In recent years we have seen a dramatic shift, in several different areas of communication studies, from an information-theoretic to a dynamic systems paradigm. In an information processing system, communication, whether between cells, mammals, apes, or humans, is said to occur when one organism encodes information into a signal that is transmitted to another organism that decodes the signal. In a dynamic system, all of the elements are continuously interacting with and changing in respect to one another, and an aggregate (...) pattern emerges from this mutual co-action. Whereas the information-processing paradigm looks at communication as a linear, binary sequence of events, the dynamic systems paradigm looks at the relation between behaviors and how the whole configuration changes over time. One of the most dramatic examples of the significance of shifting from an information processing to a dynamic systems paradigm can be found in the debate over the interpretation of recent advances in ape language research (ALR). To some extent, many of the early ALR studies reinforced the stereotype that animal communication is functional and stimulus bound, precisely because they were based on an information-processing paradigm that promoted a static model of communicative development. But Savage-Rumbaugh's recent results with bonobos has introduced an entirely new dimension into this debate. Shifting the terms of the discussion from an information-processing to a dynamic systems paradigm not only highlights the striking differences between Savage-Rumbaugh's research and earlier ALR studies, but further, it sheds illuminating light on the factors that underpin the development of communication skills in great apes and humans, and the relationship between communicative development and the development of language. Key Words: apes; ape language research (ALR); brain development; co-regulation; communication; dynamic systems; language development; symbols. (shrink)
For a biological anthropologist interested in the prehistory of religion, J. Wentzel van Huyssteen's book is welcome and resonant. Van Huyssteen's central thesis is that humans' capacity for spirituality emerges from a transformation of cognition and emotions that takes place in the symbolic realm, within Homo sapiens and apart from biology. To his thesis I bring to bear three areas of response: the abundant cognitive and emotional capacities of living apes and extinct hominids; the role of symbolic ritual in the (...) evolutionary history of Homo sapiens; and the closely intertwined nature of biology and culture in the workings of evolutionary change. (shrink)
Important advances in biomedical and behavioral research ethics have occurred over the past few decades, many of them centered on identifying and eliminating significant harms to human subjects of research. Comprehensive attention has not been paid to the totality of harms experienced by animal subjects, although scientific and moral progress require explicit appraisal of these harms. Science is a public good and the prioritizing within, conduct of, generation of, and application of research must soundly address questions about which research is (...) morally defensible and valuable enough to support through funding, publication, tenure, and promotion. Likewise, educational pathways of re-imagined science are critical. (shrink)
Ontogeny, specifically the role of language in the human family now and in prehistory, is central to Locke & Bogin's (L&B's) thesis in a compelling way. The unique life-history stages of childhood and adolescence, however, must be interpreted not only against an exceptionally “high quality” human infancy but also in light of the evolution of co-constructed, emotionally based communication in ape, hominid, and human infancy.
Our starting point for the origins of language goes beyond prosody or infant-directed speech to highlight the affective, multimodal, and co-constructed nature of meaning-making that was likely present before the split between African great apes and hominins. Analysis of vocal and gestural caregiving practices in hominins, and of meaning-making via gestural interaction in African great apes, supports our thesis.
Laland et al.'s bidirectional model is a welcome starting point that can be enhanced by a full incorporation of systems thinking into its framework. Systems thinkers note that culture is not transmitted linearly in chunks but is co-constructed within subgroups. Niche construction, particularly among primates, should be studied primarily through the effects that social relationships have on selection pressures.