this might be interesting....

Tom Givon tgivon at
Fri Aug 27 09:27:57 UTC 2010

Well, JMS is already RIP. But a few years before his earthly demise they 
gave him the Nobel for his life-work in biology. So at least the 
committee thought he knew what he was talking about in HIS field.  It is 
surprisingly common for eminent biologists, chemists & physicists to 
stray into the evolution of mind & language. It seems to hold a fatal 
attraction for them. Francis Crick did that, as did Monod & Delbruck, as 
did Murray Gell-Man. Not always with the most salutary results, but 
these guys have adventurous minds, speculation on a very thin ice-sheet 
of facts has never bothered them in the fields they DID get their Nobels 
in. (Watson once wrote, about the DNA saga: "...We didn't just want to 
solve the puzzle, we wanted to solve it with the absolute minimum amount 
of facts..."). What is interesting, I think, is that all these guys came 
to the same conclusion that the evolution of mind and language was the 
real Holy Grail of science (rather than Physics, Chemistry or Biology, 
where they got their Nobels. I happen to share their conclusion). What 
also stands out is how little help they get from linguistics. Of course, 
they usually hook up with the wrong linguists (guess who...). But the 
fun of listening to John Maynard Smith's video snippets is NOT language 
evolution, but evolution, period. So if you are curious, or if biology 
turns you on, or if you just enjoy seeing how a beautiful mind works, 
you might enjoy listening to him without rushing to judgement.   Best,  TG


john at wrote:
> If we can see when he's talking about the evolution of language that he's
> willing to publicly speculate about things that aren't his forte, maybe we
> should be a little bit suspicious about how much he really knows about the
> other things he's talking about...
> John
> Quoting Tom Givon <tgivon at>:
>> Dear FUNKfolk,
>> I am taking the liberty to attach a link sent by a friend. There are
>> several enjoyable short-chunk video talks in there, most enlightening of
>> them by the great evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith. For those
>> of you interested in evolution, cognitive science, evolutionary
>> psychology or its predecessor socio-biology (not to mention just plain
>> science), there is a chance you might actually enjoy it. What he has to
>> say about the evolution of language is not exactly his forte. But the
>> rest is first rate, and even his pianissimo is challenging.
>> Cheers,  TG
>> =================
>> John
>> --
>> John M. Orbell
>> Institute of Cognitive & Decision Sciences
>> 255 Straub Hall 1284, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403
>> Work 541 3460133 cell 541 5100854 fax 3464914 Skype: John M.Orbell
>> Home:
>> ICDS:
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