Re: Are we "special"?

Paul Crowley (
Sun, 08 Dec 96 21:05:25 GMT

In article <> "Gerrit Hanenburg" writes:

> > One way of looking at it is to consider
> >the work our CNS does: a language-learning capacity is inbuilt,
> >but all attempts to establish the rules for this capacity have
> >made little progress. They are far to complex. One reflection
> >of this is the hopeless inadequacy of all language translation
> >programs, even though they incorporate tens of thousands of
> >rules and millions of lines of code.
> Which only means that we do not yet understand how brains in general
> do it. But that ignorance is not limited to human brains. Bonobos have
> a language-learning capacity too (Kanzi) but we don't know how it
> works with them either.

Bad example. Kanzi's language abilities are extremely
limited. Although Kanzi's learning is based largely on
pictorial representation it might be said that, roughly
speaking, he's learnt a version of English. If Kanzi's
sister were to learn an equivalent version of (say) German,
the rules enabling translation from one "language" to the
other would IMO be trivial, or close to trivial.

The difference between Kanzi's "language" and that of an
ordinary child is world's apart. IMO we will *never*
understand "how brains in general do it". We would
understand how we understand. There is a self-referential
or circular nature to the issue, and it's far too deep
philosophically. I'm sure Wittgenstein would not have
thought it soluble.