. If all species come from a common ancestor, there must have been only one form of communication at the beginning. Among the many traits that evolved over the ages, intra-species communication is one that took the wildest turns. While the genetic repertoire of bees and flies may be very similar, their system of communication is quite different.
The fact that communication is different for each species may simply be due to the fact that each species has different kinds of senses, and communication has to be tailored to the available senses.
A reason for this social trait to exist could be both sexual reproduction and altruism.
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