February 3, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Language Came Before Neurons

Experiments hint at the precedence of mind before brain when it comes to language…. and love.

Mind Over Body

Does the body secrete thought, or does thought command the body?  A psychologist at Northeastern tested the hypothesis that people find certain phonemes (sound units) pleasing because they are easy for the vocal apparatus to pronounce. This hypothesis implies that motor neurons guide the development of language. A contrasting hypothesis puts linguistics first. We pronounce things in a satisfying way because they conform to abstract rules of language. Most languages, for instance, find “blog” more satisfying to vocalize than “lbog.”

Medical Xpress tells about how Iris Berent and her team disrupted the lip motor system immediately following an auditory stimulus comparing “blif” to “lbif” and other syllable pairs. The results confirmed that “language and motor systems are intricately linked—though not in the way that has been widely believed.” The findings cast new light on the classical mind-body problem:

This has huge theoretical implications,” said Berent, a cognitive scientist whose research examines the nature of linguistic competence. “The idea that linguistic knowledge is fully embodied in motor action is a hot topic in neuroscience right now. Our study shows that motor action is still very important in language processing, but we show a new twist on the mind-body connection.

The experiments seem to support the priority of abstract rules of language over motor actions of the body:

The results show that speech perception automatically engages the articulatory motor system, but linguistic preferences persist even when the language motor system is disrupted. These findings suggest that, despite their intimate links, the language and motor systems are distinct.

Language is designed to optimize motor action, but its knowledge consists of principles that are disembodied and potentially abstract,” the researchers concluded.

Babble or Babel? 

Some evolutionists try to track human migrations with genetics. Others track it with linguistics. Do the two give a similar picture?  Evolutionists believe humans emerged from Africa with the rudiments of language. Biblical creationists believe that language was designed by God for humans, then was confused into distinct language families at the Tower of Babel incident. Which fits the evidence of human migration?

In a story titled, “Features of language show a strong link to the geographic dispersal of human populations,” Stanford University reports on the largest comparison of genetic and linguistic data ever attempted:

Geneticists have famously tracked small differences in the human genetic code to trace the evolution and spread of humans out of Africa. Languages can change more quickly than genes and are not necessarily inherited from one’s parents, although linguists are able to follow similar clues to uncover how languages have changed and migrated over millennia.

Now, scientists at Stanford and other universities have combined large databases of globally distributed linguistic and genetic data, revealing in greater detail how languages might change in parallel with genes.

The researchers incorporated genetic data from 246 people groups with comparisons of 728 phonemes from 2,082 languages.  The results indicate some sharing of phonemes from groups that were geographically close, even if their languages belong to different language families.  There were more surprises:

“When language samples were more than 10,000 kilometers apart, the relationship between phoneme differences and geographic distance broke down,” Creanza said. “Outside of that radius, two languages’ locations did not give us information about how similar their sounds would be. Because languages can change quickly, we didn’t know in advance how fast this signal would degrade.”

Another interesting difference was that in contrast to the well-established detrimental effect of geographic isolation on genetic diversity, geographically isolated languages actually showed greater variance in their phonemes than languages with many neighbors.

Tell Me You Love Me

What’s the secret of human evolution?  Love, an oversimplified story on Medical Xpress claims.  “Humans have long been a puzzle to explain in evolutionary terms,” the article begins, “but a Victoria University of Wellington researcher says part of the answer is romantic love and the pair-bonding it motivates.” But did the bodily urge dictate the words “I love you” or was it the other way around?  The great apes don’t show this pair-bonding, the article claims; female apes raise their young pretty much on their own.  Why would human society be characterized by pair-bonding and romantic love?  An evolutionary psychologist tries to make evolutionary sense of “The Curious Case of Homo sapiens”—

A recently published article by Professor Garth Fletcher from Victoria’s School of Psychology, in collaboration with researchers from universities in New Zealand, London and the United States, argues that romantic love is a commitment device for motivating pair-bonding in humans.

He says pair-bonding, in turn, facilitated the involvement of both parents and the wider family in providing the massive investment required to rear children.

“Managing the complexities of family life, along the way, facilitated the evolution of large brains and the extraordinary levels of social intelligence and cooperative skills found in modern humans.”

This domino theory of evolution (love, then pair-bonding, then family enlargement, then large brains, then intelligence and social cooperation) could be putting the heart before the course.  Where did the romantic love come from?  Was it a mutation in a small-brained ape?  Could a human ancestor experience “romantic” love without a big brain?  None of the subsequent steps seem automatic, even if romantic love evolved by chance somehow. Some birds show strong pair-bonding without wider families. Ants and termites have well-developed cooperative skills without romantic love. And then—some humans are loners. It would seem all these capacities had to be present simultaneously in the first humans for any of the traits to make sense.

Do you notice how little evolutionary theory contributes to any of these three findings?

Do you notice how the “facts” of each research project, when stripped of evolutionary notions, actually fits recorded human history?

1.  The mind of God designed humans, including their big brains, and breathed the breath of life (conscious intelligence, emotions and will) into them.  Mind precedes body and guides its direction.

2. Humans can live in close proximity but speak in entirely different language families. When in close contact, they might decide to share words or pronunciations for similar things. Some groups with the same language might decide to travel far away, say to China or somewhere, to avoid the confusion. The more isolated the group, the more the people, using their God-given intelligence and capacity for abstract reason, might enrich their language with new concepts and words. This all fits the Tower of Babel dispersion.

3. Only having these traits all together makes sense: romantic love, a big brain, family ethics, intelligence, and morality. God gave all these to Adam and Eve in the garden. To think they are the product of mutations on neurons is self-refuting; a wise debater could point out that the same argument would undermine the validity of the evolutionary story.

The Bible continues to make sense in this age of modern science, while evolutionary tale-telling becomes more and more contrived and ridiculous.





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