Friday, July 11, 2008

Phantom of the Pinker

Is our tool use mental? Do we toil with hammers, wrenches, knives and awls because we thought them up at one point? Is there a brain module for each tool—a saw module, a lathe module, etc.—or is there instead an all-purpose module for tool use?

Or does this talk of tool modules sound silly?

Then why do we treat language differently? Humans now have many different forms of language, but each form manifests as a physical and immediate fact—sound vibrations, movements of fingers, marks on a page, flips in computer memory, etc. I can imagine a spoken conversation, but only because there have been such conversations, they have actually existed in physical and immediate reality—just like hammers, wrenches and saws.

Mentalizing language distracts us from what language actually is. And dreaming up language modules for the brain sounds like the work of someone confused by what exists right before his eyes.

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