The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"


Language as a By-product

The US psycholinguist Roger Brown refined the view of Jean Piaget's "constructivism" that language acquisition follows the acquisition of cognitive skills. According to Brown, language is acquired via a "law of cumulative complexity". Language follows the acquisition of "sensori-motor intelligence". First the child's mind develops the representation of the world in terms of objects and actions, then the child learns to speak; and that initial speech (of one-word sentences) is "semantic", i.e. the initial relation between that representation of the world and sounds is purely semantic. As mental life evolves into more and more complex structures, so does language. Language acquisition is a process of hierarchic construction, and complexity of adult language is the result of that process. Chomsky's "universal grammar" is an illusion due to the fact that all children are programmed to develop through the same stages and achieve the same adult stage, and language simply reflects the outcome of that step-by-step hierarchical process.

The US developmental psychologist Elizabeth Batespointed out that the development of language occurs while many other cognitive faculties are developing. She believes that language is not "one" isolated phenomenon but the result of a number of cognitive developments, each of which affects more than one cognitive faculty and the sum of which accounts for the development of all cognitive faculties, including language. In other word, there is no program for learning to speak, but there are several programs to learn several skills, which, together, enable "also" language. For example, we learn to play chess, but that does not mean that a program to play chess is present in our genetic information. Playing chess requires a number of skills, shared with many other tasks, that are enabled by our genetic information.

According to Bates, there is no "universal grammar" la Chomsky. There is a global development of interconnected cognitive skills.

The Language of Gestures The US neurologist Karl Lashley ("The problem of serial order in behavior", 1951) showed that a "syntax" similar to the one for language also exists in actions (physical movement) in general, an intuition that would remain unexplored for decades.

The US anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell coined a term, "kinesics", for paralinguistic body communication, such as facial expression ("Introduction to Kinesics", 1952). Birdwhistell thought that all movements of the body obey some kind of meaning. Non-verbal behavior has its own grammar, with a "kineme" being the kinesic equivalent of the phoneme. It may well be that body communication existed before language was invented, and that it was the main form of communication.

The British psychologist Adam Kendon and the US psychologist David McNeill

think that gestures are the original language. Gestures directly transfer mental images to visible forms, conveying ideas that language cannot always express. Gestures contribute directly to the semantics and pragmatics of language. Gestures transform mental images into visual form and therefore express more than spoken language can express; and, symmetrically, they build in the listener's mind mental images that spoken language alone cannot build. Gestures complement words in that they represent the individual's personal context; then words carry this context to the level of social conventions. Unlike words, gestures are synthetic, noncombinatorial and never hierarchical: they present meaning complexities without undergoing the kind of (linear and hierarchical) decomposition that spoken language undergoes. Gestures provide a holistic and imagistic kind of representation, while speech provides a analytic and linguistic representation.

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