Re: Human Language.

Paul Crowley (
Sat, 21 Dec 1996 11:21:25 GMT (Thomas Clarke) wrote:

>In article <59csaa$> (Paul Crowley) writes:
>>Many birds, bats and monkeys throw themselves around with
>>superb motor skill; fish in the Amazon aim droplets at
>>flies. Such motor skills need minimal brains. Chimps are
>>not too bad at throwing. And there is no evidence for any
>>throwing before about 50 kya.

>Calvin's ideas are no dobut controversial. He is a neurophysiologist
>by training. I don't take the fish as counterexamples, their
>skill is a hardwired specialty. It is like saying that human
>inventiveness is just the same thing as a bouwer bird.

But all the hominids are doing is exercising a simple motor
skill. There are only three easily managed variables:
direction, elevation and power; if they can be "hard-wired"
into the brain of a tiny fish, why not into a hominid's one?
I can't see why this action should require more or special
brain power. It seems to me a case of very special

>Chimps are somewhat along the way to human ballistic skill, no doubt.
>Calvin calculates thate the critical thing about throwing accurately
>is the release time. Since neurons are inherently noisy devices
>the only way to obtain better timing and hence more accuracy (short
>of some hardwired solution) is to average a lot of neurons so that
>the noise or timing jitter cancels out.

Catching a ball (or other object) used to be thought to be a
very complex activity. On the face of it, it seems much
more difficult than throwing one. It looks as though the
catcher has to predict the trajectory with complex
trigonometry. Actually this is not so, and the mechanism is
quite simple. (I don't have details or references for this,
but I probably could get them.) I'd bet throwing is much
more simple.

>Oh, Calvin even argues that the best interpretation of what was
>done with the Archulean (sp?) hand "axe" was that it was
>used as a throwing weapon as well as for pounding.

II'd accept this - if its use in war against other hominids
was the vital point. Better warfare techniques lead to
survival (and a rather large evolutionary advantage).

>>>More brain = more neurons
>>>to control rock release giving better timing giving better hunting
>>>success giving evolutionary advantage. Result Homo erectus.

>Calvin's scenario has A.piths approaching a water hole where
>a number of animals are drinking. Then at a distance throwing/lobing
>a rock into the crowd. With luck - often enough to drive evolution -
>one of the animals is knocked senseless and its A.pith feast time.
>This would probably only work with smallish animals.

If this was true, then the A-piths would have an anatomy
designed for hunting. They didn't. End of scenario.

>Thus the time scale is more like 100s of generations at most.
>Also, I don't see how the evolutionary argument is much affected
>by the time scale. A time 0 say you have populations in
>areas A and B. Times passes. Area A is uninhabitable, so
>the population (reduced?) is now squeezed into B.
>Did the genes in area A vanish? No, given any sort of population
>diffusion the population now limited to A will have a mix of
>the genes from A and B.

But this is the norm for all wild populations at ALL times.
Every species has fringe populations. When times get hard,
they die. Their genes do NOT merge back into the main pool.

And the time scale is crucial in any evolutionary argument.
Thousands of actual human migrations are recorded. How many
of them were the result of a long-term secular trend in
climate? The same point applies to other non-migratory
species. Collared doves, grey squirrels, fulmars and
magpies have proliferated on these islands. None of this was
due to long-term climatic change.

>We are talking about human beings. Not polar bears.
>A human being takes off his furs and heads south, fighting
>those occupying the land if necessary. If the glacier reduces
>your hunting range, aren't you going to extend your range
>further south? If your neighbor to the south objects, the
>the better man will win.

Some years are good, some are bad; humans fight all the
time. Generations live and die; populations expand and
decline for innumerable reasons; the glacier slowly
changing in size over the generations is an insignificant
influence. That glaciers could actually change in size was
not recognised until about 1850. That fact tells you their
importance to day-to-day human life.

A fast change in climate on a geological time scale would be
over about 5,000 years. If a human population doubled its
numbers in each generation, it would over that time increase
in size by a factor of 2^200 or >10^60 or a billion billion
billion billion billion billion million. In other words, a
human population can fluctuate so much as a result of other
factors, that it is quite absurd to talk about the influence
of secular climatic change. (Although it's sad to say that
you'll get such a point made in most PA books and articles
-- indeed it's often regarded as the driving force of human

>. In the ice age times it is
>H. erectus in question and H. erectus has fire and hunted

There is no evidence of hunting before 100 kya (and H.s.s.)
I don't believe H.erectus did - on any significant scale.

>Then when they got big enough the possibility of tale telling
>arose. Consider two tribal groups. One tells about hunting
>trips around the fire, imparting skills to the young. The other
>doesn't. Which has greater survival value?

Skills are not imparted by means of fireside tales. If I
had to chose at all, I'd pick the one that didn't indulge in
such chat. Their young would not pick up the bs that goes
along with that scenario.

>A mystery to me is why these characters persist. Why is change
>so slow when potentially cultural change can be so fast?
>Why are the Irish still fighting? Why does the south still
>want to secede? Bosnia? Hutu's and Tootsies?

>> If that *kind* of
>>history is extended back to the australopithecines

>I don't think this can be done. A.piths probably didn't
>have language and thus culture and thus that kind of history.
>It is not genetic.

In *effect* it is genetic. It is inherited. It determines
character and has enormous influence on success or failure.
And I don't see why it cannot be extended to the A-piths.
The chimps of the Gombe have a different culture from those
of Senegal. One fishes for termites and the other doesn't;
one cracks nuts with stones, the other doesn't. Such
culture can affect survival. The A-piths would have had
much more of that sort of thing.

>I don't buy warfare before language.

The chimps of the Gombe engage in "warfare" - or something
so close that it's hard to describe it otherwise - given all
the other differences. If the A-piths moved to a more open
environment, I can only see such behaviour intensifying.