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Language existed before neurons?

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Language study offers new twist on mind-body connection

“This has huge theoretical implications,” said Berent, a cognitive scientist whose research examines the nature of linguistic competence. “The idea that linguistic knowledge is fully embodied in motor action is a hot topic in neuroscience right now. Our study shows that motor action is still very important in language processing, but we show a new twist on the mind-body connection.” … … “Language is designed to optimize motor action, but its knowledge consists of principles that are disembodied and potentially abstract,” the researchers concluded.

Designed? Don’t these people realize that their careers can be wrecked?

17 Replies to “Language existed before neurons?

  1. 1
    Piotr says:

    An interesting study, and linguists will surely be interested. But why the preposterous title, “Language existed before neurons?” No such claim is made by Berent et al.

  2. 2
    rhampton7 says:

    Nothing new, really. The discovery of bacteria communication by quorum sensing was made in the late 1960s.

  3. 3
    Piotr says:

    #2 rhampton7,

    The article is not about communication in general, but about the nature of phonotactic universals in human language.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    They mentioned ‘mind’ in the title? Moreover they stated ‘disembodied’ in the paper?

    “Language is designed to optimize motor action, but its knowledge consists of principles that are disembodied and potentially abstract,”

    I’ve noticed before that Medical Xpress is not afraid to push the atheistic/materialistic envelope from time to time. Glad to see them do it again!
    Here are a (very) few more notes backing up their claim that “Language,,, knowledge consists of principles that are disembodied and potentially abstract,”

    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

    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

    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/

    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/

    “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.

    “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind or the human mind is more than a machine”
    – Kurt Godel

    Kurt Godel and Alan Turing – Incompleteness Theorem and Human Intuition – video
    https://vimeo.com/92387854

    David Berlinski, in his unique style, gets this point across very clearly:

    An Interview with David Berlinski – Jonathan Witt
    Berlinski: There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time ….
    Interviewer:… Come again(?) …
    Berlinski: No need to come again: I got to where I was going the first time. The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, and it is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there. Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces. But these are precisely the claims that theologians have always made as well – that human beings are capable by an exercise of their devotional abilities to come to some understanding of the deity; and the deity, although beyond space and time, is capable of interacting with material objects.
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20.....-here.html

    Children are born believers in God, academic claims – 24 Nov 2008
    Excerpt: “Dr Justin Barrett, a senior researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, claims that young people have a predisposition to believe in a supreme being because they assume that everything in the world was created with a purpose.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new.....laims.html

    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

    Evolution of the Genus Homo – Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences – Ian Tattersall, Jeffery 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

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    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

    Moreover, the three Rs, reading, writing, and arithmetic, i.e. this unique ability to process information, 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

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

    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

    “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:
    http://www.metanexus.net/archi.....linger.pdf

    Verse and Music:

    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

    Of related note to sound in general:

    Evan Grant: Making sound visible through cymatics – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsjV1gjBMbQ

    Amazing Resonance Experiment! – video (varying geometric patterns correlate to changing frequencies of sound)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvJAgrUBF4w

    Photons and Phonons
    Excerpt: You see, the primary Planck-Law (E=hf) is metaphysical and independent on the inertia distribution of the solid states.,,,
    Both, photon and phonon carry massequivalent energy m=E/c2=hf/c2.
    The matter-light interaction so is rendered electromagnetically noninertial for the photon and becomes acoustically inertial for the phonons; both however subject to Bose-Einstein stochastic wave mechanics incorporative the Planck-Law.,,
    Where, how and why does E=hf correctly and experimentally verifiably describe the quantum mechanics of energy propagation?,,,
    http://www.tonyb.freeyellow.com/id135.html

    Phonon
    Excerpt: In physics, a phonon,, represents an excited state in the quantum mechanical quantization of the modes of vibrations,,
    The name phonon,, translates as sound or voice because long-wavelength phonons give rise to sound.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonon

    Verse:

    Genesis 1:3
    Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

  6. 6
    Box says:

    Piotr: But why the preposterous title, “Language existed before neurons?” No such claim is made by Berent et al.

    Did you read the article? It states that language is designed by “disembodied” and “abstract” principles in order to optimize speech motor action.

    Rather, abstract rules of language guide linguistic preference, and these abstract rules can trigger motor action. In other words, motor action is a consequence of — not the cause of — linguistic preference.

    So according to the article the order of appearance is: first abstract rules & language and secondly speech motor action.

    IOW News is perfectly right.

  7. 7
    Piotr says:

    You misrepresent the conclusions of the study, and News wrote total nonsense in the title, but it’s 2 a.m. where I am, so if I’m to write a longer comment, it will have to wait until tomorrow.

  8. 8
    Mapou says:

    Here are a few relevant facts about language.

    Speech processing is unique in human behavior because it is the only motor activity that is carried out by only one hemisphere of the brain, the left hemisphere. In addition, unlike other motor activities (e.g., walking, maintaining balance or posture, etc.) which can be performed unconsciously by the cerebellum, speech/language generation is always a conscious process. People who are born without a cerebellum cannot both walk and talk at the same time because they have to consciously attend to walking. Walking prevents them from talking because the brain can consciously attend to one task at a time. Those with cerebellar lesions often talk in a staccato manner while walking. They somehow learn to rapidly switch their attention between the two tasks back and forth.

    Language ability is not just a matter of having an organ for sound production. MRI experiments have shown that people who use sign language to communicate also use the parts of the brain that are normally associated with speech and language.

  9. 9
    Box says:

    Mapou: Speech processing is unique in human behavior because it is the only motor activity that is carried out by only one hemisphere of the brain, the left hemisphere.

    Wiki doesn’t agree:

    In more than 95% of right-handed men, and more than 90% of right-handed women, the left hemisphere is dominant in certain aspects of language and speech processing. In left-handed people, the incidence of left-hemisphere language dominance has been reported as 73% and 61%, suggesting left handed people tend to be less lateralized than right-handed people. In general, however, neuroimaging methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and magnetoencephalography show involvement of both hemispheres in many aspects of language processing, and the “dominance” of one hemisphere just refers to more brain activation relative to the other hemisphere (or better performance by that hemisphere on psycholinguistic tasks such as dichotic listening); it is not the case that language is “localized” in any one hemisphere laterally.

  10. 10
    Me_Think says:

    Of course language existed before neurons. The 1 month fetus can speak Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German and French, except that when the child is born, she detects the country in which she is born and spends 2 years trying to speak out the language she already knew when she was a fetus.

  11. 11
    Mapou says:

    Box @9,

    Notice that I was careful to write “speech processing”. Wikipedia is either wrong or is conflating speech generation with language processing. They are two different things. The fact is that both hemispheres understand/recognize and process language but the muscles that generate speech are controlled only by the left hemisphere. This is true even though the hemispheres normally control opposite sides of the body.

  12. 12
    bornagain77 says:

    “Nonphysical formalism not only describes, but preceded physicality and the Big Bang
    Formalism prescribed, organized and continues to govern physicodynamics.”
    http://www.mdpi.com/2075-1729/2/1/106/ag

    i.e. Not only did language precede neurons, language also preceded the universe:

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

  13. 13
    Robert Byers says:

    Mapou and others
    This hemisphere stuff I say is not real. Or rather its a minor point of where the memory connects to the body.
    Language indeed is not just a organ for sounds.language is the use of sounds to convey thoughts. People have memorized what the sounds mean and so communicate.
    language is a mere function of memory. Thats why in our dreans we speak/hear language just as when awake. there is no difference. We just use or observe memories.
    Your walking/talking case proves its just about memory.

    The point about language is not language but about what is being said. its the human intelligence that is the point. Language is a primitive expression of mans intelligence communication.
    Its not complicated.
    Evos are trying to say language grew with human smarts. very unlikely or impossible.
    Adam spoke right away.
    We never grunted like apes. if we couldn’t use words we would of used sign language like some do today.
    Evos skrew this up like everything else.
    its not complicated if your presumptions are not distorted by evolving gruntism.

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    Removing Half of Brain Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives: – 1997
    Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of memory and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor,” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining,,
    Dr. John Freeman, the director of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Epilepsy Center, said he was dumbfounded at the ability of children to regain speech after losing the half of the brain that is supposedly central to language processing.
    ”It’s fascinating,” Dr. Freeman said. ”The classic lore is that you can’t change language after the age of 2 or 3.”
    But Dr. Freeman’s group has now removed diseased left hemispheres in more than 20 patients, including three 13-year-olds whose ability to speak transferred to the right side of the brain in much the way that Alex’s did.,,,
    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08.....lives.html

    The Case for the Soul – InspiringPhilosophy – (4:03 minute mark, Brain Plasticity including Schwartz’s work) – Oct. 2014 – video
    The Mind is able to modify the brain (brain plasticity). Moreover, Idealism explains all anomalous evidence of personality changes due to brain injury, whereas physicalism cannot explain mind.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBsI_ay8K70

    A New Map of How We Think: Top Brain/Bottom Brain (with video) – Oct. 18, 2013
    Forget dated ideas about the left and right hemispheres. New research provides a more nuanced view of the brain
    Excerpt: Who hasn’t heard that people are either left-brained or right-brained—either analytical and logical or artistic and intuitive, based on the relative “strengths” of the brain’s two hemispheres? How often do we hear someone remark about thinking with one side or the other?
    A flourishing industry of books, videos and self-help programs has been built on this dichotomy. You can purportedly “diagnose” your brain, “motivate” one or both sides, indulge in “essence therapy” to “restore balance” and much more. Everyone from babies to elders supposedly can benefit. The left brain/right brain difference seems to be a natural law.
    Except that it isn’t. The popular left/right story has no solid basis in science. The brain doesn’t work one part at a time, but rather as a single interactive system, with all parts contributing in concert, as neuroscientists have long known. The left brain/right brain story may be the mother of all urban legends: It sounds good and seems to make sense—but just isn’t true.
    (read more here)
    http://online.wsj.com/news/art.....3079198270

  15. 15
    bornagain77 says:

    An Interview with Stephen C. Meyer
    TT: Is the idea of an original human couple (Adam and Eve) in conflict with science? Does DNA tell us anything about the existence of Adam and Eve?
    SM: Readers have probably heard that the 98 percent similarity of human DNA to chimp DNA establishes that humans and chimps had a common ancestor. Recent studies show that number dropping significantly. More important, it turns out that previous measures of human and chimp genetic similarity were based upon an analysis of only 2 to 3 percent of the genome, the small portion that codes for proteins. This limited comparison was justified based upon the assumption that the rest of the genome was non-functional “junk.” Since the publication of the results of something called the “Encode Project,” however, it has become clear that the noncoding regions of the genome perform many important functions and that, overall, the non-coding regions of the genome function much like an operating system in a computer by regulating the timing and expression of the information stored in the “data files” or coding regions of the genome. Significantly, it has become increasingly clear that the non-coding regions, the crucial operating systems in effect, of the chimp and human genomes are species specific. That is, they are strikingly different in the two species. Yet, if alleged genetic similarity suggests common ancestry, then, by the same logic, this new evidence of significant genetic disparity suggests independent separate origins. For this reason, I see nothing from a genetic point of view that challenges the idea that humans originated independently from primates,
    http://www.ligonier.org/learn/.....-conflict/

    The supposed evidence for human evolution, including supposed fossil evidence, is far weaker than many people seem to realize. I touched on that evidence, or lack thereof, here:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-545788

  16. 16
    Robert Byers says:

    bornagain 77
    Excellent links. AMEN. these old divisions of the brain were suspect.
    I say these divisions only indicate minor areas that employ the memory operation between us and our body.
    THEREFORE one can switch around or ignore them.
    Our soul is where we think. The mind is only a tool and therefore is only a memory machine.
    left/right is a trivial arrangement.

  17. 17
    Bob O'H says:

    The 1 month fetus can speak Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German and French

    No wonder Finnish is so difficult.

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