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So if it happens as in the synopsis, it would have been pretty weird to grow up as one of the first kids with recursive language? And I guess the gene takes over the world because well, you want to mate with other people who understand prepositions.



The article goes on to mention that it likely developed gradually over several generations. The first kids with the mutation would have never been taught recursive language by adults. Instead, they probably developed some semblance of it from speaking with siblings/cousins their age. While this would be pretty weak, it probably gave them enough of an advantage over others.

Once they themselves had kids they would be able to teach them their imperfect version of recursive language. This probably continued and amplified over generations.

It's a pretty interesting case of nature and nurture combining. The mutation is a prerequisite, but largely useless unless there's enough "nurture" happening during the critical period.


As the article mentions it's only 70k years ago that we start seeing unambiguous indicators of intelligence. The normal figure for this indicator, the upper paleolithic revolution, is 50k years. In any case that's where we first start seeing significant and then rapidly widespread signs of intelligence - fishing, extensive adornment, wide artifact collections, burial ceremony, and much more.

The point here is that the archaeological record seems to indicate that it's like one day we simply 'woke up.' Whomever was fortunate enough to experience such a mutation first would have had a tremendous competitive advantage. The degree in intellectual advancement is such that they would have probably been significantly better at just about everything -- most importantly in surviving and spreading their genes. Now take this person and what would likely have been their vast number of offspring. They could effectively take over the world. And I suppose, in a manner of speaking, they did.


> the archaeological record seems to indicate that it's like one day we simply 'woke up.'

Either that or the kinds of artifacts we look for simply don’t last longer than 70k years on a planet like this.

Or, it’s just rare enough that, when combined with the cost of excavation and the fact that scholarship builds on scholarship, it’s just not the kind of evidence scholars are going to dig far past we’ll established boundaries to find.

Lots of possible explanations for the data.


It is entirely possible the capacity for this existed but was not being used. That would explain why it spread so rapidly... perhaps most humans already had the capacity?


I think it's implied that the capacity was there, just no impetus.


This all reminds me of the Bicameral Mind hypothesis, although that dates that point of 'waking up' much later.


In certain society what we would call mental illness was often looked at as people being touched by the gods, that they had some special insight. So depending on the society they were born into, they could have be highly regarded indeed.


They may have had other reasons for being highly regarded, or feared.

Non recursive language does not allow you to give commands more complicated than "you do this", for instance saying "tell X to do this thing at this time in this location" is impossible without recursion. You might be able to get as far as "tell x to do this" since you are essentially just saying "repeat these words to X" but you have no way of providing context such as the time or circumstances when X should be told or when X should be told to perform the action. All organization and command would have to be done spur of the moment. There would be no possibility of planning in advance or communicating abstract concepts and thoughts to others.

Even a small group of people with this ability facing another group without it would have an overwhelming advantage, they could deceive, plot revenge, strategize, distract, and confound their opponents with their seemingly magical ability to know what members of their own group were to do and say before they did it. They could conceptualize solutions to problems that the others could not even begin to imagine. They could invent new objects in their mind and then execute those plans or tell others about them. They could create new words and concepts in language through combination and juxtaposition. They would quite literally be super-human, every one of them a Napoleon and an Einstein and a Da Vinci and a Shakespeare at once.


Being able to conceptualize does not depend on language, many of us don't think in language at all.


There is no proof of that. Even if you experience speaking and thinking as separate sensations, it may still be that they are actually "implemented" by the same structures in the brain.

There is in fact a theory that language is a tool for thought first, and for communication only secondarily.


One may not think in a common language used to communicate (e.g. English) but the way one thinks could be considered a language regardless, only specific to one's own mind.

Take for instance Google's translation AI. It developed its own intermediary language[1] which facilitated translation between languages and enabled it to even translate languages it had not specifically been trained on.[2]

[1]e.g. It had a "word" for dog that wasn't part of any existing language.

[2]e.g. it could translate Spanish -> French even though it was only trained on Spanish -> English and English -> French


This is a very sneaky argument that misses the point I think, you are effectively defining any sharing of information as a language, then using that definition.


I'm not talking about language here. The discussion is about _recursion_ which has vast implications for both language and thought.




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