No sooner did we hear that apes are close to speaking (no, they aren’t, and the claim is just another example of how, in our time, impossible ape achievement stories have replace impossible miracle claims)—than we are informed by National Geographic:
Bonobo “Baby Talk” Reveals Roots of Human Language
As we watch the bonobos, I think I hear a vocalization called peeping—a short, high-pitched sound bonobos make with their mouths closed.
Peeping, which is very similar to the burbling of human infants before they form words, may tell us more about the evolution of human speech.
That’s because while most animal sounds have a more narrow meaning, bonobos use peeping in several contexts, including eating, communicating danger, and resting, according to a study published this week in the journal PeerJ.
Hold it. What do we mean by “most” animal sounds? Is this a roundabout way of saying that animals other than bonobos have a broad range of meaning “in several contexts”?
How closely related are these animals to humans?
Such vocal flexibility is “an important transition toward what we see in human speech,” says study leader Zanna Clay, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.
Yes, but what about convergent evolution? See Evolution appears to converge on goals—but in Darwinian terms, is that possible?
It also “suggests that this ability was already present in our common ancestor, before humans diverged from the rest of the great apes,” about seven to eight million years ago, says Clay, who received funding from National Geographic. More.
No, wait, it does not particularly suggest that, if animals other than bonobos, animals that are not closely related to humans, have a broad range of meaning “in several contexts.”
This article tells us more about the pop science mind than about the bonobo mind.
The pop science mind tends to lack practical intelligence. No one even thinks of asking why, if baby bonobo peeping tells us about the roots of human language, it never did anything for the bonobos.
If whatever worked for humans did not work for bonobos, a thesis based on bonobos is unlikely to point to a correct answer.
Second, it is going to be very difficult for the pop science mind to grasp the significance of the new extended synthesis in evolution (evolution can happen via many mechanisms, not just natural selection acting on random mutation (Darwinism)).
For example, convergent evolution means that one cannot make easy claims about when two primate species diverged, based simply on their hitting on the same mechanism for communication. (Especially if it should turn out that unrelated species have also hit on the same mechanism):
… the problem presented for Darwinism by convergent evolution has hardly penetrated the world of pop science writers, high school teachers, politicians, judges, theologians, and entertainers.
Thus, no one even thinks of, let alone asks, the questions these claims call for.
The desire to save the endangered bonobos is laudable, of course. But fairy stories (hairy stories?) are no more useful in conservation than they are anywhere else.
See also: Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness
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