[percy-l] Play As A Precursor To Language?

James Piat piat1 at bellsouth.net
Fri Dec 13 15:26:40 EST 2002

>>Cats play too, as do 

Hey, when did I ever let anyone complete a thought..  

I was going to begin with a similar observation.  I have cats.  But I can't be sure the cats are playing (as in let's pretend we are fighting   -- with all that implies as Joe Cimino I think rightly suggests) or whether they are just having a non lethal tussle among litter mates. Do they intend their activity as play or is it merely that I interpret it as play.   

But there are a couple of other important symbolic or representational activities (aside from so called verbal language) that are less ambiguous which I think are also worth considering.  The first is tool using.  Tools like symbols are "used" for something.  Chimps, birds and I think some other animals as well are known to use tools. I think this is strong but not conclusive evidence that they have the ability to represent, symbolize or "use"  objects for some purpose other than that which the object can achieve under it's own steam.  Another non verbal symbolic behavior worth looking for (I think) is graphic art.  I don't think non human animals stack up too well on this one. True we can interpret some of their activities as artisticly expressive, dancelike or musically expressive but I can't think of any animals that deliberately make pictures of objects.  Nor for that matter do they seem all that intrigued by mirrors  -- an interest which seems to me might be suggestive of symoblic activity.    Finally of course there is the all that controversial data about chimp language from my old alma mater GSU  -- which I for one find strongly suggestive of significant symbolic capacity among chimps. 

And Steve  -- now having read you full message--  what on earth gave you the notion we think without symbols, abstract representations or words (they are all functionally equivalent are they not?).  Or do you mean to suggest that neither animals nor humans think in any but a mechanistic way?  Seems to me that when we think with pictures we are still thinking symbolically.  After all we do not try to eat the image of what we are imagining  -- we eat the actual object iself after our thinking (model, planning and testing with symbols) has helped us to actually achieve the food object itself. 

And,  Steve and others, please forgive me if I'm coming acrosss as a self imagined know it all or smug.  I'm not at all sure of what I'm saying.  I'm just afraid if I expressed all my doubts and qualifications I'd never get to the end of any sentence. But be assured I have great respect for all that others have to say (including those geneticists I made such an ass of myself lambasting)--  I'm just thrilled we are having this discussion again and hoping this time I'll understand it all better. 

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