This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← Six 'uniquely' human traits now found in animals

MPhil's Avatar Jump to comment 26 by MPhil

gr8hands,

I think your pre-theoretical, emotionally charged postitions on this cloud your scientific judgement. I did not use a dismissive word (at least it wasn't meant dismissive in any way.)

The examples you give are about the strength of certain relations (bounds) between individuals - I was talking about intellectual capacity and mental complexity. And our empathy certainly receives a broader in our mental framework with conceptual cognition, even sometimes expressively formal (constructing arguments, analysing them) cognition, with broad knowledge not only of the know how, but of the "knowing that", the propositional kind.

Propositional knowledge requires propositions, which in turn have both a logical structure of information, the relational rules if you will, and semantic content through intersubjective agreement (tacit and induced through learning of the rules both of construction/analysis and refering) about the conventions of reference. No propositional beliefs without propositions - no propositions without any form of conscious representation of the content of the "it is the case that" statement. ie logical/grammatical language (the logical requirement is the requirement of being able to communicate/describe/express relations and properties) with uniform rules for refering. The being conscious of, the analysis and modelling of descriptions itself (such as what science does)requires a means of representation/expression/description that has a meta-level structure. (This is also what talking about talking, analysis of language is)

We have no scientific or indeed broadly epistemic justification for the assumption that any animal other than humans have any genuinely grammatical language, much less with meta-level structure.

Other animals show great possession of know-how (though still by many orders of magnitude not approaching the complexity of know-how and social interaction in development and realization required to devise and build a particle-accelerator for example), but propositional knowledge? Planning yes - meaning future prediction. Even intensional, self-refering communication (but we know this only of our nearest encephalically-related entities, some small part of the great apes, and only then through the teaching of rudimentary sign-language).
The complexity in and thus the mental complexity required for the rudimentary sign-language not even a handful of study-subject apes could master is light-years away from any complexity (from logical structure alone - for example explicit self-refering in the context of communication) of any communication we observe naturally in animals. But the expressive force and actually realized content of human language-use, including mathematics, physics, philosophy, political language, discussions, rational debates etc - is again light-years away from what these handful of apes who mastered sign-language are able to communicate, express, think. Their language is not expressive enough to even model such things.

Then we have the case of apes being able to press numers displayed on a touch-screen in a grid-matrix in correct numerical progression faster than human subjects. The only thing that can be reasonably extrapolated from this is that these subjects grasp the concept of symbolic representation (which is a huge thing in itself, distinguishing the complexity of the minds of these animal by several orders of magnitude from those of, say, turtles or fish.) and progression.

That is a lot, but it's -again- still light-years away from modern mathematics, or even the maths an normal person learns in school, or even the expressive capacity of the idiolect of the average person, light-years away from the complexity of phsyics or philosophy, of math or drama-plays, of construction (through society) and descriptions of economy, economic processes and states-of-affairs, from the development of and theorizing about politics. The complexity of a human society, with such complex relations as between individuals, certain functional roles they fulfill, certain personal relationships, their relations even to artificial social constructs such as governments and instiutions, conscioulsy constructed and structurally/institutionally regulated artifacts as laws, political parties, companies - their respective connections, the role of the artifact of many in its myriad possible relations to myriads of things - this is a complexity completely unseen in nature - nothing we see outside of human sociality comes close.
Other animals do have such things as roles, as interaction, hierarchical structure (determined by social roles of individuals) and even such things as social reward and punishment - but compared to the above - (political parties, companies, economy, science etc) it is absolutely rudimentary.

Honestly, you're making a fool of yourself by attacking me with such weak arguments. You are furthermore attacking strawmen and failing to bring up any argument against the position I was actually taking.


I actually am informed in the cognitive neurosciences, work with some cognitive neurosceintists and the nature and structure of the mind, its composition, implementation, structure and working is my field of research - I think I can claim to know what I am talking about.

And by this statement:

or a puffed up sense of humanity's importance.
you're displaying exactly the kind of false thinking I was attacking. Yes, we are not different from animals in principle, yes their minds work on the same basis as ours - but what I wrote in my last post about intellectual capacity and mental complexity still remains true. Scientific judgement involves not hypothesizing beyond what the evidence tells us, and using minimal explanations (parsimony). From all the data we have, the conclusions of my last post are absolutely substantiated.

Yes, dogs have strong relations to other individuals (we also bread for that during domestication of wolf to dog), but that does not contradict anything I say.

Want a more direct scientific explanation? You can have it. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the entire cerebral cortex (most decisively the neocortex), and the Broca's and Wernicke's areals are the brain-areals whose structural complexity make complex mentality/intellectual capacities like ours even possible. Among that is the faculty for explicit multi-level conceptual thinking, which is in essence systematic, logically structured representation and manipulation of information (ie grammatical language). Some of these areas are not existent in other animals, and the others are substantially rudimentary compared to ours.

People with a position like yours generally ignore (or don't know) both this and the fact that I mentioned in the above comment - that outer criteria for the complexity of mentality is also the complexity of social artifacts and interaction. And animals just don't have anything as complex as theater plays, computers, programming, particle-accelerators, science in general, philosophy etc, or even just grammatical language capable of expressing and thus communicating meta-level thinking.

To downplay or just (as you seem to do) ignore that there is an amazing, incredible difference of level of complexity between this and anything and everything we see in animals is a) downright wrong and b) quite disrespectful toward the accomplishments of rational thought, of science and philosophy.

It's of course a good thing to show where and how we are similar to animals in behaviour, what we have in common, because for too long (especially due to the three great monotheistic religions) we have thought of ourselves as different in ESSENCE from animals (as having a soul and a "free will") and of animals as enitrely incapable of mentality. But not acknowlidging what I have laid out - that is how far the similarity goes, and where the differences lie, is - overdoing it (in addition to being dismissive of the achievements of science for example)

In light of the above elaboration, I think you ought to retract your last statement (the last two lines specificially), neither is true and both are insulting towards me, among other things because my field of study is actually the mind.

____________________________________________
*EDIT: Substantial Additions for clarification and provision of further examples and arguements.

Sat, 24 May 2008 17:44:00 UTC | #174988