The Arts (Art)

by dhw, Monday, August 25, 2008, 08:00 (5750 days ago) @ Carl

Carl wrote, in relation to human language: "Thus, knowledge can be passed on from generation to generation without direct experience." 
David wrote: "We are the first species that doesn't have to work primarily at the instinctual level, and this is because of 'words'." - This is a fascinating subject, to which I'd like to add a few thoughts. Before the invention of writing, knowledge could only be passed on by word of mouth. That in itself brings us a lot closer to the world of other animals. Although I don't think anyone would dispute the infinitely greater complexity and range of our language systems compared to those of other species, I'm not sure that the principle is any different ... though as is so often the case, there may be a problem of definition. If we confine language to words, syntax, grammar etc., then we are unique, but if we define it more broadly as a means of communication, then we're not. We all know that animals, birds and insects communicate, and studies have shown that they can pass on extraordinarily complex information. The dance of the bees is the most obvious. I recently read an article describing an experiment in which bees from different parts of the world were brought together. Their dances were different, but they quickly learned each other's "language" and were able to follow directions accordingly. Elephants emit a deep rumbling sound which is inaudible to human ears and can travel over distances that vary between two and thirty miles, according to different researchers. Whales "sing" to each other over hundreds of miles. Scientists believe these sounds contain information ... and it's hard to imagine that they would be much use if they didn't. Dr Con Slobodchikoff at Northern Arizona University has done a study of a type of prairie dog, and it appears that not only can these dogs send out extremely detailed information about approaching predators, but their calls have to be learned, i.e. passed on from one generation to the next. See 
Many years ago, I recall reading a similar study on wolves. - I'm suggesting that our uniqueness lies not in language itself, which like so much of our human culture is only an extension of the animal culture from which it has evolved, but in the written word, which alone enables us to communicate directly with past and future generations. This clearly gives us a huge advantage in the fight for survival (through what Carl calls, "the effect of cumulative knowledge"), and so fits in perfectly with the evolutionary pattern. But I'm still scratching my head over how to fit in Beethoven's 9th!

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