Re: Origins of human thought

J. Moore (
Tue, 10 Oct 95 09:56:00 -0500

7c> I'm looking for some good references for an article I'm writing. My
7c> thesis is that the capacity for abstract thought only arose in humans
7c> along with the capacity for language.

7c> I fully realize that one can pick bones (no pun intended) with this
7c> thesis by, for example, redefining language to include Jane Goodall's
7c> apes. But, really, that sort of stuff bores me. I'm talking about the
7c> capacity for modern rapid, easily-spoken languages, which almost seem
7c> innate. As far as abstract thought -- I'm refeering to the capacity for
7c> metaphysical speculation , early religion, anatism, etc. I'm highly
7c> unimpressed with the material that says Neanderthals were really capable
7c> of this kind of thing.

7c> Of coure I'm interested in counter arguments to my thesis too.

I deleted various things as I only have a couple of points that I
think you should keep in mind. Essentially it's that you are
going to end up with a distinction that is to some degree
arbitrary, just as we do with the definitions of "language" or
"species". This is inescapable, I think, but shouldn't stop you
from trying to define it as well as you can anyway. I do think
you're going to get into a grey area as you go back, much as you
do with "art". i.e., There's paintings on walls and that's art.
There's also diagonal marks on tools much earlier and that might
be "art", or maybe you'd put it in a different category and call
it "decoration"... or maybe there're just accidental, deep

Similarly, where do you draw the line between abstract thought and
recognition of self; the latter being seen in chimps in Gallup's
mirror and paint experiment. Like communication, and social
organization, and tool-making, and meat-eating, there is a
definite difference in degree between what chimps are capable of
and what we are capable of, and the difference is a huge gap. But
where along the way are the divisions, and are they ever a
fundamental break or are the divisions at any given point
completely arbitrary?

At the root of what I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that you've
bitten off a real tough piece of meat. I think it's a fascinating
topic, but caution you that it's too often treated in a simplistic
manner -- a simple, now they don't have it, now they do. I think
too that, like the fossil record of tools, there were likely early
examples (wrong word- sorry, don't have the right one) of this
sort of behavior that don't leave tracks. A judicious amount of
speculation on this subject might not be out of line in your

Jim Moore (

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