Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn
dachte

Apish Tongues

(Apologies for the cross-post with plus, but after I posted this there I realised it's probably more bloglike in character)

I have a fascination with nonhuman language. Many types of creatures have some form of communication; anyone who's had a pet, watched birds, or seen other animals interact has seen at least some level of this, and I understand that for ants there is such a level of emergent behaviour that some people like to consider the colony itself to be effectively an organism. It gets much more interesting when things move beyond simple atomic units of mental state; when concepts, planning, and reactions to non-witnessed events can be passed along. The idea of other creatures creating/learning/being taught new concepts and passing them along changes the nature of life (suddenly there are memes), and this current, like the river that created the Grand Canyon, organises selective pressures to increase intelligence. Groups of a species share with the species itself the selective pressures (this is why I believe in some form of group selection).

Although we don't do enough to maximise human intellectual potential in modern life, I still wonder what capacity there is in other primates to learn language, and how long it would take for that learning to produce the selective pressures needed to elevate them to human levels of intelligence. I suspect that those pressures are self-stifling once the environment is tamed (as it is for humans, mostly); once a species and society is successful enough that practically none of its members die, presuming that it only rarely competes with itself, the selective pressure is gone. If this is a universal process, I imagine the only thing we have left to manage is mastery of our own genetics, AI, and transformative technology; one of these three forms of transhumanism (or trans-speciesism, more generally) will take us forward unless we destroy ourselves first.

I like the idea of teaching (and breeding) our companion species to talk and think on our level. I like reading about our efforts to communicate with apes, and perhaps to build catalogues of simpler instinctual languages of other species.

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Tags: science
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