The Extended Mind: Understanding Language and Thought in Terms of Complexity and Chaos Theory
The origins of speech and the human mind are shown to have emerged simultaneously as the bifurcation from percepts to concepts.
Ideas from dynamic systems theory will be used to address a number of fascinating questions related to the origin of language and thought and the dynamic relationship that exists between them. This paper builds from the results of The Fifth Language (R. K. Logan, Toronto, Stoddart, 1995) which assumes that language is both a communication and an informatics tool to show that speech, writing, math science and computing form an evolutionary chain of languages. Adding to these notions ideas from chaos theory, informatics, linguistics, McLuhan's approach to media studies, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and archeology of early hominids are used to develop a dynamic systems model of the brain, the mind, language, and cognition which addresses the mind body problem.
The origins of speech and the human mind are shown to have emerged simultaneously as the bifurcation from percepts to concepts and a response to the chaos associated with the information overload that resulted from the increased complexity in hominid life. As our ancestors developed toolmaking, controlled fire, lived in larger social groups and engaged in large scale co-ordinated hunting their minds could no longer cope with the richness of life solely on the basis of their perceptual sensorium and as a result a new level of order emerged in the form of conceptualization and speech. Speech arose primarily as a way to control information and then was used as a tool for communication contrary to popular beliefs and inherited wisdom. Thought is not silent speech but rather speech is vocalized thought.
The mechanism that allowed the transition from percept to concept was the emergence of speech. The words of spoken language are the actual medium or mechanism by which concepts are expressed or represented. Word are both metaphors and strange attractors uniting many perceptual experiences in terms of a single concept. Spoken language and abstract conceptual thinking emerged together at exactly the same point of time as a bifurcation from the concrete percept based thinking of pre-lingual hominids. This transition was the defining moment for the emergence of the fully human species Homo sapiens sapiens.
Chaotics and complexity theory helps us to understand two features of evolution namely vestiges and punctuated evolution or the so called "missing links". Each time a new level of order emerges out of chaos a discontinuity occurs explaining the missing links. A bifurcation into a new level of order retains the older level of order which explains vestigiality.
he transition from percept based thinking to concept based thinking represented a major discontinuity in human thought and entailed three major stages or breakthroughs in hominid cognition:
- manual praxic articulation (or tool making and use),
- social/emotional intelligence or the language of social interaction,
- pre-verbal communication which entails the use of hand signals, mime, gesture and prosodic vocalization.
It is shown that these cognitive breakthroughs represent three distinct percept based proto-languages each with their own distinct semantics and syntax. They were the cognitive laboratory in which the skills of generativity, representation and communication developed and, hence, were the source of the cognitive framework for speech.
e also use our model to address the mind body problem. We assume that the mind came into being with the advent of verbal language and hence conceptual thought. Language is a tool which extended the brain and made it more effective thus creating the mind as well as the species of Homo sapiens sapiens. This model explains why humans dominated Neanderthals who had a larger brain than us. What Neanderthals lacked was the ability to speak and hence a mind.
We have extended the ideas of The Fifth Language backward in time to understand the origin of speech and the human mind. We also move forward in time to apply these ideas to understand the impact of the Internet on human thought. The Net, which we show is the sixth language with its own unique semantics and syntax, is transforming learning and commerce and accelerating the evolution or bifurcation of the Information Age into the Knowledge Era. Every medium has its message and the message of the Internet and the World Wide Web is five fold. They are: 1. two way communication; 2. ease of access of information; 3. continuous learning; 4. alignment and integration; and 5. community.
Our dynamic systems model of the mind is also used to understand the connections between technology, commerce, artistic expression, narrative and science to generate what we have playfully called the Grand Unification Theory of Human Thought. The three percept based pre-verbal proto-languages represent more than just the transition to spoken language and abstract conceptual thought. Transformed by spoken language and the abstract thought that followed in its wake, they also served as the prototypes of three fundamental activities of modern humans, namely technology which emerged from tool making, commerce which emerged from social intelligence and the fine arts which emerged from mimetic communications. In this way we link these activities to those associated with the verbal languages of speech, writing, math, science and computing. Language is the link which united all the activities of human enterprise.
Ideas from dynamic systems theory will be used to address a number of fascinating questions related to the origin of language and thought and the dynamic relationship that exists between them. This paper builds from the results of The Fifth Language (R. K. Logan, Toronto, Stoddart, 1995) in which the nature and evolution of language is examined using ideas from chaos theory, informatics, linguistics, and McLuhan's approach to media studies. To this mix I will now add ideas and evidence from cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and archeology of early hominids to develop a dynamic systems model of the brain, the mind, language, and cognition which, I believe, sheds light on the mind body problem. We also hope to develop insights into how chaotic and complexity theory helps us to understand two features of evolution namely vestiges and punctuated evolution or the so called "missing links". Finally, we use our dynamic systems model of the mind to understand the connections between technology, commerce, artistic expression, narrative and science to generate what we have playfully called the Grand Unification Theory of Human Thought.
The Fifth Language and the Evolution of Language
In the Fifth Language I have proposed that a language is both a system of communication and an information processing tool. I then go on to suggest that speech, writing, math, science and computing form an evolutionary chain of languages. I consider each of these activities as a separate language because each allows us to think differently, create new ideas and develop new forms of expression. Another consideration is that each of these five forms of language possesses its own unique semantics and syntax and hence qualifies as a language in itself according to criteria set by classical linguistics (Logan, p. ).
But why an evolutionary chain? I postulated that a new language evolves in response to some form of information overload or chaos that arises when the informatic capacity of the previous set of languages is unable to cope with some new level of complexity. The new language represents a bifurcation to a new level of order that was not possible with the previous set of languages. The new language vestigially retains features of the previous languages from which it springs but adds new elements specifically to deal with the information overload and chaos to which it is responding.
Mathematics and writing arose at exactly the same point in time around 3000 BC. They were part of a notational system to record commercial transactions to deal with the information overload brought about by the rapid increase in the administration and trade of agricultural commodities in the city states of Sumer. Writing and mathematics, the second and third languages after speech, immediately gave rise to the world's first formal schools to teach the new skills associated with these two languages. Schools required teachers who conducted scholarship and specialized study which in turn generated a new information overload. The fourth language, science, emerged approximately 1000 years later. It represents an organized form of knowledge which brought a new level of order to the information overload created by writing and math. Computing, the fifth language, developed out of the need to cope with the information overload created by science just fifty years ago. The model of the evolution of language developed in The Fifth Language gives rise to two questions:
- How did the first language, speech, from which the other languages evolved arise in the first place?
- Will the process continue with the evolution of a sixth language and, if yes, what will that language be?
We first turn to the origin of speech and discuss the possibility of a sixth language later in the paper.
Bifurcations and The Origin of Speech
Starting from the basic premise of The Fifth Language we should anticipate that the origin of speech was a response to the chaos associated with some form of information overload. Hominid thought processes as inherited from our earliest ancestors was purely perceptual. In the course of their evolution hominids acquired new skills, such as tool making, which increased the complexity of their lives. At first this complexity could be handled through additional percepts, but at some point the complexity became too great. The hominid mind could no longer cope with the richness of life solely on the basis of its perceptual sensorium. Perception alone did not provide sufficient abstraction to deal with the increased complexity of life. In the information overload and chaos that ensued a new abstract level of order emerged in the form of concepts and conceptual thinking. This idea can be expressed in a slightly different way making use of Ashby notion of requisite variety. When the complexity of hominid life became so great that perception alone could not provide enough requisite variety to model the challenges of day to day life a new level of order emerged based on concepts.
What, we may ask, was the mechanism that allowed this transition to take place? Given that language is both a form of communication and an information processing system I came to the conclusion that the emergence of speech represented the actual transition from percept based thought to concept based thought. The words of spoken language, as we shall see, are the actual medium or mechanism by which concepts are expressed or represented. We must be very careful at this juncture to make sure that we do not formulate the relationship of language and conceptual thought as a linear causal one. Language did not give rise to concepts nor did concepts give rise to language, rather human speech and conceptualization emerged at exactly the same point in time. Language and conceptual thought are dynamically linked parts of a dynamic cognitive system, the extended mind which provides an environment for their mutual development.
We are still left with the question, however, what were the developments in hominid evolution that gave rise to the complexity, the information overload, and , hence, the chaos that led to the transition or the bifurcation from perception to conception and the emergence of speech. It was not a single development or breakthrough which triggered this event but rather the cumulative effect of a number of developments among which I would include the use of tools, the control of fire, the larger social settings that the use of fire engendered, the co-ordinated large scale hunting that resulted from the larger living groups and the emergence of non-verbal mimetic communication.
Percepts no longer had the richness with which to represent and model hominid experience once these elements of stone age hunting and gathering society were in place. It was in this climate that speech emerged and the transition or bifurcation from perceptual thinking to conceptual thinking occurred. The initial concepts were, in fact, the very first words of spoken language which served as metaphors and strange attractors uniting many perceptual experiences in terms of a single word and, hence, a single concept. All of one's experiences and perceptions of water were captured with a single word, water, which also represented a simple concept. Spoken language and abstract conceptual thinking emerged together at exactly the same point of time as a bifurcation from the concrete percept based thinking of pre-lingual hominids. This transition was the defining moment for the emergence of the fully human species Homo sapiens sapiens.
Chaos and Darwinian Evolution
The way in which a new level of order suddenly arises in chaos theory provides a possible explanation for the missing links in Darwinian evolution. The so called missing evolutionary links do not exist. Evolution is not the infinitely slow continuous process that Darwin imagined. Evolution is punctuated by rapid discontinuous transitions, which in my opinion, result from the sudden emergence of a strange attractor as a biological system passes through a patch of turbulence and settles into a new form of stability. The creation of a new species through bifurcation also provides a simple explanation of the retention of vestigial features of the earlier forms in the evolutionary line. Ontology recapitulates phylogeny as the system moves through all of the state of stability through which it once passed. Languages like species also retain vestigial features of earlier forms of linguistic expression.
Three Proto-Languages: Tool Making, Social Intelligence and Mimesis
The transition from percept based thinking to concept based thinking represented a major discontinuity in human thought. The development of the skills required for speech and conceptualization stretched over a long period of time encompassing millions of years and a number of stages in hominid evolution including Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, archaic Homo sapiens and ending finally with Homo sapiens sapiens or humans. Merlin Donald has identified this transition as the period of Mimetic Culture: "I propose a category of archaic but distinctly human culture that mediated the transition from ape to human. This mediating, or intervening, layer of hominid culture is called mimetic". (Merlin Donald, The Origin of the Modern Mind, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard Univ. Press, 1991)
It is during this period that hominids developed the set of survival skills associated with tool making and use, the control of fire, the building of shelters, co-operative social structures, large scale coordinated hunting, and mimetic communication. These major breakthroughs in hominid cognition represent three distinct percept based proto-languages:
1. manual praxic articulation (or tool making and use), 2. social/emotional intelligence or the language of social interaction, 3. pre-verbal communication which entails the use of hand signals, mime, gesture and prosodic vocalization.
The reason that I suggest that these breakthroughs in hominid cognitive development can be understood as three non-verbal percept based proto-languages is that they each represented a primitive form of communication and information processing, the two basic functions that define a language. These proto-languages were the cognitive laboratory in which the skills of generative, representation and communication developed and, hence, were the source of the cognitive framework for speech.
The information processing elements of the three proto-languages is quite obvious but their communication dimensions may not be as apparent. Merlin Donald who identifies these three proto-languages as mimetic skills has described the way in which they function as a system of communication and skills transmission. "Mimetic skills or mimesis rests on the ability to produce conscious self-initiated representational acts that are intentional but not linguistic... Although mimesis may not have originated as a means of communication, and might have originated in a different use of reproductive memory, such as toolmaking, mimetic acts by their nature are usually public and inherently possess the potential to communicate. Mimetic skill results in the sharing of knowledge, without every member of a group having to reinvent that knowledge." (Donald, p. 168 & 172-3) Mimetic skills created social skills because of their capacity for communication. They led to forms of social control and co-ordination, coordinated hunting, knowledge sharing and the creation of a social culture and identity. The mimetic games of children modeling adult behavior provide a living contemporary example of these skills in action. Much of the training of children especially in hunting and gathering societies is mimetic as is much of contemporary apprenticeship training. The period of child rearing increased as hominids evolved and developed more skills which needed to be learned by the young.
Further justification for regarding the mimetic skill set identified by Donald as proto-languages is that each one possesses its own unique primitive form of semantics and syntax. The semantics of manual praxis or tool making and tool use are the various components that go into making of the tool, i. e., the materials and the procedures needed to create the tool. The tools themselves become semantical elements in the proto-language of tool use. The syntax of tool making and use is the order in which the procedures for making and using the tools are carried out. If the correct order is not adhered to then the task to be completed will not be accomplished.
We have seen that the emergence of a new language is always associated with some form of information overload. We can identify the chaos or information overload that led to the emergence of the proto-language of tool making and use. It was the flood of extra information that the earliest hominids had to deal with in order to survive as bipeds in the savanna where the protection of swinging in the trees was no longer available. Tools were created to deal with the new challenges of living at ground level where there were far more dangers than in the tree tops.
Tool making led to the control of fire through the construction of baskets that allowed fire to be transferred from one site to another. The control of fire led to new and more complex social structures as nuclear families banded together to take advantage of the many features that fire offered such as warmth, protection from marauding beasts and cooking which increased the number of plants that could be made palatable. In the larger social structures that resulted from this development a new form of information overload developed because of the increased complexities of social interactions. In this environment a new language of social interactions emerged with its semantics of social transactions which included greetings, grooming, mating, food sharing, and other forms of co-operation appropriate for clan living. The syntax of the social intelligence was the proper ordering of these transactions in such a way as to promote social harmony and avoid interpersonal conflict. Being able to create social harmony and cooperation and avoid conflict had significant survival value and hence contributed to the evolution of hominid culture.
The overload of interacting with many people and carrying out more sophisticated activities led to the need for better communications to better co-ordinate social transactions and co-operative activities such as large scale hunting. From the chaos of this complexity emerged the proto language of mimetic communications. The semantics of mimetic communication, the third proto-language, consisted of the following elements: the variety of tones of non-verbal vocalization, facial gestures, hand signals and miming actions. The syntax of this form of communication is the ordering and co-ordination of these elements. Combining a gesture and a vocal tone would have a different meaning than the same tone followed by the gesture after some delay or the gesture followed by the tone. As the syntactical complexity of mimetic communication grew and became more sophisticated it set the stage for the next development in hominid communication, namely, verbal language in the form of speech which vestigially incorporated the elements of mimetic communication. It is not the literal meaning of words alone which convey the message of spoken language but the tone of the words, the way they are inflected, as well as the facial gestures and hand motions which accompany the spoken words.
Imbedded in the syntax of each of the three proto-languages there is a generative grammar which allows 1. different ways of articulating tools and manual praxis to carry out a variety of new tasks as new challenges arise; 2. the creation of new forms of co-ordination and social cohesion to meet the infinite variety of challenges life presents including the navigation through different forms of social conflict, the variety of which is endless; 3. the expression of a large number and shades of feelings through mimetic communication.
Starting with the manufacture and use of tools hominids began to develop the capability of generative essential for verbal language. Employing the correct syntax of the proto-languages, i.e. doing things in the proper order evolved into the generative grammar of verbal language. This model supports Chomsky's theory that human's possess a generative grammar that makes the rapid acquisition of speech by young children possible. It also provides an alternative explanation to his notion that the generative grammar is somehow magically hard wired into the human brain. The work of Merlin Donald reveals that the generative grammar for spoken language evolved slowly over hundreds of thousands of years through tool making, social interactions and mimetic communications, i.e. through the use of the three percept based proto-languages that` we have just identified.
From Proto-Language to Prototype: The Origins of Technology, Commerce and the Fine Arts
The three percept based pre-verbal proto-languages represent more than just the transition to spoken language and abstract conceptual thought. Transformed by spoken language and the abstract thought that followed in its wake, they also served as the prototypes of three fundamental activities of modern humans, namely technology which emerged from tool making, commerce which emerged from social intelligence and the fine arts which emerged from mimetic communications. "There is a vestigial mimetic culture embedded within our modern culture and a mimetic mind embedded within the overall architecture of the modern human mind." (Donald, 162)
Manual Praxis: From Tool Making to High Tech
The generative tool making skills that early hominids developed before the advent of speech is very much a part of the repertoire of modern humans as is evidenced by the activity of today's craftsman who work almost entirely with their hands and have little or no need of spoken language. Generative manual praxis laid the foundation for the creation of human technology. With the advent of the verbal languages of speech, writing, math, science and computing, however, technology has evolved into progressively more sophisticated forms of high tech which are hybrids combining percept based manual praxis with concepts derived from the verbal languages. Vestiges of pure manual praxis remain in certain forms of traditional technology such as the ox cart used in rural India whose design emerged over a long period of time from percept based trial and error. A scientific analysis of these carts revealed that they had achieved an optimum design long before the principles of analytic science based engineering had ever been developed. These examples illustrate the importance and power of percept based reasoning and thinking which is a vestigial cognitive structure derived millions of years ago and still an essential part of the modern human mind.
Commerce as a Form Social and Emotional Intelligence
Another example of a percept based vestigial cognitive structure which is still very much part of human intelligence is social or emotional intelligence. The social intelligence that early hominids developed found one of its first applications in large scale co-ordinated hunting and eventually found its way into other forms of human commerce. Social/emotional intelligence is the basic building block of all forms of commerce. What is commerce after all? It is nothing more than the activities that a group engages in co-operatively to acquire the necessities of life and which works to the advantage of the group as a whole ensuring its survival. Commercial transactions are entered into voluntarily by all the players involved because it benefits each one of them. Any other transaction in which only one party benefits is not commerce but some form of theft, plunder, enslavement or exploitation.
My definition of commerce does not necessarily involve money and should not be confused with economics. Economics is a form of commerce which evolved as a hybrid system with the introduction of the highly analytic concept of money. Commerce does not depend of money but is a system of co-operation for the gathering, production and distribution of goods and services essential to survival. Commerce entails trade whose roots can be traced back to the earliest forms of social organization when the specialization of task first emerged. The co-operation of individuals who perform specialized tasks for the good of the community laid the foundations of trade and commerce. This form of trade and commerce did not, however, entail a notion of a market which requires the concept of value to operate. Before speech and conceptualization there was no way of computing the value of the goods and services that were exchanged. No one counted or kept score. Those societies where individuals were generous had a better chance of survival than those whose members were selfish.
Before the advent of speech the commerce of hominids was a purely percept based activity based on hunting and gathering. With the arrival of speech and conceptual thinking and the passage of many thousands of years hunting and gathering was transformed in to a more sedentary form of commerce based on animal husbandry and/or agriculture. The emergence of the industrial form of commerce can be traced to three developments that took place in Europe towards the end of the Middle Ages, namely the evolution of agriculture into the manor system in which agricultural products were transformed in a systematic way to commodities, the rise of a market system for the distribution of these agricultural products and commodities and the transformation of technology into a systematic form of engineering through the rise of the science of mechanics. The industrial system combined new forms of social intelligence with the abstract conceptual skills of engineering, science and mathematics.
The Information Age economy, another hybrid system, arose from the development of the computing which gave rise to new forms of social intelligence. We are on the threshold of a still newer form of commerce known as the knowledge economy which will be quite different than the Information Age economy. The Knowledge Era will require much more co-operation and sharing than was the case in the Industrial Era or the Information Age both of which were based on the hoarding of proprietary knowledge.
The Fine Arts and Fine Motor Skills
The roots of the fine arts can be traced to percept based mimetic communication whose basic elements were prosody (the tones of vocalization), facial gesture, hand signals and mime. The very first art forms were all non-verbal and grew out of mimetic communication, the third proto-language. They include music, painting, sculpture and dance all of which were part of ritual. The first forms of painting were body and face painting and the first forms of sculpture were masks and costumes which can be seen as attempts to enhance and intensify facial gesture and mime. With the advent of spoken language new hybrid forms of the arts emerged which combined mimetic communication with words to produce modern (post-verbal) art forms such as poetry which include both words and prosody, songs which combine words and music and theater which combines words with mime and dance.
Spoken language gave rise to a number of concept based cultural forms such as story telling or narrative, writing, mathematics, science and computing. Speech also transformed a number of earlier forms of percept based activities to generate new hybrid forms of human culture including science based technology; agricultural, industrial and computer based forms of commerce and the fine arts. Our model for human cognition combines the three percept based proto-languages of manual praxis, social intelligence and mimetic communication with concept and language based skills associated with speech, writing, math, science and computing. The Grand Unification Theory that emerges from this approach provides a common link for activities that are often treated as quite independent of each other, namely, commerce, technology, the fine arts, and science.
Origin and Evolution of the Extended Mind
By combining ideas on the nature and function of language, the concept of bifurcation from chaos theory and Merlin Donald's notions of evolutionary psychology insights into the role that language plays in human thought have emerged. Armed with this understanding I would like to tackle the age old question of the relationship of the human mind and the brain. For some psychologists this is a non-problem as they believe that the brain and the mind are synonymous, just two different words to describe the same phenomena, one derived from biology, the other from philosophy. For others there is a difference. Some define the mind as the seat of consciousness, thought, feeling and will. Those processes of which we are not conscious, such as the regulation of our vital organs, the reception of sense data, reflex actions, and motor control, on the other hand, are not activities of our mind but functions of our brain.
I believe that there is no objective way to resolve these two different points of view but that a useful distinction can be made between the mind and the brain based on our dynamic systems model of language as the bifurcation from concrete percept based thought to abstract concept based thought. I have, therefore, postulated that the mind came into being with the advent of verbal language and hence conceptual thought. Verbal language extended the effectiveness of the human brain and created the mind. Language is a tool and all tools, according to McLuhan, are extensions of the body that allow us to use our bodies more efficiently. I believe, that language is a tool which extended the brain and made it more effective thus creating the mind.
The human mind is the verbal extension of the brain, a bifurcation of the brain which vestigially retains the perceptual features of the brain while at the same time making abstract concept based thought possible. It also represents the final bifurcation of hominids from the archaic form of Homo sapiens into the full fledged human species Homo sapiens sapiens. Humans are, therefore, the only species to ever have experienced mind. This is not to deny that our ancestors, the earlier forms of hominids, experienced thought and consciousness. Their thought patterns, however, were purely percept based and their brains functioned as percept processing engines operating without the benefit of the abstract concepts which only words can create and language can process.
In summary, the emergence of language represents three simultaneous bifurcations: 1. the bifurcation from percept to concept 2. the bifurcation from brain to mind 3. the bifurcation from archaic Homo sapiens to full fledged human beings, Homo sapiens sapiens.
This hypothesis or models provides a possible explanation of the fate of Neanderthals who had a slightly larger brain than Homo sapiens sapiens but who, it seems, did not use spoken language and were less intelligent than humans. Neanderthals who survived for over a hundred thousand years were dominated by their human rivals and disappeared in Europe after only 10,000 years of cohabitation. Obviously the mind, which combines the features of both the percept engine which is the brain and the concept generator of verbal language is a more powerful instrument of reasoning than the brain alone. Once language emerged the size of the brain alone was no longer the sole determining factor in intelligence as had been the case of the evolution of the hominid brain.
As the brain of hominids increased in size and complexity certain biological limits were reached. The head of an infant could only become so big and pass through the hips of a woman if humans were also to retain there capacity for mobility, an important factor for survival. One evolutionary strategy for packing more reasoning power into the small space of the head was the development of convolutions of the brain; another the gender differentiation of the male and female anatomy and the specialization of gender tasks. The females had broader hips for childbearing large headed babies and tended to spend more time attending to the tasks associated with the hearth while the males remained narrow hipped and roamed about as the hunters and defenders of the family from marauders. The gender specialization of task, a vestigial holdover dating back to Homo erectus, has survived into our own times. Happily it is slowly disappearing thanks to the feminist revolution and will hopefully fully disappear in the new knowledge based economy emerging with the new digital media.
After all the physical mechanisms for increasing human intelligence had been exhausted nature conspired through chaos theory to increase hominid intelligence with a software rather than a hardware stratagem. The software was verbal language from which emerged the human mind and conceptualization. Words encode basic concepts and hence allow for the more efficient processing of information and knowledge. Conceptualization allowed for the creation of more words and new metaphors to achieve still higher levels of conceptualization and language sophistication. Concepts and words formed a dynamic systems bootstrap creating the conditions for their mutual and dynamic development. A possible metaphor for the role language plays in enhancing brain function is the disk doubler or zip drive in a micro computer (the artificial brain) which permits a more compact storage and processing of data and information.
Towards A Grand Unification Theory of Human Thought and Activities
We have proposed a Grand Unification Theory to explain the full gamut of human activities including technology, commerce, the fine arts, narrative, math, science and computing. The mind in our model is basically a system in which the vestigially retained percept system of thinking interacts dynamically with the abstract analytic forms of reasoning associated with the verbal languages. We therefore need to understand these two different cognitive styles and they way they interact with each other. The problem is that most studies seem to focus on one or the other rather than examining the two together. Hopefully the metaphor of language that we have used to link these two forms of thought will provide some insights into their dynamics.
As an extension of this approach we also need to examine the relationship of technology, cognition and evolution and address the question of whether a new technology or language creates new cognitive structures and, hence, an evolution of the mind. Tool making generated a major shift in thinking that laid the foundation for spoken language and a number of other developments, hence, it should come as no surprise that new technologies and languages create new cognitive structures. With the emergence of a number of new digital media such as the Internet, virtual reality and expert systems we have a perfect laboratory to study this question. This is an area worthy of the joint efforts of cognitive psychologists, linguists and dynamic systems theorists.
I would like to propose that we can build a Grand Unification Theory of human thought and activities based on a dynamic systems model of the human mind, its percept based proto-languages and its concept based verbal languages. The evolutionary model of the development of the brain and the emergence of the human mind suggests that technology, commerce, fine arts, literature, mathematics and science form a dynamic system that needs to be studied holistically by making use of the ideas and tools of a number of disciplines integrated by a dynamics systems approach.
Digital Reality: The Sixth Language and Beyond
In this paper I have extended the ideas of The Fifth Language backward in time to understand the origin of speech and the human mind. Now I would like to run the clock forward and examine what new languages might be emerging with the new computer based digital media. Because of the title I chose for my book I am frequently asked what will be the sixth language. I have therefore given a lot of thought to this question in the past two years and believe that the Internet and the World Wide Web represent the sixth language in the evolutionary chain of verbal languages that I have already identified. The Net is transforming learning and commerce and accelerating the evolution or bifurcation of the Information Age into the Knowledge Era. The Net has its own unique semantics of Web sites, Web pages, Internet, Intranet and Extranet and it has its own unique syntax which is hypertext and hyperlinks. Every medium has its message and the message of the Internet and the World Wide Web is five fold. They are: 1. two way communication; 2. ease of access of information; 3. continuous learning; 4. alignment and integration; and 5. community. These five features are driving the emergence of the Knowledge Era which in turn is reinforcing and accelerating the use of this medium.
There is no time to develop these ideas any further here but I wanted to share my thoughts with you as a way of knowledge networking with other researches who might be thinking along similar lines. Going even further out on a limb, I suspect that there are two other languages taking shape within the framework of the new digital media and that virtual reality (VR) and expert systems likely represent the seventh and eighth languages respectively in this chain of verbal languages. The evolution of these new languages, their trajectories and their impacts from a psychological, developmental and educational perspective are worthy of study and will be a source of new dramatic new developments in the months and years to come.