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

From:Henrik Theiling <theiling@...>
Date:Thursday, February 17, 2005, 22:01

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. I *think* that I am very tolerant towards claims that anything I thought was true, is in fact false, if there is good reason to believe so and to adjust the model. This does not mean that I believe in surprising new facts immediately, it just means that once convinced, I think I can accept a lot. 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. **Henrik


Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Dan Sulani <dansulani@...>Doubting Thomas: was "Introducing Myself