December 13, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Why Monkeys Don't Talk

It’s not that monkeys don’t have the vocal apparatus to talk like humans. They just don’t have the mind for it.

Andy Coghlan is perplexed. “Monkeys should be able to talk just like us – so why don’t they?” he asks at New Scientist. Studies of macaques at Princeton show that the primates can make the five basic vowel sounds. They could make sounds that humans would recognize.

“No one can say now that there’s a vocal anatomy problem with monkey speech,” says Asif Ghazanfar at Princeton University, and co-leader of the study team. “They have a speech-ready vocal anatomy, but not a speech-ready brain. Now we need to find out why the human but not the monkey brain can produce language.”

Did Coghlan ever consider that monkeys just don’t know anything to say? To say things, you need to be able to form concepts in the mind. Your vocal cords, tongue, lips and teeth are just tools for uttering sounds that other beings can recognize as concepts, according to a language convention. Animals clearly signal one another with their screeches, chirps, burps and grunts, but only humans have conceptual language and all it entails: grammar, syntax, and (especially) semantics, which entails symbols, abstraction, and recursion.

Science Daily takes the discussion beyond mere language to intelligence.

Our brains have a basic algorithm that enables us to not just recognize a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but the intelligence to ponder the broader implications of a bountiful harvest as well as good family and friends….

“A relatively simple mathematical logic underlies our complex brain computations,” said Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, co-director of the Augusta University Brain and Behavior Discovery Institute and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cognitive and Systems Neurobiology.

And yet Tsien limits himself to neurons. He presents a reductionist view of intelligence that makes no distinctions between humans and animals. He works upward from neurons to networks to algorithms, and assumes conceptual knowledge will arise from those foundations.

“You know an office is an office whether it’s at your house or the White House,” Tsien said of the ability to conceptualize knowledge, one of many things that distinguishes us from computers….

Neuroscientists as well as computer experts have long been curious about how the brain is able to not only hold specific information, like a computer, but — unlike even the most sophisticated technology — to also categorize and generalize the information into abstract knowledge and concepts.

“Many people have long speculated that there has to be a basic design principle from which intelligence originates and the brain evolves, like how the double helix of DNA and genetic codes are universal for every organism,” Tsien said. “We present evidence that the brain may operate on an amazingly simple mathematical logic.”

If this were the whole explanation, then Tsien’s own theory would implode. He would not be in control of what his neurons do, any more than he is in control of his DNA. One thing is certain: we don’t see computers or animals communicating abstract knowledge and concepts.

To illustrate this, consider the case of an ALS patient who is unable to move or speak. Lacking the use of her vocal apparatus, Science Daily reports, she has regained the ability to communicate thanks to a new technology that bypasses her physical body altogether.

At UMC Utrecht, a brain implant has been placed in a patient enabling her to operate a speech computer with her mind. The researchers and the patient worked intensively to get the settings right. She can now communicate at home with her family and caregivers via the implant. That a patient can use this technique at home is unique in the world.

Once the patient learned how to control the speech computer, she could focus her mind on it like a computer user uses a mouse or keyboard, and get it to respond to her commands. But the speech computer is not just responding to neural activity in her physical brain, else it would have started uttering gibberish the moment the implant was turned on and never stop. Instead, the patient knows what she wants to say, activates the proper computer controls, and communicates from her concepts to the computer’s speech processor, which emits sound waves that the researchers can understand. This implies an immaterial mind that activates her neurons under her control.

Update 12/13/16: At Evolution News & Views, David Klinghoffer discussed this issue, noting that “evolving the sophisticated equipment specially required for a skill your species will never develop seems a bit puzzling.”

The brain is a tool of the mind, fearfully and wonderfully made. All animals are well designed. Many animals have ways of uttering sounds that their conspecifics recognize. Some have high degrees of intelligence, emotion and social ability. But only humans have a soul created in the image of God that goes beyond all this. Only the human mind can ponder abstract realities like mathematics, musical forms, and philosophical systems. Only the human mind ponders ultimate questions. Only the human mind hungers to know its Creator. Only the human mind senses guilt. Only the human mind turns away from its nature into all kinds of evil. You were made for communication. Your brain will die, but your soul will continue beyond the grave. You will communicate with your Creator. Be ready to meet your Maker, by confessing and repenting of your sin, and taking the pardon he offers through his son, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this month.


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  • BohdanUke1 says:

    That’s debatable.

  • Joe Bova says:

    Yes, this is oxymoronic: “evolving the sophisticated equipment specially required for a skill your species will never develop seems a bit puzzling.” There is no puzzle. Without a goal, or if you will, a design specification, no complex system can be created to implement that non goal. Inotherwords, machines do not ever come to be by chance. This is common sense.

    With regard to the whole subject of intelligence and information, I found the work of Werner Gitt to be an excellent treatise that well articulates the impossibility of anything meaningful occurring by random chance and that a supremely intelligent mind, the mind of God, is mandatory. In case anyone thinks that Gitt’s work has been debunked by Tom Schneider’s EV simulation software (NIH), they should understand that he (Schneider) falls into the same trap that Dawkin’s does in the Blind Watch Maker. The software that illustrates the opposite point they are trying to support. That the software is designed to illustrate the point means the point was fabricated so the proposed hypothesis is false. The machine was programmed – they are both playing god.


  • Bill says:

    Good article and as always good commentary, however I would disagree with your statement about the soul living past the grave….

  • Bill says:

    . Fair enough. After your comment above I was trying to make an argument in support of my view. Agreed it is a bit off topic…

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