May 2007 - Another Answer To The Question
Here is a recent entry in the "On Faith" space of The Washington Post by Walter Isaascson . Then entry is about the Isaascon's book Einstein: His Life and Universe. As I was reading through the comments about the story I added this one of my own:
To ask more than what Einstein believed is to be guilty of something called the sin of hubris.
And even more, a belief in the existence of a platonic universe is a sign of hubris.
A grand article in a recent issue of New Yorker titled The Interpreter shows that even the concepts of number and recursion are not necessary for human intelligence and consciousness to exist.
To be satisfied with a profound sense of awe, and a yearning to learn and understand reality, is a sign of maturity. To demand more than this is selfish and presumptive.
I think the comment above can be said to be be answer "Number 7" to the question in the post below.
Here is a link to the New Yorker article The Interpreter. I was so impressed with this article that I wrote the author the following email.
Dear Mr. Colapinto;
I read with great interest and enjoyment your article on the language of the Piraha people and Dan Everett and Keren Everett's study of this language.
I am not a linguist nor a brain scientist, my interests are in the foundations of Mathematics and Logic.
Recently I have been reading and studying reports on how humans think from the perspective of brain science and from the perspective of the foundations of logic (and even physics). I know who Norm Chomsky is from my undergraduate studies of the foundations of computer science and formal languages.
Also, as you may know recursion and self reference play the most absolute and fundamental role in our understanding of the foundations of logic and mathematics. The concepts of number, recursion, and self reference are so fundamentally linked they can not even exists separately.
And it is certainly the case that recursion naturally arises in the study of Formal Languages because this field is really hand-in-glove with Logic and the foundations of Mathematics.
Your article does a great job of prying apart the connection between abstract formal languages and the real-world of how human brains actually work.
However, everything I have learned and heard about the current understanding of how the human brain actually works points to uncertainty. Modern science is a long way from any sort of comprehensive theory of thought and consciousness.
Your article not only fits right in, I think it goes even further.
I found particularly interesting three points that came up in the article. One was, of course, the connection between non recursive language and the concept of 'Thinking in the Now' that these people seem to totally exhibit. The other was the idea of musical speech or prosody that seems to be the foundation of this language. The third was the apparent resistance of these people to learning other languages and even thought patterns.
One thing about language that has come out recently in conjunction with brain function is that it can sometimes be expressed in different ways. Some brain injuries leave the person only able to communicate in song or swear words, or in what is apparently a tearful or crying manner.
I think your article shows that humans can and do learn to communicate using alternate brain areas. I do not think brain science is advanced enough, currently, to discriminate between these alternate ways of communication.
It seems like the Piraha have the ability to use parts of their brains for language that other people only develop after a specific injury to their speech center.
I think this shows that language and speech syntax can be expressed in more than one way and still allow the organism to think and communicate clearly. I think it goes further, I believe your article shows that this type of thought process connects not only language but the entire world view. A very interesting bit is that the Piraha's world view which Dan Everett thinks is related to their cultural heritage is persistent in the face of outside pressure. It is as if this this alternate way of thinking and speaking is somehow locked in.
I think your article helps with the understanding of not only how human language and speech work but also how human cognition and even our understanding of reality works.
That these people can function and are alert aware and intelligent with out what logicians, mathematicians, physicists consider totally fundamental informs the debate greatly.
Thank your for your grand article,