Chomsky - different perspective

Angus B. Grieve-Smith grvsmth at
Sun Nov 7 14:52:12 UTC 2010

On 11/7/2010 9:29 AM, Denis Donovan wrote:
> I would be most interested in reactions to Csibra and Gergely's thesis 
> since it would appear to made the species divide even wider. 
> Similarities across species are fascinating but they don't always have 
> the same implications--which is why there is no need to deny 
> similarities across species in order to appreciate the differences. 
> After all, nearly thirty years ago Patricia Kuhl and J. D. Miller 
> demonstrated that chinchillas perceive artificial stimuli along the 
> da-ta continuum just as categorically as do humans. In fact, Kuhl and 
> Miller found that when they plotted a graph of chinchilla da-ta 
> discrimination the results were nearly identical to those of an 
> English speaker.
     I don't understand.  It seems that the chinchilla data contradict 
Csibra and Gergely's thesis.  It's not like you can just say "da" on a 
mountainside in Peru and the chinchillas will jump; they had to be 
trained to respond to this distinction.  Although this training was 
presumably not "natural pedagogy," it's pretty clear that chinchillas 
are receptive to similar kinds of activities.

     One thing that gets me about all this research is the circular 
nature of it: We have activities that are uniquely human, and those 
activities are what separates us from the animals.  Okay, then I want a 
grant to figure out the color of George Washington's white horse.

     The other thing that gets me is why so many people care so much 
about separating themselves from other animals, and why they assume that 
everyone else cares.  No offense, but to me that's one of the least 
interesting research questions I can think of.  Anyone who wants to 
research it can go ahead, but they don't have to belittle my reasons for 
studying language because they're not the same as theirs.

				-Angus B. Grieve-Smith
				grvsmth at

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