Thursday, June 4, 2015

Animals Talking, Animals Thinking



- I see you’ve been reading more about language. About animal language, animal intelligence.
- I’d say rather about human unintelligence, human stupidity.
- Would you?
- I would. I read a recent paper* from MIT which claims human language evolved from assembling two types of animal language behavior, lexical and expressive, with lexical language expressing states of the world and expressive language expressing intentions of the speaking animal. The dance of bees is lexical, describes the location where food can be found, the song of birds is expressive, taking possession of territory and telling of the wish to mate.
- Interesting.
- You think so? The other was a book from a  philosopher arguing that moral judgments are truth claims expressed in language, based on probabilities like all other scientific theories. Yet…
- Yet?
- Consider how animals play. The professional researchers want to see language in an attitude to states of the world, expressive with the lexical…
- And you think that is wrong?
- I think it is right. But the expressive side already is language without the lexical.
- You mean that we don’t need the particular state of the world spelled out to express the particular state of the world.
- Exactly. Any animal that expresses a relation to a state of the world already has a word in mind for the state of the world, already has a complete language. And morality as a truth proposition about the world? As uncertain of the world? No, expressive language already has the truth of the world in it.
- You lost me.
- As I was saying, consider how animals play. They are not acting passively in response to signs of coming pleasure or pain. They are not unconsciously emitting calls or transmitting information. Their action is expressive of their desire, and what they desire is to change the world, but neither the expressed desire to fight, nor the world fighting back against them supposed to be changed is real. They know what they are doing is not real and they want it to stay that way. What they see is another animal they play with that they like, and they assume the other animal is looking at them in the same way.
- You’re saying the playful action expresses a state of liking? A kind of consciousness, or even more, of ethics?
- Yes, all of that. The fact that animals play shows us that consciousness and liking precede language, rather than language produces consciousness and makes an argument for liking. Language expresses consciousness, not intentions with regard to the world. Some animals, us included, are able to step out of the present and imagine the future and recollect the past, to play with the present, as it were, and this allows them to see what a word is in isolation from other words. They then can choose how to arrange words to make new expression / state of the world combinations.
- The tool is the same, consciousness different. And what conclusion do you draw from our educated class’s continued attempts to reduce consciousness and morality to a product of language?
- Isn’t it obvious?
- Spell it out for me.
- Put it in language. No problem. Our educated class is a class dependent on other classes, and relations between classes are based on language. Making consciousness dependent on language flatters, deepens the importance of that relation.
- If you are right why did you have to spell it out for me in language?
- Because that is the game, and you only know what I’m talking about…
- If I do…
- You only know what I’m talking about because, like animals at play, you know all that we speak here refers to something more important.
- That important thing being the world in which we speak to each other in which we like each other, like the animals who play with each other like each other.
- You understand.
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The Emergence of Hierarchical Structure in Human Language