[percy-l] Re: animals, order, symbol, self-consciousness, and The Fall of Man

James Piat piat1 at bellsouth.net
Sat Dec 14 14:14:17 EST 2002

> "Perhaps there can be no objective evidence of symbol se  -- that one can
> always choose to interpret behavior as either symbolic or mechanistic."
> Come, Jim, there is abundant evidence. This is the first time in the
> of the cosmos that the above sentence, your sentence, has ever been
> It is entirely new and unique. And, (unless you quote yourself again and
> again and again) it will never be repeated in exactly the same way, ever.

Or unless you quote me or unless. . .

> is that way for all of us when we use language. This fact, it seems to me,
> is objective evidence of symbol use (and, much to my delight, it is also
> evidence that your thinking preceded its use! :)). No finite mechanism
> produce an infinite variety of forms. All deference to Noam on this one.
> Steve

Dear Steve,

I don't think the infinite ways in which experience can be symbolized is
objective evidence that human gestures are symbolic and that chimpanzee
gesture like movements are not.  Seems to me that so called non symbolic
behavior of  non human animals is as infinitely varied as our symbolic
behavior.  In fact if all of nature were not itself infinitely varied how
could our symbolic representation of it be?

Also I think there are many examples of infinite variety being generated
from finite algorithms    -- pi, for example.  Indeed it's not the
unpredicable irregularies of the world that are wondrous and exceptional
but rather it's relatively rare regularities.

I'm not arguing against the notion that symoblization is a wonderous,
mysterious thing as indeed I find all of God's creation to be.  What I'm
questioning is the opinion that symbolization is a uniquely human activity.
And what I'm calling for is some way to operationally or objectively define
what we mean by symobolization so that we can agree when or when not an
instance of it has occurred.

I don't think it is a sacrilege to think non human animals (or even
communities of rocks) are capable of symbolization   -- nor do I think it is
an act of piety to think only humans can use symbols.

And, Steve  -- here's one to ponder while you repeat your mantra that
thought precedes its verbal expression.  Some folks have done some
experiments that demonstrate that the part of the brain that "lights up"
when folks are making choices (such as which button to press when given a
particular stimulus) lights up after the finger moves to press the button.
IOWs the movement occurs BEFORE  the thought!  So maybe, just maybe, you
haven't taken your speculation far enough  --- maybe mechanistic behavior
even precedes the thought!  Maybe thought is just a vehicle for making us
aware after the fact of what we are mechanically doing in the same way that
you apparently view symbolization or language use as merely or mostly a
vehicle for making others aware of our thoughts after the fact of them.  And
for all I know this might actually be the case but I've been kind of hoping
that symbolization and consciousness are something different.  That maybe
they result from  a top down (community to individual) type of causality
rather than a reductionistic bottom up kind of causality.    The trick, as I
see it, is to find a way to answer these questions that appeals to objective

Steve  -- thanks for your thoughts and insights on all this.  I'm arguing
but mostly I'm learning from you and others and enjoying all the
contributions immensely.  And, btw, I don't think you come across as one bit
arrogant and I hope I don't either.


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