The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Languages, Not Only Language

A consequence of Chomskyís hypothesis of the universal grammar is that all human languages (or at least their grammars) must be relatively similar, if they all sprung up from the same universal grammar that is genetically transmitted from brain to brain.

There must exist a relatively simple mechanism by which the brainconstructs a specific grammar (say, English) out of the universal grammar. The US linguist Mark Bakertried to identify the similarities among languages and what "parameters" determine whether you speak, say, English or French. Imagine a car that you could personalize so much that it could eventually look completely different from the car of your neighbor, while still being manufactured at the same plant.The "personalization" would consist in selecting "options" such as paint color, body shape, number of doors, etc.At each step of the assembly line, machines would obey one of the options and add a different touch to your car.Something similar occurs in the brain with language, according to Baker.

Bakerimagines a "tree" (a hierarchy) of such linguistic parameters. The parameters are arranged according to their power to affect one another.At each junction in the hierarchy, a parameter (or more) determines a way to structure sentences. Below that junction, that parameter is fixed and other parameters are taken into account.Baker's hierarchy of linguistic parameters looks like the periodic table of elements or Carl Linnaeus' classification of animals and plants, but it is different in that it specifies how to "generate" such a classification.

Alas, Bakerdoes not account for the evolution of languages. We do know that Italian evolved from Latin. Italian has wildly different grammatical rules from Latin.How did it happen that children born with a pre-wired brain and later brainwashed to acquire the parameters of the Latin language ended up changing those parameters? In fact, the one thing that seems to change a lot is the grammar itself. Words are relatively similar among languages of the same geographic area, but the grammar can be quite different (as any Italian who studied Latin in high school painfully remembers).Those changes occurred gradually over many generations.

It is possible that all languages descend from the same original language;and that children learn a language in the amount of time that it takes to learn a language, not any faster. These may be clues to another scenario for the origin of language.

No question the brain is born with a structure that facilitates survival on this planet. It is even too easy to claim that so many skills must be "innate".We would not be alive if that were not the case. However, claiming that our brains are "pre-wired" to discover General Relativity would be an exaggeration.It took Einsteinto discover General Relativity. Decades from now every human on the planet will master General Relativity. That does not mean that General Relativity was inevitable for all human brains.There may have been an Einstein of communicating, who invented language.And we all might be simply re-learning, generation after generation, that marvelous invention.

 


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