a super(b) paper on human evolution

Professor D.L. Everett dan.everett at manchester.ac.uk
Tue Aug 9 04:34:13 UTC 2005

> On language evolution, I would also recommend to all the book (that  
> many of you probably already know) by Herbert Simon, The Sciences  
> of the Artificial, by MIT Press. Among other things, Simon argues  
> (this goes back to 1962) that complexity is usually in the world  
> rather than symbolic systems per se and that one common organizing  
> characteristic of complex systems is tree-structured hierarchies  
> (i.e. the Chomskyan UG makes no contribution because its two major  
> contributions, tree-structure and structure-dependent rules [which  
> of course predate it by quite a bit anyway] are found throughout  
> nature and thus the bulk of linguistic structure proper is not  
> unique to language and needs no special mechanisms to account for it).
> Also, my forthcoming main article in the next issue of  Current  
> Anthropology, based on Piraha, argues that some languages give  
> clear evidence of having followed different evolutionary paths and,  
> again, that UG is therefore not useful (a fortiori useless are  
> concepts like 'Language Organs'). There are comments on that  
> article by Tomasello, Berlin, Kay, Wierzbicka, Levinson, Pawley,  
> Goncalves, and Surralles, followed by my final reply. Some of the  
> comments are pretty heated, so all will at least find that  
> entertaining.
> On 8 Aug 2005, at 15:17, Brian MacWhinney wrote:
>> Dear Tom et al.,
>>    The McBrearty and Brooks paper is truly excellent, as Tom  
>> notes.  Let me also recommend two other related papers.  One is a  
>> lovely Scientific American article from June this year by Kate  
>> Wong based in large part on McBrearty and Brooks but integrating  
>> other material too.  Great pictures.  Another is
>> Eswaran, V., Harpending, H., & Rogers, A. (2005). Genomics refutes  
>> an exclusively African origin of humans. Journal of Human  
>> Evolution, 49, 1-18.
>> The idea of a sudden saltatory evolution looks less necessary when  
>> we see the archeological precursors in Africa going back at least  
>> to 70,000 in Blombos Cave near the Cape and even further in some  
>> regards in other locales.  Of course, the ochre markings in that  
>> cave do not have the artistic scope of the European caves, but  
>> they are clearly planned markings.  What I found important in the  
>> Eswaran et al. article was the way in which it allows us to  
>> understand the evidence for an evolutionary bottleneck at about  
>> 70,000 years ago not in terms of a sudden jump, but a wave of  
>> diffusion.  Moreover, the people at the front of this wave were  
>> subject to additional interesting evolutionary pressures. This  
>> analysis allows us to believe that something unique did indeed  
>> happen in the late Pleistocene, but that it happened across a  
>> period of perhaps 30,000 years as a part of a gradualist,  
>> coevolutionary process.
>> --Brian MacWhinney

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