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Re: OT: Doubting Thomas: was "Introducing Myself"

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Friday, February 18, 2005, 3:33
----- Original Message -----
From: "Henrik Theiling" <theiling@...>

> Hi! > > Sally Caves <scaves@...> writes: >> >> Also, I'd be curious to know your answer to my question: "what fixed >> notions >> do we have about human tribal behavior, or human language and cognition >> that >> we don't want unsettled?" > > Well, it's probably a boring answer: I just don't know until something > is unsettled that I absolutely cannot accept to be unsettled.
Specifically I meant tribal behavior, human language, cognition, which you answer below. And I didn't mean to target you alone; it was a general question about our own concepts of human intelligence. Since I posed it, I guess I wanted some discussion! :) Here:
> Just to give an example about the unbelievability I feel in the Pirahã > stories: I find it extremely hard to see how a human being even from > the strangest place on earth can possibly fail to learn to add 1+1 > predictably. The claim about not counting is strong: the total lack > of numbers even for the most simple ones: 1,2,3. Thus adults could > not learn to add 1+1 although trying to learn that for months. This > seems just too basic to me: you have *one* apple, get another *one*, > then I *think* it must be possible to learn in eight months for any > healthy human that the result will be *two* apples. I mean > conceptually, even if the native language lacks words for numbers. > Failing to learn this is something I find extremely hard to believe. > > I quote: 'After eight months of daily efforts, without ever needing to > call the Pirahãs to come to class (all meetings were started by them > with much enthusiasm), the people concluded that they could not learn > this material and classes were abandoned. Not one Pirahã learned to > count to ten in eight months. None had learned to add 3+1 or even 1+1 > (if regularly reponding '2' to the latter is evidence of learning -- > only occasionally would some get the answer right. This seemed random > to us, as indeed similar experiences were shown to be random in > Gordon's research, see below)' > > That's just weird, isn't it.
Not really--for me that is; through inbreeding, we might have in the Piraha a small society of people who exhibit some kind of mental retardation when it comes to calculation and abstraction, but whose lifestyle did not require natural selection to redress this genetic disorder. If genetics is the answer, then it is considerably *more* believable to me that they live where they do in a remote Amazon region instead of in a snowy place or a desert where coping skills are more crucial. It would then NOT be the "strangest place on earth," as you say, but an environment that could assist their oddity. In a place where food and water is abundant, and where they have been alone for hundreds and hundreds of years, a genetic blip of this sort could go without correction. I'm just guessing. Mind you, I'm not saying that other rain forest societies exhibit these cognitive differences. This one definitely seems to be a genetic exception assisted by environment, perhaps. Sally


Mark J. Reed <markjreed@...>