So I’m reading Tecumseh Fitch (paper here) on the Biolinguistic Enterprise. He asserts that there are 3 extremely hard problems that stand in the way of bringing biolinguistics to the stage of real science. Oddly, I seem to have something to say about all three, and from the way he poses the problems, I doubt we are in any danger of reaching agreement any time soon.
The 3 problems are:
- We don’t know how brains generate minds,
- We don’t know how genes control development form single cell to complex organism, and
- We don’t have a theory of meaning.
My brief comments on each after the break.
(1) Despite huge progress, at a basic level we still do not understand how brains generate minds. This is as true of a dog’s brain as for a human’s, and it is true of very basic aspects of cognition, such as vision and motor control, along with language.
Well, brains don’t generate minds. That is a fundamental error, and one that is very widespread. To take that stance is to look for mind as part of the world, whereas mind is what gives you a world in the first place. To stick the mystery of the universe into 2 lbs of fatty tissue is ridiculous. The mystery infuses the whole thing, not just brains, and brains can not be understood at all without understanding the bodies, and associated worlds that they live in. Fitch, like almost everyone else, assumes that there is a world, full of the usual familiar stuff, and somewhere in there there are complex things called brains, and these give rise to very special weird stuff/processes/whatever called mind. In fact, being a sentient being, is to bring into being a world populated with this kind of familiar stuff. The tables, teapots and trees of the world are as we encounter them because of the kind of thing we are. Sentience brings forth the phenomenal world. True, brains are critical, and without them, there is no meaningful P-world, but we need to understand the structure of the P-world, with its teapots and trees, if we are to find a better story about sentience, or “mind”.
(2) The second challenge concerns genes and development: How do genes control the development of a single-celled zygote into the trillions of integrated cells comprising a complex behaving organism?
They don’t. The key word here is “control”. Genes control nothing. They are very important in the developmental dance that is the trajectory of any living thing, but they control absolutely nothing. Biological development is a complex unfolding, and genes are required in there. But they do not encode the development. They act as parameters, they administer well-timed nudges, they are switches and constraints. But not rules. Again, no good account of this will be possible until we have a better foundation for our biology, which will have to include “mind”, or the P-world, in its foundational concepts.
(3) Put simply, we have a good theory of information (Shannon information theory), but we lack anything even approaching a good theory of meaning
Yes. But without a theory of how P-worlds are brought forth, there is no way to get meaning out of our current theories. Looking at language from a Shannonian point of view will not help, because Shannonian information theory cannot generate meaning ex nihilo. Seeing language as a form of coordination and coupling across component entities, each with distinct P-worlds, is a completely different theoretical framework. Meaning, then, resides within P-worlds, but is mediated by the coupling provided by language.
Sheesh, my story speaks to all three mysteries, because all three arise from ignoring the P-world. There is work to be done.