The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Human Language And Animal Language

Language is actually quite widespread in nature in its primitive form of communication (all animals communicate and even plants have some rudimentary form of interaction), although it is certainly unique to humans in its human form (but just like, say, chirping is unique to birds in its "birdy" form).

Language is very much a mirror image of the cognitive capabilities of the animal. Is human language really so much more sophisticated than other animals' languages?

Birds and monkeys employ a sophisticated system of sounds to alert themselves of intruders. The loudness and the frequency are proportionate to the distance and probably to the size of the intruder. Human language doesn't have such a sophisticated way of describing an intruder. Is it possible that human language evolved in a different way simply because we became more interested in other things, than in describing the size and distance of an intruder?

If language is about communicating, why is it that there are multiple human languages and not just one? Why is it so difficult to translate from one language to another? And why do we need translators in the first place? Is there any other animal that needs translators when moving from one territory to another?

There are three levels at which human language operates: the "what", the "where", the "why". What are you doing is about the present. Where are you going is about the future. Why are you going there is about the relationship between past and future. These are three different steps of communication. Organisms could communicate simply in the present, by telling each other what they are doing. This is what most machines do all the time when they get connected. Living organisms also move. Bees dance in order to communicate to other bees the location of food (“where?”). Humans are also interested in motives (“why?”) all the time. Without a motive a description often sounds incomplete. It is common in rural Southeast Asia to greet people by asking "what are you doing?" The other person will reply "I am rowing the boat". The next question will be "where are you going?" And the last question will be "why are you going there?" With these three simple questions the situation has been fully analyzed, as far as human cognition goes.

This does not mean that there could not be a fourth level of communication that we humans simply do not exhibit because it is beyond our cognitive capabilities.

There are other features that are truly unique to humans: clothes, artifacts, and, first and foremost, fire. Have you ever seen a lion wear the fur of another animal? Light a fire to warm up? Build a utensil to scratch its back? Why do humans do all of these things? Are they a consequence of our cognitive life, or is our cognitive life a consequence of these skills? One wonders if Sapir-Whorf’s principle applies only to language or, ultimately, to all behavior.

 


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