Autistic Songs

Alan Griswold


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Phantom of the Pinker

Is our tool use mental? Do we humans toil with hammers, saws and wrenches because we thought them up at some point? Is there a specific brain module for each tool—a screwdriver module, a lathe module—or is there just one all-purpose brain module covering tool use in general?

Or does all this talk of tool-specific brain modules sound rather silly? And if so, ask yourself why we take this approach seriously for language.

Humans now have many distinct forms of language, but each form manifests itself as a physical and immediate artifact—sound vibrations, movements of fingers, marks on a page, switches in computer memory. Although I can imagine a spoken conversation, I can do so only because I have already experienced such conversations, they have actually existed in my physical and immediate reality—just like hammers, saws and wrenches.

When we describe language as mental we get distracted from what language actually is, and dreaming up language modules for the human brain sounds like the work of someone confused by what exists right before his very eyes.

Copyright © 2011 by Alan Griswold
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