Back to David's theory of evolution of abstract thought (Evolution)

by David Turell @, Monday, July 13, 2020, 18:15 (383 days ago) @ David Turell

Only we have it:

Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh is a controversial scientist who believes that animals have intellectual powers that can, under the right circumstances, rival the human intellect. She included her ape subjects as co-authors on the paper because she believed that their intellectual contributions warranted co-authorship. This created quite a stir in the primatology community—among the human members that is. The apes seemed not to notice.


Modern Western society assumes that nonhuman animals do not possess an episteme comparable to humans because nonhuman animals do not possess an episteme comparable to humans. The proof of this assumption is simple: nonhuman animals have not taken any position in this debate, nor have they published their own review articles in Project Muse, because, well, they do not possess an episteme comparable to humans.

In plainer language, non-human animals don’t and can’t think abstractly. That is not to say that non-human animals aren’t clever or social or perceptive—they can be quite adept at the many things non-human animals can do. But non-human animals can’t do abstract thought. It is the capacity for abstract thought that distinguishes human animals from non-human animals.

Abstraction is the ability to think in terms of universals instead of just particulars. It is the hallmark of the human mind, and of the human soul, and it corresponds to the spiritual nature of the human soul. Non-human animals also have minds and souls (as any dog owner knows—you don’t need two PhD’s) but non-human animals only think concretely. (my bold)


Symbols are signs that convey meaning by perception, not by abstract understanding. Symbols are, loosely speaking, pictures that either look like what they mean or that, through a process of training or habituation, become associated with a meaning. A road sign showing a running deer is a symbol that conveys the meaning that deer often cross here.

Designators are words that convey meaning by abstraction. Designators convey concepts using signs that do not look like the meaning they point to, and the concepts are not acquired merely by training or habituation. A road sign with the words “Deer Crossing” is a designator that conveys the meaning that deer often cross here. A road sign with a picture of a deer and the words “Deer Crossing” is a sign that uses both a symbol and a designator.

It is a mistake to infer that words are merely complex symbols, acquired by training or habituation. Human language, which is the power to use designators to convey meaning, is a power inherent to and unique to human beings, as linguist Noam Chomsky has pointed out.

The reason non-human animals do not have language is not because they’re stupid or lack the ability to articulate the necessary sounds or write the necessary squiggles. It is because they lack the ability to think abstractly. When animals seem to use language it is invariably because humans have trained them to connect symbols (with which animals can be very adept) with designators.


Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh and Dr. Dr. Bradshaw’s commitment to the ethical treatment of animals is laudable and it is one I share. But their misunderstanding of human language and of animal behavior is unfortunate and dangerous. The denial of human exceptionalism inherent to their error will indeed lead to treating animals more like humans, but only in the sense that humans will be treated like animals, not the other way around. That denial is not new—it has long been the basis for genocide and totalitarianism—and it is chilling that scientists are again leading us down this dark path.

Comment: Same old story: the bees must do abstract thinking to connect biting leaves to later more immediate flowering. I know your brain is an exceptional human brain, based on your debating techniques of distortion and twists of my statements, and also upon your very clever prose (books I've read) and poetry. But the bee brain is nothing like our prefrontal and frontal cortex in volume and complexity. Habilis could barely conceptualize, compared to us. It took 600 more cc's of complexity! Human brain function exceptionalism is not an accident of chance. As Adler states it proves God beyond a reasonable doubt. You are joined at the hip with all those distressed folks who want to purposely get rid of the exceptionalism. The campaign is obvious and a gross distortion of the difference. Read his article in which he describes how he handle his dog, Pippa. Similar to my horse discussion.

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