A Conversation for Language and Life - a Perspective on Species

Language is a sentient life form

Post 1


The discussions about the similarities between language and species are tantalizingly close to a thread that has occupied some my writing: that “language” deserves to be considered a life form separate from homo sapiens, and that it, indeed, may be considered sentient.
The precursors to homo sapiens had the use of tools, as do chimps. The complexity of communication can be seem in the “non-verbal” forms used by chimps, wolves, whales, squids, bees, etc.
In fact, homo erectus seems to have been quite clever in making tools and passing on that knowledge to others. However, over a period that far exceeds one million years, in the hands of homo erectus, those tools did not improve more than marginally.
On the other hand, once homo sapiens came on the scene, in about one hundred thousand years we have gone from clever stone age knick-knacks to travelling the solar system and seeing into the atom. The difference? Language, as a repository of learned behaviours and as a laboratory for symbolic recombinations, has enabled us to span the universe.
But is language a sector of neurons, or a product of itself? Once set on its way, have we produced, as “language”, a new life form?
Words make us cry, laugh and kill. Should language be considered the first real Frankenstein, or HAL 9000 – an artefact that has taken onto itself the impetus for actions?
Language is a life form. And it is sentient.

Language is a sentient life form

Post 2


Good timing OPAL,

There's a very interesting article in this weeks Nature that takes this idea further and looks at human cultural evolution. You might need to log on to get this link, but registration is free I think: http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v428/n6980/full/428275a_fs.html

I think you can expand "language" to "culture", and it would be more relevant.

IMO memes and languages in human culture are analogous to genes and species in the biota. The only difference is the rapidity by which ideas are transferred. Is it any coincidence that our most advanced technologies by far are communications technologies? These memes that enable themselves to be spread more quickly are effectively selected for. So, what would technology be analogous to? The phenotype of the "memotype"?

Human culture occupies the same kind of topography, the same kind of landscape that evolution does. If that makes sense.

I also think that language is the only difference between us and other mammals. These memes have driven the VERY rapid expansion of the /Homo sapien/ brain. As organisms are vehicles for genes, human minds are vehicles for memes.

Nice to come across someone who thinks along similar lines smiley - ok

Stesmiley - mod

Language is a sentient life form

Post 3


Welcome to h2g2 by the way OPAL.

I hope you stick around

Language is a sentient life form

Post 4


Thank you, Ste. Ain't an expanded communication medium wonderful?

Regarding memes and culture, I agree, with this slant: I see language as the holder of "cultural expression" and of "memes", simply because language, ipso facto, defines those symbolic constructs.

Language is a sentient life form

Post 5



I'm not sure of how to start this, so I will just start.

Your thoughts on language as a sentient life form expand the meaning of sentience. And it was this type of expanded "notion" that I was looking for in my thoughts on a problem that keeps bothering me--what happens to that which is "us" when we are dead. I didn't have a coherent thought tool to use until I read yours, and, quite frankly, the mind/body theories of the medical/biological research community are simply not robust enough to be useful outside their own experimental premises. But your thought was so different. If language is a sentient life form separate and apart from our physical structure, then that which is "us" may have some similar separate existence apart from our physical struture in very much the same way as that of language in your thinking. Your notion brings to my mind the picture of a "language field" surrounding and emanating from homo sapiens which causes measurable effects on their actions...Now, I will try to think that through for the problem that bothers me.....

Thank you for that wonderful thought.

Language is a sentient life form

Post 6


The analogy between language and life is certainly a fertile area for research and systematics. Analogies, however, should not be used to draw borders between concepts or categories. Assuming "separate existence apart from our physical structure" for language, identity, or similar "fields" is fallacious in my opinion. If two things are conceptually separated, this has little bearing on their ontological separability. Even the notion of an electromagnetic field hardly makes sense if you try to consider it in isolation from the "physical structures" generating and/or receiving it.

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