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How does human language differ from animal signals?

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How is “To be or not to be?” different from Bow wow wow!?

Both animals and humans use signs. A sign points to something other than itself. For example, when you point with your finger at a tree, you are making a sign. You want people to look at the tree, not at your finger. A lion’s roar (to scare off an intruder) is also a sign. It’s a warning sign for the intruder, not just noise the animal happens to be making. A bird’s song to attract a mate or establish territory is a sign in the same way. So is a written or spoken word. Both animals and humans use signs.

There are (for our purposes) two kinds of signs—signals and designators. A signal is a concrete sign that has a physical relationship with the object it signifies. Pointing at a tree is a signal (direction). Making a noise to ward off an intruder is a signal (warning). It is the concreteness that characterizes the communication as a signal. A signal points to or represents, in a physical way, what it signifies. That can include aiming (with a gesture) and implying (by a frightening noise). Other signals might include imitation (for example, saying “meow” to a cat, to indicate friendliness by sounding like a cat). Both animals and humans use signals. A paw or hand motion, a grunt, a shout or a roar, are all signals. Signals can be quite complex—consider the complex songs of birds or the dance of insects in a hive.

A designator, however, is a kind of sign that differs in a very important way from a signal. A designator points to an object, but it does so abstractly, not concretely. The spoken or written word “cat” has nothing physically to do with a cat. Unlike a gesture (pointing to a cat) or making the sound “meow”, the letters C-A-T feature nothing that concretely links the word to the animal. You only know what “cat” designates if you understand the word as used in English. By contrast, you could understand a signal like pointing to a cat or saying “meow” even if you spoke no English. Designators differ from signals in that they point to objects—things or concepts—abstractly.

Language is the systematic use of designators—the rule-based use of abstract signs. More. Michael Egnor, “ How is human language different from animal signals?” at Mind Matters

Michael Egnor is a neurosurgeon, professor of Neurological Surgery and Pediatrics and Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Neurological Surgery, Stonybrook School of Medicine

See also: Does brain stimulation research challenge free will? If we can be forced to want something, is the will still free? (Michael Egnor)


Is free will a dangerous myth? (Michael Egnor)

as to this comment from Dr. Egnor's article:
"Man thinks about justice, and about mercy, about politics and imaginary numbers, and about countless concepts that are not particular physical things. This is abstract thought, and only humans think abstractly."
Atheistic materialists, as a philosophical starting point, hold that ALL abstract, immaterial, objects are not real. Yet, there are many abstract, immaterial, objects, (many abstract, immaterial, objects not specifically included in Dr. Egnor's list), that everyone, including atheistic materialists themselves, hold as being real (and they can only deny them as being real on pain of refuting atheistic materialism itself). For instance, the concept of species itself is an abstract, immaterial, concept that can find no grounding within atheistic materialism: The entire idea of there being a distinct classes of species is a abstract, immaterial, concept that simply cannot be grounded within the Darwinian worldview:
Darwin, Design & Thomas Aquinas The Mythical Conflict Between Thomism & Intelligent Design by Logan Paul Gage Excerpt: First, the problem of essences. G. K. Chesterton once quipped that “evolution . . . does not especially deny the existence of God; what it does deny is the existence of man.” It might appear shocking, but in this one remark the ever-perspicacious Chesterton summarized a serious conflict between classical Christian philosophy and Darwinism. In Aristotelian and Thomistic thought, each particular organism belongs to a certain universal class of things. Each individual shares a particular nature—or essence—and acts according to its nature. Squirrels act squirrelly and cats catty. We know with certainty that a squirrel is a squirrel because a crucial feature of human reason is its ability to abstract the universal nature from our sense experience of particular organisms. Think about it: How is it that we are able to recognize different organisms as belonging to the same group? The Aristotelian provides a good answer: It is because species really exist—not as an abstraction in the sky, but they exist nonetheless. We recognize the squirrel’s form, which it shares with other members of its species, even though the particular matter of each squirrel differs. So each organism, each unified whole, consists of a material and immaterial part (form).,,, One way to see this form-matter dichotomy is as Aristotle’s solution to the ancient tension between change and permanence debated so vigorously in the pre-Socratic era. Heraclitus argued that reality is change. Everything constantly changes—like fire, which never stays the same from moment to moment. Philosophers like Parmenides (and Zeno of “Zeno’s paradoxes” fame) argued exactly the opposite; there is no change. Despite appearances, reality is permanent. How else could we have knowledge? If reality constantly changes, how can we know it? What is to be known? Aristotle solved this dilemma by postulating that while matter is constantly in flux—even now some somatic cells are leaving my body while others arrive—an organism’s form is stable. It is a fixed reality, and for this reason is a steady object of our knowledge. Organisms have an essence that can be grasped intellectually. Denial of True Species Enter Darwinism. Recall that Darwin sought to explain the origin of “species.” Yet as he pondered his theory, he realized that it destroyed species as a reality altogether. For Darwinism suggests that any matter can potentially morph into any other arrangement of matter without the aid of an organizing principle. He thought cells were like simple blobs of Jell-O, easily re-arrangeable. For Darwin, there is no immaterial, immutable form. In The Origin of Species he writes: “I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual differences, is also applied arbitrarily, for convenience’s sake.” Statements like this should make card-carrying Thomists shudder.,,, The first conflict between Darwinism and Thomism, then, is the denial of true species or essences. For the Thomist, this denial is a grave error, because the essence of the individual (the species in the Aristotelian sense) is the true object of our knowledge. As philosopher Benjamin Wiker observes in Moral Darwinism, Darwin reduced species to “mere epiphenomena of matter in motion.” What we call a “dog,” in other words, is really just an arbitrary snapshot of the way things look at present. If we take the Darwinian view, Wiker suggests, there is no species “dog” but only a collection of individuals, connected in a long chain of changing shapes, which happen to resemble each other today but will not tomorrow. What About Man? Now we see Chesterton’s point. Man, the universal, does not really exist. According to the late Stanley Jaki, Chesterton detested Darwinism because “it abolishes forms and all that goes with them, including that deepest kind of ontological form which is the immortal human soul.” And if one does not believe in universals, there can be, by extension, no human nature—only a collection of somewhat similar individuals.,,, Implications for Bioethics This is not a mere abstract point. This dilemma is playing itself out in contemporary debates in bioethics. With whom are bioethicists like Leon Kass (neo-Aristotelian and former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics) sparring today if not with thoroughgoing Darwinians like Princeton’s Peter Singer, who denies that humans, qua humans, have intrinsic dignity? Singer even calls those who prefer humans to other animals “speciesist,” which in his warped vocabulary is akin to racism.,,, If one must choose between saving an intelligent, fully developed pig or a Down syndrome baby, Singer thinks we should opt for the pig.,,, https://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=23-06-037-f
Since the abstract immaterial concepts of human nature, dog nature, and cat nature can't even be grounded within the Darwinian worldview, then it was hardly fair for Charles Darwin to have entitled his book “Origin of Species”. In fact, since, as Dr. Egnor pointed out, the use of written language itself requires abstract thought, it was hardly fair for Darwin to have ever written a book arguing for atheistic materialism in the first place.,,, The existence of Darwin's book itself defeats Darwin's argument for atheistic materialism. As was touched upon in the preceding article,,,
Chesterton detested Darwinism because “it abolishes forms and all that goes with them, including that deepest kind of ontological form which is the immortal human soul.”
, As was touched upon,, the primary failing of atheistic materialism is that it denies the existence of the human soul altogether. In other words, the entire abstract, immaterial, concept of "you" existing as a real person can find no grounding within atheistic materialism. There simply is no “me”, “myself”, or “I” within the reductive materialism of the Darwinian worldview for atheists to appeal to:
“There is no self in, around, or as part of anyone’s body. There can’t be. So there really isn’t any enduring self that ever could wake up morning after morning worrying about why it should bother getting out of bed. The self is just another illusion, like the illusion that thought is about stuff or that we carry around plans and purposes that give meaning to what our body does. Every morning’s introspectively fantasized self is a new one, remarkably similar to the one that consciousness ceased fantasizing when we fell sleep sometime the night before. Whatever purpose yesterday’s self thought it contrived to set the alarm last night, today’s newly fictionalized self is not identical to yesterday’s. It’s on its own, having to deal with the whole problem of why to bother getting out of bed all over again.” – A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, ch.10 “that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.” Francis Crick – “The Astonishing Hypothesis” 1994 The Brain: The Mystery of Consciousness By STEVEN PINKER - Monday, Jan. 29, 2007 Part II THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL Another startling conclusion from the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive "I" that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. http://www.academia.edu/2794859/The_Brain_The_Mystery_of_Consciousness “We have so much confidence in our materialist assumptions (which are assumptions, not facts) that something like free will is denied in principle. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I don’t really know that. Either way, it doesn’t matter because if free will and consciousness are just an illusion, they are the most seamless illusions ever created. Film maker James Cameron wishes he had special effects that good.” Matthew D. Lieberman – neuroscientist – materialist – UCLA professor
Needless to say, if, as atheistic materialists hold, the abstract, immaterial, concept of personhood is not real, but is illusory, then nothing else can possibly be real for us either.
"In any philosophy of reality that is not ultimately self-defeating or internally contradictory, mind – unlabeled as anything else, matter or spiritual – must be primary. What is “matter” and what is “conceptual” and what is “spiritual” can only be organized from mind. Mind controls what is perceived, how it is perceived, and how those percepts are labeled and organized. Mind must be postulated as the unobserved observer, the uncaused cause simply to avoid a self-negating, self-conflicting worldview. It is the necessary postulate of all necessary postulates, because nothing else can come first. To say anything else comes first requires mind to consider and argue that case and then believe it to be true, demonstrating that without mind, you could not believe that mind is not primary in the first place." - William J. Murray He goes toe-to-toe with science big wigs… and so far he’s undefeated. - interview Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: You see we always start from the fact that we are conscious. Consciousness is the only carrier of reality and existence that we can know. Everything else is abstraction; [they] are inferences we make from consciousness. http://www.skeptiko.com/274-bernardo-kastrup-why-our-culture-is-materialistic/
As Rowan Williams asked Dawkins, ”If consciousness is an illusion… what isn’t?”
At the 23:33 minute mark of the following video, Richard Dawkins agrees with materialistic philosophers who say that: “consciousness is an illusion” A few minutes later Rowan Williams asks Dawkins ”If consciousness is an illusion… what isn’t?”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWN4cfh1Fac&t=22m57s
Simply put, everything we define as being real starts from our first person subjective conscious experience. As Descartes argued, (to paraphrase), "I can doubt that everything else exists, but I cannot doubt the fact that I really exist as a real person".
"Descartes remarks that he can continue to doubt whether he has a body; after all, he only believes he has a body as a result of his perceptual experiences, and so the demon could be deceiving him about this. But he cannot doubt that he has a mind, i.e. that he thinks. So he knows he exists even though he doesn’t know whether or not he has a body." http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/philosophy/downloads/a2/unit4/descartes/DescartesDualism.pdf
Or as Eugene Wigner himself stated:
“The principal argument against materialism is not that illustrated in the last two sections: that it is incompatible with quantum theory. The principal argument is that thought processes and consciousness are the primary concepts, that our knowledge of the external world is the content of our consciousness and that the consciousness, therefore, cannot be denied. On the contrary, logically, the external world could be denied—though it is not very practical to do so. In the words of Niels Bohr, “The word consciousness, applied to ourselves as well as to others, is indispensable when dealing with the human situation.” In view of all this, one may well wonder how materialism, the doctrine that “life could be explained by sophisticated combinations of physical and chemical laws,” could so long be accepted by the majority of scientists." – Eugene Wigner, Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, pp 167-177.
Personally, I consider this a shining example of poetic justice. In their claim that God does not really exist as a real person but is merely an illusion, the Atheist himself also ends up claiming that he himself does not really exist as a real person but that he is merely a neuronal illusion of his material brain. As was stated in the following video "“You can spout a philosophy that says scientific materialism, but there aren’t any scientific materialists to pronounce it."
Atheistic Materialism – Does Richard Dawkins Exist? – video 37:51 minute mark Quote: “You can spout a philosophy that says scientific materialism, but there aren’t any scientific materialists to pronounce it.,,, That’s why I think they find it kind of embarrassing to talk that way. Nobody wants to stand up there and say, “You know, I’m not really here”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVCnzq2yTCg&t=37m51s
One final note, due to advances in quantum mechanics, we can now, (unsurprisingly), add empirical evidence to this already completely devastating philosophical critique of atheistic materialism. First, we can point to the fact that, "At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,"
Reality doesn’t exist until we measure it, (Delayed Choice) quantum experiment confirms - Mind = blown. - FIONA MACDONALD - 1 JUN 2015 Excerpt: "It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it," lead researcher and physicist Andrew Truscott said in a press release. http://www.sciencealert.com/reality-doesn-t-exist-until-we-measure-it-quantum-experiment-confirms
And secondly we can also point to advances in quantum biology to support our belief in a transcendent "unifying' human soul:
Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology - video https://youtu.be/LHdD2Am1g5Y
Mark 8:37 Is anything worth more than your soul?
Raymond Tallis' "Michelangelo's Finger" is a deep dive on pointing as uniquely human. And as always with Tallis, a great read. Pacific

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