Touch Tone

The Whitehead Institute spends alot of time studying traits that pass from parent to offspring in a predictable fashion, following well-understood rules of mathematics.

One trait, that interests me is language. Is language innate? I always believed Noam Chomsky was right in this regard; language is inherent to our species.

I do not believe language, the capability to generate it, or use it - is unique. In fact, I believe that our species or even life itself is not unique. I believe that life, can evolve from molecular networks. I believe that those networks communicate.

The network communication that we can filter and view, is language. When I lived in the Caribbean, there was a place about six miles away - I saw it from my window every day. It was just over the strait; an island where, on the other side - was a very unique place. It was called phosphorescent bay. This place is famous for glowing eerily at night; outboard motor wake glows bright green. It is a form of algae that glows when agitated - there were traces of it in a place that we called penguin bay. I saw it one night. Just flashes of it.

I learned later on that this is a form of cellular communication. It really was surprising, to me, to find that these sort of simple creatures were actually talking. And then it hit me: that communication is essential to life itself. Its part of life.

The evidence you want to look for, is in typhus. Its an evil critter. But unlike the viral forms of disease that grow and multiply by splicing off your DNA and just hammering on you - this one can grow and multiply and never be fatal. Until.. it begins to communicate. Typhoid actually signals to other , that there is a critical concentration of the population. They actually send out chemical signals , like the algae in phosphorescent bay - that light up a response in the rest of their population that says , essentially , that they have the numbers needed for their evil campaign. And then they inexorably proceed to destroy or maim their host in a full-on frenzy.

This is evidence of meaningful communication, albeit evil - on the cellular level. If we take the sort of liberal view that encoding and decoding DNA can have some elements of storage capacity - that I wrote about earlier - then we have in DNA a sense of being able pass, from generation to generation, traits that prefer or inhibit certain kinds of communication.

Mendel spent alot of time in the garden. Probably way too much. Why? Do you ever find yourself doing something that you feel you really shouldn't be doing? And yet you keep on. Perhaps he found that in the little peas there was a pattern.

Its important in these cases to follow some kind of code. The more defined, the better. You will be cast adrift on the sea of changes that talking to legumes will get you in our society, if you do not. In Mendels case it was an unwavering belief in the power of God to effectively - I hope I am writing this well - will creation into being. The howl to the moon crowd that found out Mendel was talking to his garden likely darked down when they lined up his day job with what they knew about powerful, invisible beings that write long love letters to the world (thanks sheri!).

Ladd and Dediu have written , about a month and a half ago, that the genetic markers on ASPM and Microcephalin - relate to whether or not a person, if they pick up a certain mutation of them - will have a propensity to speak a tonal language. Chinese, for example - has a tonal word "Ma" that if you say it in a high level tone, means "Mother" , but if you say it in a low, rising tone it means "Horse".

So the game would be to note how these genetic markers identify chinese vs. other races. The Australians, for example, have a lovely british sounding accent but speak essentially, english. The meaning is unchanged. But the recognition task changes immensely. The difference in prosody is enough to through the recognizer into confusion. The basis of the work above, is that meaning is unchanged. Being partnered to an Aussie and being involved in ASR I can say that anyone who believes this has totally gone completely spare. IMHO genetic markers - the cognitive ones taht L+D are searching for - are likely involved in a different task. In my view, DNA is kind of like a smart battery, ready to power on particular types of sequences but not actually controlling the expression or mutation of them - ie. they don't instantiate the mutation but simply power the mutation sequence like a car battery powers a car - it starts it up but the expressed sequences are designed to withstand viral splicing so different engines take over for specific mutation. These engines in my view, should be identical to the ones that started off life in the first place - energy driven networks of molecules. Thats right, sports fans. In all likelihood its because the networks requesting resources are peckish (hungry). Life always deals with the hunger first. [This. is. necessary.]

On this level, the kind of hunger I am willing to bet we can look for is the same kind of organizing network states that defeat an autistic state of being. When our brains shut down, they seize into a state where they cannot see the forest for the trees. I think that the breakdown people suffer in aspergers or autistic network play is related in part to the brains inability to seize on mind, throught the networks. Theres a whole lot of electrical activity in the old noodle.

People with Aspergers are often seemingly cold - this is part of it. This engine that drives life, has a built in sense of direction in how to organize networks of molecules and in various symphonies of what we would call , just above ideas - some sort of organizing powerful thoughts like evil, love, god. This is not to say that science can trap the soul. But rather, that those 10 office floors in your brain that can't use the telephony network and have to send faxes to each other, are network down because the guiding superconcept or superideal is down. Think of it like a smart switch - they are responsible for backplaning the network. Raise your children without these superideals (train a child up in the way that he shall go..:) ) and you will end up eventually paying the price.

Like two trees growing together from each other, organizing superideas are probably in some very real sense alive but enmeshed in each other and could not be removed without killing the other. Higgs boson experiments, that are going on now - are really looking into whether or not spacetime itself displays a sense of being alive. At least in the sense that it is perfectly willing to enfold asymetric pair production and pop energy into the vaccuum occasionally, or wrap a universe up and fold it into a cycle of expansion and contraction. This strikes at a concept of god, for me. After all, what properties would a being have to have, if they exist through, or at the point at which the entire universe is collapsed onto the head of a pin? Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipowerful. Sounds pretty familiar doesn't it. But for me, not because God can be found in a particle but because anyone who has ever been in a garden, and sat down and cleared their mind - and just looked at a flower. Or maybe a little squirrel even. Anything really. And just , maybe in this flower - have ever seen God willing this whole thing into creation. It speaks for itself. It is what it is. That was the original hebrew word for god. Y'weh. (I am , that I am).

My ancestors on my fathers side were Austrian. We were "Halle" school of theology (Salzburgers) which said, that if you were in bed, paralyzed with a fever - it was god's will that you were in bed with that fever and that even if you could not move - there is a plan for it and if you follow that plan that god laid out you will succeed.

So we ended up in Georgia. The ones that went to Australia were the lucky ones. Or so I am told.

But at any rate, track down markers through my line and you may or may not find a propensity for pitch. The genetics is there to store what others might see as an almost autistic trait of having perfect pitch - a trait almost necessary for certain languages, such as mandarin. We may have had musical ability. Hey. Maybe not. :) More likely you will see in the sequence a memory trace of the activity.

Language is innate. Chomsky is right about this. Why is it that, language is intuitive? What role would tone have to play in this? Is the communication of emotion, the right way to study tone - or is there another aspect of tonal communication that speaks more powerfully? Are the physical, stored capabilities of our DNA provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for the nearly-autistic expressions of either pitch, or for that matter - any other type of super-processing?

Or is it just god at play with the very fabric of who we are. We are made of starstuff. So they say. Maybe a simpler answer exists. Tracking down the markers that determine whether or not a person will have an ability to speak a tonal language is likely a useful activity. But we should know by now, having read blogs - that we also use tone to read, and understand. As well as communicate emotion.

Thats the reason why you scanned this entire post down to this line, and read it first.


I must take time to write further on this, but liked this piece.

I like the idea of communication as social grooming (Robin Dunbar, 1966. "Gossip, Grooming and the Evolution of Language".). In that initially, man freed his hands from grooming activities one-on-one to carry things and to communicate through gestures (before language started).

Using the hands to "communicate" allowed early humans to "groom" several people at once (eventually whole rooms full).

Downside 1: People usually didn't use hand gestures just to communicate useful information; they more often used it for social gossip.

Downside 2: Personal grooming suffered as hands were used increasingly to "articulate" and "punctuate" thoughts.

Communications by hand gestures or body movement and language is not the same as speech. Syntax, grammer, recursion and infction, etc., are ancient and were originally done through other ways than language and speech.

Isn't it interesting compared with the Albert Mehrabian study that found that as far as how we communicate face-to-face today that:

- 7% of interpersonal communication is traceable to the words we spek
- 55% is the result of facial expression and other body language
- 38% comes from "paralanguage" - or how we use our voice (tone, inflection, pitch, etc.)

Hummm, I think there might be something there, but I am not the expert, only an observer.