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Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the difference between human and animal minds

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Michael Egnor

Michael Egnor, here, at Evolution News & Views:

Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the evolutionary argument that humans are descended from apes, the differences between humans and apes are so profound as to render the view that humans are apes abject nonsense.

It is important to understand the fundamental difference between humans and nonhuman animals. Nonhuman animals such as apes have material mental powers. By material I mean powers that are instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation. These powers include sensation, perception, imagination (the ability to form mental images), memory (of perceptions and images), and appetite. Nonhuman animals have a mental capacity to perceive and respond to particulars, which are specific material objects such as other animals, food, obstacles, and predators.

Human beings have mental powers that include the material mental powers of animals but in addition entail a profoundly different kind of thinking. Human beings think abstractly, and nonhuman animals do not. Human beings have the power to contemplate universals, which are concepts that have no material instantiation. Human beings think about mathematics, literature, art, language, justice, mercy, and an endless library of abstract concepts. Human beings are rational animals. More.

Not only so, but even human beings who have severe neurological deficits can display these qualities, imperfectly or in fits and starts.

As I wrote here,

When Canada effectually legalized euthanasia, I was dismayed. Dementia victims, certain to be targets, can be got to “consent” without any fixed or firm idea what they are doing. With the ageing of the world’s population dementia has become the new leprosy.

Legislators have sniffed the wind. People with dementias are looked on as beings apart, as lepers once were.

But dementias are not different in principle from other disabilities.

Dementia: The brain is an organ; when challenged, it tries to heal, like any other organ. And it often succeeds, up to a point, just by rewiring (neuroplasticity). So dementias go forward and backward, depending. They are more of a problem in some areas of life than others.

In that respect, dementias do not differ much from, say, mobility issues. It is true that mobility declines with age. But it is also true that seniors who arrive in rehab in wheelchairs routinely progress to walkers and canes.

Mental awareness is like that too. Just for example: I was in the dining room in an old age home a couple of months ago. Some residents were complaining that it was too dark for that time of year.

Well, no surprise there, five light bulbs were burnt out. I said, I am going to grab one of those deaders, go get five like it, and just screw them all in. (How big a committee do we need for this? How many meetings?)

Then an old fellow diagnosed with dementia—who usually could not speak clearly—rasped from the back of the room, “Maybe you should leave that to the landlord.”

I realized he was right. If I did it myself, I’d be personally responsible for any consequences, no matter how unforeseen. Following his implied suggestion, I spoke to the front desk, and they got Maintenance to do the job.More.

To think that way, he needed a type of life experience involving many abstract concepts, some of which had stayed with him in the gathering darkness. And one of which would never have dawned on an animal.

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36 Replies to “Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the difference between human and animal minds

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    Egnor:

    Nonhuman animals are purely material beings. They have no concepts. They experience hunger and pain. They don’t contemplate the injustice of suffering.

    Is anyone else surprised by the highlighted part of this statement?

    Especially when taken together with this:

    Nonhuman animals such as apes have material mental powers. By material I mean powers that are instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation. These powers include sensation, perception, imagination (the ability to form mental images), memory (of perceptions and images), and appetite. Nonhuman animals have a mental capacity to perceive and respond to particulars, which are specific material objects such as other animals, food, obstacles, and predators.

  2. 2
    bornagain says:

    Militant atheists, (if they had a mind), should learn to never mess with a brain surgeon when it comes to debating issues of the human mind:

    Teaching a Parrot Newton’s Principia – Michael Egnor – November 12, 2015
    Excerpt: Shallit:
    “As for “instantiate a universal,” I think you presume I belong to some philosophical school where this makes sense. I don’t even believe in universals, at least as conceived of by some philosophers. I’m not a Platonist or Aristotelian, for example, nor am I a realist. Give me a specific example of something you want that cannot be possible under materialism, not vague prattle.”
    Examples of universals: “philosophical school,” “universals,” “Platonist,” “example,” “Aristotelian,” “realist,” “specific,” “something,” “materialism,” “vague prattle.” Shallit’s denial of universals is full of universals.
    Universals exist. There is genuine debate as to whether they exist in a separate realm (Plato), in particulars (Aristotle), or only in the mind with no independent existence per se (Ockham). But in order to debate universals one must invoke universals, whatever they are.
    And whatever universals are (I agree with Aristotle), it is men, and not animals, who contemplate them.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....00831.html

    Of note: Egnor’s contention that the Human mind is ontologically different than the animal mind is born out empirically, in that there is ‘no evidence to support the notion that we gradually became who we inherently are over an extended period, in either the physical or the intellectual sense’.

    “A number of hominid crania are known from sites in eastern and southern Africa in the 400- to 200-thousand-year range, but none of them looks like a close antecedent of the anatomically distinctive Homo sapiens…Even allowing for the poor record we have of our close extinct kin, Homo sapiens appears as distinctive and unprecedented…there is certainly no evidence to support the notion that we gradually became who we inherently are over an extended period, in either the physical or the intellectual sense.”
    Dr. Ian Tattersall: – paleoanthropologist – emeritus curator of the American Museum of Natural History – (Masters of the Planet, 2012)

    Evolution of the Genus Homo – Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences – Ian Tattersall, Jeffrey H. Schwartz, May 2009
    Excerpt: “Unusual though Homo sapiens may be morphologically, it is undoubtedly our remarkable cognitive qualities that most strikingly demarcate us from all other extant species. They are certainly what give us our strong subjective sense of being qualitatively different. And they are all ultimately traceable to our symbolic capacity. Human beings alone, it seems, mentally dissect the world into a multitude of discrete symbols, and combine and recombine those symbols in their minds to produce hypotheses of alternative possibilities. When exactly Homo sapiens acquired this unusual ability is the subject of debate.”
    http://www.annualreviews.org/d.....208.100202

    Leading Evolutionary Scientists Admit We Have No Evolutionary Explanation of Human Language – December 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.,,,
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)
    It’s difficult to imagine much stronger words from a more prestigious collection of experts.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....92141.html

    More interesting still, the three Rs, reading, writing, and arithmetic, i.e. the unique ability to process information inherent to man, are the very first things to be taught to children when they enter elementary school. And yet it is this information processing, i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic that is found to be foundational to life:

    Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer – video clip
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVkdQhNdzHU

    Complex grammar of the genomic language – November 9, 2015
    Excerpt: The ‘grammar’ of the human genetic code is more complex than that of even the most intricately constructed spoken languages in the world. The findings explain why the human genome is so difficult to decipher –,,,
    ,,, in their recent study in Nature, the Taipale team examines the binding preferences of pairs of transcription factors, and systematically maps the compound DNA words they bind to.
    Their analysis reveals that the grammar of the genetic code is much more complex than that of even the most complex human languages. Instead of simply joining two words together by deleting a space, the individual words that are joined together in compound DNA words are altered, leading to a large number of completely new words.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....140252.htm

    As well, as if that was not ‘spooky enough’, information, not material, is found to be foundational to physical reality:

    “it from bit” Every “it”— every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has a bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances, an immaterial source and explanation, that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment—evoked responses, in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.”
    – Princeton University physicist John Wheeler (1911–2008) (Wheeler, John A. (1990), “Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, in W. Zurek, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley))

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum teleportation:

  3. 3
    bornagain says:

    Quantum physics just got less complicated – Dec. 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Patrick Coles, Jedrzej Kaniewski, and Stephanie Wehner,,, found that ‘wave-particle duality’ is simply the quantum ‘uncertainty principle’ in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one.,,,
    “The connection between uncertainty and wave-particle duality comes out very naturally when you consider them as questions about what information you can gain about a system. Our result highlights the power of thinking about physics from the perspective of information,”,,,
    http://phys.org/news/2014-12-q.....cated.html

    John Lennox at Rice University: Christianity Gave Us Science – Sept. 28, 2015
    53:00 minute mark – mass-energy is derivative from information (i.e. It from bit) and life is based on information.
    https://youtu.be/PSq4KLjMSlI?t=3182

    It is hard to imagine a more convincing proof that we are made ‘in the image of God’ than finding that both the universe and life itself are ‘information theoretic’ in their basis, and that we, of all the creatures on earth, uniquely possess an ability to understand and create information.
    I guess a more convincing evidence could be that God Himself became a man, defeated death on a cross, and then rose from the dead to prove that He was God.
    But who has ever heard of such overwhelming evidence as that?

    Turin Shroud Quantum Hologram Reveals The Words ‘The Lamb’ on a Solid Oval Object Under The Beard – video
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=J21MECNU

    Solid Oval Object Under The Beard
    http://shroud3d.com/findings/s.....-the-beard

    Verses and Music:

    Genesis 1:26
    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.

    Casting Crowns – The Word Is Alive
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9itgOBAxSc

  4. 4
    daveS says:

    I’m not sure if any of the above addresses my question. Do you agree that nonhuman animals are purely material beings, and in particular that their mental powers are purely material?

  5. 5
    bornagain says:

    daveS, if you did not notice, I was not addressing you.

  6. 6
    ronalddrummond says:

    Dr. Egnor writes:

    “Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the evolutionary argument that humans are descended from apes, the differences between humans and apes are so profound as to render the view that humans are apes abject nonsense.”

    I am not a scientist, but a science-interested clergyman. So the question I have is an earnest inquiry, not a veiled attempt to quibble with the good doctor.

    *Is* the evolutionary argument that “humans are descended from apes?” My understanding is that modern evolutionary thought posits not that humans are descended from apes, but that humans and apes are *related* through descent from a common ancestor. Is this a correct understanding, or have I missed something (a very real possibility)?

  7. 7
    daveS says:

    My apologies.

  8. 8
    Andre says:

    DaveS

    I hold that view how best to describe it?

    Brad Stine does it best

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kfXu9V9ggoU

  9. 9
    vjtorley says:

    Hi daveS,

    You might like to read my recent post, The immateriality of animal consciousness: why I’m agnostic . I hope it answers your questions. Personally, I agree with Dr. Egnor that there is a real, qualitative distinction between human and animal minds, but I think that Aristotelian Thomism tend to over-simplify this distinction somewhat, by drawing a sharp dichotomy between concepts (which are immaterial and which are supposedly unique to rational beings) and images (which even sub-rational animals with sensory capacities are capable of possessing). This dichotomy overlooks the intermediate category of a mental schema, which has a clearly defined internal structure. While a mental schema can certainly be represented in diagrammatic form, its reality is not exhausted by any particular physical representation of it. Mental schemas thus seem to possess a universality that mere images do not.

    Animals certainly lack the ability to form concepts of immaterial objects, or for that matter, concepts which can only be expressed in language. At the same time, I believe that some animals are capable of having rudimentary concepts, which do not require language. They appear to have the primitive concept of a physical object, and they may have a primitive concept of an individual as well. There is no evidence that non-human animals have concepts of immaterial objects.

    As regards animal rationality: animals such as crows appear to be capable of directing means to wards suitable ends at approximately the level of a seven-year-old child, although they are of course unable to explain why they selected the means that they did, since they lack the use of language.

    Dr. Egnor might want to address the evidence regarding crows’ impressive cognitive capacities, in a future post.

  10. 10
    bFast says:

    DaveS, I am sooo with you on this. As a pet owner I am well aware that there is more going on in the noodle of my dog than Michael Engor, Brad Stine and the vast majority at least that hold to ID give credit to.

    Do I think that my dog is capable of pondering “mathematics, literature, art, language, justice, mercy, and an endless library of abstract concepts”? No.

    But do I think that my dog is not “conscious”, that my dog’s mind is somehow “material” vs. mine which is, um, transcendent? Well I do think that my dog is conscious, empathetic, loving, hating, worrying — truly emotional like I am. There is vastly more difference between my dog’s mind and that of a computer than there is between my dog’s mind and mine.

    As Brad Stine charges, do dogs fear death? Yes, I believe that they do.

    I think that the diminishing of the mental capabilities of animals is driven by ideology, not by observation and analysis.

  11. 11
    Andre says:

    My dog went for an op today. She had cherry eye. Here is the issue. She can’t fix the problem. She does not know what the problem is. We as humans can do it for her, diagnose and fix. Did she have any concept of the discussion we had in the Vet room prior and to the lead up to the operation? Did she take her own medication at set intervals?

    Why do I believe animals are pure meat machines with limited cognitive abilities?

    To answer that I have to put on my Christian hat. God would be an awfully cruel God if he gave animals the same immaterial mental capabilities as us but no free will to choose Christ.

    I love Jessie and this has been an awful year for us pet wise as both my old cats passed on. One I had to make the choice of putting her down after losing her battle with cancer.

    My favorite proverb in the world.

    “The rightous man takes care of his animals the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”

  12. 12
    Jack Jones says:

    “*Is* the evolutionary argument that “humans are descended from apes?” My understanding is that modern evolutionary thought posits not that humans are descended from apes, but that humans and apes are *related* through descent from a common ancestor. Is this a correct understanding, or have I missed something (a very real possibility)?”

    George Gaylord Simpson who was a prominent evolutionist said this

    “On this subject, by the way, there has been too much pussyfooting. Apologists emphasize that man cannot be descendant of any living ape—a statement that is obvious to the verge of imbecility—and go on to state or imply that man is not really descended from an ape or monkey at all, but from an earlier common ancestor. In fact, that earlier ancestor would certainly be called an ape or monkey in popular speech by anyone who saw it. Since the terms ape and monkey are defined by popular usage, man’s ancestors were apes or monkeys (or successively both). It is pusillanimous [cowardly—BT/BH] if not dishonest for an informed investigator to say otherwise”

  13. 13
    Jack Jones says:

    @Andre

    Did the vet crack open the origin of species to see how to treat your dog?

    hahaha

  14. 14
    Virgil Cain says:

    My apologies but Dr Egnor doesn’t have anything to support his claims.

    As an IDist I would expect all organisms to have some ability to contemplate their existence for the simple reason being all life is special. Just because we are the only species to require technology to live doesn’t mean we are the only cognate beings here.

  15. 15
    Virgil Cain says:

    Andre:

    God would be an awfully cruel God if he gave animals the same immaterial mental capabilities as us but no free will to choose Christ.

    What if only those capable of sin or who have sinned get to choose? If one lives a life free of sin one has chosen the right path.

  16. 16
    bFast says:

    Jack Jones, “My understanding is that modern evolutionary thought posits not that humans are descended from apes, but that humans and apes are *related* through descent from a common ancestor. Is this a correct understanding, or have I missed something (a very real possibility)?””

    I think that your position is correct if you translate ape to chimp, or if you use the expression used by George Gaylord Simpson of “any living ape” as presumably each lineage: the gorilla, chimp, human etc. all have, according to theory, been adapting since the separation.

    This whole line of reasoning is a “you don’t know the theory, you are stupid” argument. Nobody with any knowledge of evolution assumes that man descended from chimps or from “any living ape”, we all have a nice accurate little picture of LUCA.

    The real question is whether the evolutionary model is correct, whether there are two parents for every child from you back until one of those parents was also the great, great … of chimps as well. Many IDers do not believe this (I happen to). Many IDers believe a “common design” hypothesis that says that the designer took existing master-code, modified it, and put it into a new body to make Adam, the first human.

    So either you hold to common descent between humans and chimps, or you believe that re-creation happened to produce a truly new lineage. The latter, in my view, is primarily held because it fits nicely with certain theologies — as I believe that the philosophically naturalistic evolutionary view(s) provide a model that is based upon their a-priori philosophical position. Their views, in my opinion, do as much data fudging to “fit” as the “literal Adam” view does to make it fit. Both are philosophy first conclusions.

  17. 17
    Jack Jones says:

    @16 bfast

    The question is, Why would lots of evolutionists have to do their slippery dodge?

    Is it because they are embarrassed by what their position entails or is it because they think that they would lose a lot of support for their position, if they did not use the common ancestor dodge?

  18. 18
    Andre says:

    Animals are free from sin thus they have no free will. They lack the capacity to choose to sin.

  19. 19
    ronalddrummond says:

    @Jack Jones #12,

    Thanks for the Simpson quote.

    @Bfast #16,

    Jack Jones was quoting Simpson to answer my question, not posing his own. As I said in my original comment, I am not a scientist but an interested clergyman who finds ID compelling but is trying to de-tangle what is true of evolutionary theory from caricatures unwittingly picked up along the way. I am trying to heed the advice Stephen Meyer’s doctoral advisor gave him: “Beware the sound of one-handed clapping,” by learning what it really is that evolutionary biologists believe about common descent.

    In particular, I’m intrigued by the interaction between Biologos-type TE’s and ID proponents and want to understand more.

  20. 20
    Jack Jones says:

    @11 Andre

    Dogs are great, loyal creatures.

    May you have your dog around for long to come.

  21. 21
    Andre says:

    Thanks Jack!

  22. 22
    daveS says:

    Thanks for the replies, Dr Torley, Andre, and bFast. I will check out the post and the video later this evening.

  23. 23
    News says:

    vjtorley writes at 9:

    I think that Aristotelian Thomism tend to over-simplify this distinction somewhat, by drawing a sharp dichotomy between concepts (which are immaterial and which are supposedly unique to rational beings) and images (which even sub-rational animals with sensory capacities are capable of possessing). This dichotomy overlooks the intermediate category of a mental schema, which has a clearly defined internal structure. While a mental schema can certainly be represented in diagrammatic form, its reality is not exhausted by any particular physical representation of it. Mental schemas thus seem to possess a universality that mere images do not.

    Animals certainly lack the ability to form concepts of immaterial objects, or for that matter, concepts which can only be expressed in language. At the same time, I believe that some animals are capable of having rudimentary concepts, which do not require language.

    This sounds right to me. An intelligent territorial animal can have a mental schema of his territory and of which conspecifics he will and won’t tolerate in it, where and when. But he has no theory about territory or territories in general.* Or whether hs or other animals’ views are right or wrong or productive or unproductive, or anything of the sort.

    It is more complex than an image, but far less complex than a theory.

    *Among cats, territory can be quite complex. Top Cat may insist on the window ledge but only during the favourable portion of the day for viewing wildlife. Bottom Cat knows that he is entitled to sit in the window ledge, but only when there is nothing much to look at – typically midday. Middle cat may sit there alongside Top Cat if the latter feels like tolerating him – as long as he doesn’t get any ideas.

    But, you see? I am explaining the matter abstractly, in human terms. The cats would not in the least understand my analytical approach to the situation. They know the rules. They do not know that they are rules.

  24. 24
    rhampton7 says:

    If Michael Egnor believes that non-human minds have only “material mental powers”, then he would have to conclude that the Weaver birds, whose nests are clearly the product of intelligent design, are a prime example that natural/material forces can be creative.

  25. 25
    Andre says:

    Rhampton7

    If Michael Egnor believes that non-human minds have only “material mental powers”, then he would have to conclude that the Weaver birds, whose nests are clearly the product of intelligent design, are a prime example that natural/material forces can be creative.

    The ignorance is strong with you…….. Let me explain….

    The molecules of an animal did not self organize to be come the animal. The animal did not design itself and them got smart. The animal was designed and given the ability to build designed nests in turn.

  26. 26
    Robert Byers says:

    Great thread and well said.
    i say the difference between us and apes is our soul. I think our memory ability is the same. So we just use our memory more gloriously then aoes.
    Yet if we were given a ape memory it would make no difference. Unless it can be shown we have more memory capability.
    In fact they talk about memory ability between creatures.
    I say we have no brain but only a giant memory machine.
    So dementia is not a brain issue but a memory one. Or rather a triggering mechanism issue with memory.
    I think healing could be done with this presumption and not a brain wiring one.

  27. 27
    Virgil Cain says:

    Over on ENV Dr Egnor says:

    An experiment that would demonstrate animal abstraction would be a demonstration that animals think abstractly without training by experimenters. Such abstract thinking means that the animal cogitates concepts independently of particulars.

    OK, Mike, try that with a human. No training, which includes no teaching. See what happens. My bet is the human will act just like those other animals.

    An example would be an animal that showed a natural understanding of mathematics independently of physical objects, such as an animal who showed an understanding of the concept of imaginary numbers.

    A human without any training couldn’t understand mathematics independently of physical objects nor could it understand imaginary numbers.

    Apply your standards across the board, Mike, and humans are just animals with material minds.

  28. 28
    Andre says:

    Virgil

    I guess the only way to test this is to lob a bunch of babies on an Island and see what happens….

  29. 29
    bornagain says:

    as to:

    “A human without any training couldn’t understand mathematics independently of physical objects nor could it understand imaginary numbers.”

    Actually humans without training are shown to understand the basic principles of mathematics just as well as those with training:

    Geometric Principles Appear Universal in Our Minds – May 2011
    Excerpt: Villagers belonging to an Amazonian group called the Mundurucú intuitively grasp abstract geometric principles despite having no formal math education,,, Mundurucú adults and 7- to 13-year-olds demonstrate as firm an understanding of the properties of points, lines and surfaces as adults and school-age children in the United States and France,,,
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscie.....-geometry/

    “Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God. That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God.”
    – Johannes Kepler

    A few more notes:

    Young Children Have Grammar and Chimpanzees Don’t – Apr. 10, 2013
    Excerpt: “When you compare what children should say if they follow grammar against what children do say, you find it to almost indistinguishable,” Yang said. “If you simulate the expected diversity when a child is only repeating what adults say, it produces a diversity much lower than what children actually say.”
    As a comparison, Yang applied the same predictive models to the set of Nim Chimpsky’s signed phrases, the only data set of spontaneous animal language usage publicly available. He found further evidence for what many scientists, including Nim’s own trainers, have contended about Nim: that the sequences of signs Nim put together did not follow from rules like those in human language.
    Nim’s signs show significantly lower diversity than what is expected under a systematic grammar and were similar to the level expected with memorization. This suggests that true language learning is — so far — a uniquely human trait, and that it is present very early in development.
    “The idea that children are only imitating adults’ language is very intuitive, so it’s seen a revival over the last few years,” Yang said. “But this is strong statistical evidence in favor of the idea that children actually know a lot about abstract grammar from an early age.”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....131327.htm

    Babies are born with a grasp of physics, researchers claim – April 2015
    Babies have an innate understanding of the way the world works and will pay more attention to objects if they appear to defy the basic laws of physics, a pioneering study has found.,,,
    The findings support the contention that humans are born with some kind of core knowledge about how things should work which acts as a template on which babies begin to learn about the world around them, the scientists said.
    “Our research suggests that infants use what they already know about the world to form predictions. When these predictions are shown to be wrong, infants use this as a special opportunity for learning,” said Lisa Feigenson, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.,,,
    The study looked at the way 11-month-old babies responded to seeing a ball apparently rolling through a solid wall. In another experiment, a toy car could be seen rolling off a ledge into mid-air without falling.
    On both occasions, the gaze of the babies became significantly longer compared to parallel tests where the ball and toy car did what the babies expected and were stopped by the wall or fell to the floor respectively.
    The study also found that when surprised in this way, the babies were more likely to become interested in the objects. They would bang the ball for instance against a surface as if to test its solidity, while they would drop the car to see if it fell to the floor.
    The observations support the idea that when babies are surprised by something that goes against their core knowledge, they used it as a chance to learn more about the world, Professor Feigenson said.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/n.....53133.html

    Children Act Like Scientists – October 1, 2012
    Excerpt: New theoretical ideas and empirical research show that very young children’s learning and thinking are strikingly similar to much learning and thinking in science. Preschoolers test hypotheses against data and make causal inferences; they learn from statistics and informal experimentation, and from watching and listening to others. The mathematical framework of probabilistic models and Bayesian inference can describe this learning in precise ways.
    http://crev.info/2012/10/child.....cientists/

  30. 30
    Virgil Cain says:

    bornagain:

    Actually humans without training are shown to understand the basic principles of mathematics just as well as those with training:

    People in tribes have training. They have social skills. They have hunting skills. Try that test with feral children that were just brought in.

    Chimpanzees show planning skills. Why doesn’t that count as abstract thought?

  31. 31
    bornagain says:

    Virgil Cain,

    Adventures in Experimenting On Toddlers By Alison Gopnik Dec. 13, 2013
    Excerpt: But this simple problem actually requires some very abstract thinking. It’s not that any particular block makes the machine go. It’s the fact that the blocks are the same rather than different. Other animals have a very hard time understanding this. Chimpanzees can get hundreds of examples and still not get it, even with delicious bananas as a reward.
    The conventional wisdom has been that young children also can’t learn this kind of abstract logical principle. Scientists like Jean Piaget believed that young children’s thinking was concrete and superficial. And in earlier studies, preschoolers couldn’t solve this sort of “same/different” problem.
    But in those studies, researchers asked children to say what they thought about pictures of objects. Children often look much smarter when you watch what they do instead of relying on what they say.
    We did the experiment I just described with 18-to-24-month-olds. And they got it right, with just two examples. The secret was showing them real blocks on a real machine and asking them to use the blocks to make the machine go.,,,
    Now we are looking at another weird result. Although the 4-year-olds did well on the easier sequential task, in a study we’re still working on, they actually seem to be doing worse than the babies on the harder simultaneous one. So there’s a new problem for us to solve.
    http://online.wsj.com/news/art.....3386009168

    A scientist looks again at Project Nim – Trying to teach Chimps to talk fails
    Excerpt: “The language didn’t materialize. A human baby starts out mostly imitating, then begins to string words together. Nim didn’t learn. His three-sign combinations – such as ‘eat me eat’ or ‘play me Nim’ – were redundant. He imitated signs to get rewards. I published the negative results in 1979 in the journal Science, which had a chilling effect on the field.”
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....pabilities

    Language study offers new twist on mind-body connection – Feb. 2, 2014
    Excerpt: The results show that speech perception automatically engages the articulatory motor system, but linguistic preferences persist even when the language motor system is disrupted. These findings suggest that, despite their intimate links, the language and motor systems are distinct.
    “Language is designed to optimize motor action, but its knowledge consists of principles that are disembodied and potentially abstract,” the researchers concluded.
    http://medicalxpress.com/news/.....-body.html

    New paper suggests speech developed in a now-familiar form – March 31, 2015
    Excerpt: “The hierarchical complexity found in present-day language is likely to have been present in human language since its emergence,” says Shigeru Miyagawa, Professor of Linguistics,,,
    “Since we can find syntax within words, there is no reason to consider them as ‘linguistic fossils’ of a prior, presyntax stage,” Miyagawa adds.,,,
    Nobrega and Miyagawa write that a single word can be “internally complex, often as complex as an entire phrase,” making it less likely that words we use today are descended from a presyntax mode of speech.,,,
    “Hierarchical structure is present not only in single words, but also in compounds, which, contrary to the claims of some, are not the structureless fossilized form of a prior stage,” Miyagawa says.
    In their paper, Nobrega and Miyagawa hold that the same analysis applies to words in Romance languages that have been described elsewhere as remnants of formless proto-languages.,,,
    Miyagawa’s integration hypothesis is connected intellectually to the work of other MIT scholars, such as Noam Chomsky, who have contended that human languages are universally connected and derive from our capacity for using syntax.,,,
    http://phys.org/news/2015-03-p.....iliar.html

    Young Children Have Grammar and Chimpanzees Don’t – Apr. 10, 2013
    Excerpt: “When you compare what children should say if they follow grammar against what children do say, you find it to almost indistinguishable,” Yang said. “If you simulate the expected diversity when a child is only repeating what adults say, it produces a diversity much lower than what children actually say.”
    As a comparison, Yang applied the same predictive models to the set of Nim Chimpsky’s signed phrases, the only data set of spontaneous animal language usage publicly available. He found further evidence for what many scientists, including Nim’s own trainers, have contended about Nim: that the sequences of signs Nim put together did not follow from rules like those in human language.
    Nim’s signs show significantly lower diversity than what is expected under a systematic grammar and were similar to the level expected with memorization. This suggests that true language learning is — so far — a uniquely human trait, and that it is present very early in development.
    “The idea that children are only imitating adults’ language is very intuitive, so it’s seen a revival over the last few years,” Yang said. “But this is strong statistical evidence in favor of the idea that children actually know a lot about abstract grammar from an early age.”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....131327.htm

    Darwin’s mistake: explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. – 2008
    Excerpt: Over the last quarter century, the dominant tendency in comparative cognitive psychology has been to emphasize the similarities between human and nonhuman minds and to downplay the differences as “one of degree and not of kind” (Darwin 1871).,,, To wit, there is a significant discontinuity in the degree to which human and nonhuman animals are able to approximate the higher-order, systematic, relational capabilities of a physical symbol system (PSS) (Newell 1980). We show that this symbolic-relational discontinuity pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture alone can explain,,,
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18479531

    Origin of the Mind: Marc Hauser – Scientific American – April 2009
    Excerpt: “Researchers have found some of the building blocks of human cognition in other species. But these building blocks make up only the cement footprint of the skyscraper that is the human mind”,,,
    http://www.wjh.harvard.edu?/~m.....dSciAm.pdf

    If you want to argue for differences being ‘one of degree, not of kind’ you simply won’t have any solid empirical evidence to back you up

  32. 32
    Virgil Cain says:

    I am not understanding your point. I know that humans are/ can be smarter than other animals. Do you think that 2-4 year old humans could plan a trap for monkeys in trees?

  33. 33
    bornagain says:

    Virgil Cain, don’t get me wrong, I’m believe that some animals have some type of rudimentary abstract thinking and feel that Dr. Egnor’s demarcation of animals being purely material in their thinking is much too harsh of a cutoff threshold.

    The point that I am trying to make clear is best summed up by this quote:

    “Researchers have found some of the building blocks of human cognition in other species. But these building blocks make up only the cement footprint of the skyscraper that is the human mind”,,,
    – Marc Hauser 2009

    and this quote:

    “Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.,,,”
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)
    Luskin adds: It’s difficult to imagine much stronger words from a more prestigious collection of experts.

    While Darwin and his followers tried to downplay the gigantic chasm in the intellectual abilities of humans and animals, (i.e. “one of degree, not of kind”), the fact of the matter is that the gigantic chasm is real and remains completely unexplained by Darwinian presuppositions today as it was in Darwin’s day.

    In fact, it was because of that gigantic chasm in intellectual abilities that Alfred Wallace himself, co-discoverer of Natural Selection, believed in a ‘soul’

    “Nothing in evolution can account for the soul of man. The difference between man and the other animals is unbridgeable. Mathematics is alone sufficient to prove in man the possession of a faculty unexistent in other creatures. Then you have music and the artistic faculty. No, the soul was a separate creation.”
    Alfred Russel Wallace – An interview by Harold Begbie printed on page four of The Daily Chronicle (London) issues of 3 November and 4 November 1910.

    Of related note, having set aside the ‘one of degree, not of kind’ issue, I, none-the-less, believe that a strong case can be made that animals have a ‘transcendent mind’.
    For instance, around the 23:00 minute mark of the following video, several experiments are discussed that highlight the fact that some animals (such as dogs, cats, and birds) have a transcendent component to their being. A transcendent component that is able to sense, while the owner is away from the pet, what the owner’s intentions are for the pet. (of note: reptile pets demonstrated no such transcendent connection to their owners).

    The Extended Mind – Scientific Evidence – Rupert Sheldrake – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnA8GUtXpXY

    Here is a fairly vivid example that makes this point clear:

    Jaytee: A dog who knew when his owner was coming home – video
    https://vimeo.com/81150973

  34. 34
    rhampton7 says:

    Andre,

    I do not dispute your point about first cause or ultimate cause. However, when ID theory speaks to the creativity of nature, it disputes that nature can be a creative proximal cause. The Weaver birds, if we grant Michael Egnor’s opinon of animal minds to be true, would be evidence that ID theory, at least in this one case, is wrong.

  35. 35
    Andre says:

    Rhampton7

    And if ID is to be considered science it must be falsifiable. ID is not right on every matter. If ID explained everything it would explain nothing. I happen to agree with Dr Egnor other ID propents here don’t but I do accept your point as a valid critism.

  36. 36
    rhampton7 says:

    Andre,

    The point is that there are some ID supporters that truly believe that nature has no creative ability via proximal cause. This is an example that calls into question the basis for such a belief.

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