Life, Child of Logic

Tautologus Rex; H Notation; Cognitivism Justified; Conceptual Archeology; Evolution of Language

By Tom Veatch

Version 1.2


Logic and Her Daughters

Evolution, Cognition, Emotion.

Here I argue for a particular view of logic and shoehorn it onto various topics like evolution, psychology, and human evolution, hoping to favor understandability in all these fields. So put your seat belt on.

The Queen of All Knowledge

My argument starts with the dominance of logic. Logic is the queen over math, physics, and every science. Why? Because tautology is its key and foundation.

My phonetics professor Leigh Lisker once told me, the less you say, the less you're going to be wrong. At the time I thought he was telling me to shut up, but later realized it was more than and different from that.

Tautology says nothing, and therefore it cannot be denied.

Logic, math and 1=1 are not functions of time; they are true before and after the big bang, before and after the origin of life, and irrespective of a mind that knows it or doesn't know it. Describe some process today, with truth, irrespective whether an instance of it occurred yesterday, today, or tomorrow your description IS, WAS, WILL BE true; define something today, your definition applies outside time, to things your eyes do see or will see but also to things in the past you can never see again. Tautology is automatically true; and truth is timeless.

For example, consider repeated evolution into an unoccupied niche, as in the Galapagos finches, or post-dinosaur-apocalypse predation, etc. You have a species B that evolves to fill a niche which was previously or elsewhere filled by another species A. Now, did the evolutionary niche exist before B evolved to fill it? Obviously Yes, because A had filled it before or elsewhere, so of course it existed, as a possibility. Well then did that niche exist before A filled the niche? Well there is nothing different from A filling it from B filling it, so if it existed before B filled it it must also have existed before A filled it. Therefore evolutionary niches exist, let's say in possibility or in logic, BEFORE they are occupied.

Does not the same argument apply to life and physics and everything? Was life possible before life happened? Yes it was, otherwise it couldn't have. Do the laws of physics, where they are universal and true, that is, which are merely definitional, describing tautological logic amongst terms, do these laws not apply outside of time itself, and therefore also inside of time and therefore before, during, and after the Big Bang and everywhere in the universe? Yes, that's what universal means.

The relationship between language, or let us reduce it to, abstraction, and reality is the fundamental mystery here. But that's not so complicated. Two things in the real world that are similar share some sameness about them. When multi-use, or shall we say, effective mechanisms (since without their ability to be used consistently or repeatedly or predictably even within slightly-variable circumstances we would hardly call them very effective), when they operate, they obviously operate over the multiple things or circumstances in the real world for each of which they are effective. But this is nothing but abstraction: the class of things picked out by the mechanism over which it can operate is thereby no less than an abstract category of things, an agglomeration of similars into a category each member of which can be treated the same, which is treated the same by that mechanism. If the mechanism is nuclear or electrical or gravitational attraction or repulsion or quark interaction before the big bang, its sameness of input/output relations makes it an abstraction, a thing that applies in a general way.

Okay then, yes, if you have a general mechanism in nature, it IS itself an abstraction, by definition because of its generality. Despite diversity, nature does happen to be full of similars and samenesses, of consistents and repeatables, and those are the parts and aspects that organisms, and we, are interested in and need to know or be able to control, being as we all are indeed organisms with, usefully, a will to power, that is, a will to the control of general mechanisms. So if we humans, as an evolved, social, teamwork type of species, have evolved to control and use an inventory or library of abstractions in a lexicon of signals that we can communicate to each other, that makes a lot of sense. Contemplate the opposite: for us to be unable to detect sameness, in general, would be quite the detriment to our capabilities, or to be unable to communicate them, that would limit our capacities for social achievement as well.

By these links, abstraction connects to reality on the one hand and lexicon on the other hand. I haven't, indeed, derived syntax from first principles, no, but animal cognition, and the cognitive capability to reason tautologically, to apply logic, I think we have enough here to connect them: abstractions, minds, and nature itself, in a tight circle of mutual dependency, if not perfect equivalence.

We happen to have the right kind of minds, we'll get to what that means later, but even alien minds must share logical reasoning.

Let's try an example. Two 90 degree rotations are the same, in a sense, as one 180 degree rotation. Does this depend on human cognition, or the words or sentence in which it is expressed? I say No; rather, cognition itself depends on, itself perceives, logic.

My purpose will be to deconstruct logic into tautology, then expand this zone of perfect understanding out from there.

Formal Logic as Tautology

Even so-called rules of formal logic themselves reduce to tautology.

  • Take DeMorgan's Laws, for example, (NOT A) OR (NOT B) == NOT (A AND B), are just different formal or notational ways of stating the same identical truth table.

     A  ¬A  B  ¬B  A & B  ¬(A & B)  (¬A)∨(¬B) 
    The truth table expresses all possible combinations of true and false for the basic propositions A and B, so it can be used to reason over every possible case about derived propositions being true or false. If two expressions are the same as regards truth value in all possible circumstances, they are logically equivalent. Diversity of form does not imply diversity of meaning; different, even complex expressions can often reduce to the same thing. For example A = ¬ ¬ A = ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ A = ... may be extended without limit, preserving truth conditions. You might express a truth in one way, only to find other expressions equivalent, equally valid. Tautology licenses variety of expression.

  • Take Modus Ponens, the rule that from separate propositions, P⇒Q, and P, one can validly derive the proposition Q: this is the mere definition of the implication notation "⇒".

     1)  P⇒Q  given
     2)  P  given
     3)  Q 1,2, Modus Ponens
    We understand that the meaning of ⇒ is that its antecedent (P) "implies" its consequent (Q); but this isn't just a reference into the related truth table in some footnote; it actually justifies deducing from the antecedent to the consequent as a valid statement within a proof of logic, and as a necessary and true assertion in any world that satisfies the axioms of that logic. "Implies" has one meaning, operationalized in two ways. After all, the context of interpretation of the truth table is the same context of interpretation as the derivation: if (P⇒Q) is true in that context, it MEANS that P actually implies Q, that finding P to be true (asserted in a proof) justifies inferring Q (asserting Q in the proof).

    Operationalized differently, as editorial computation, consider the truth table below, and the following numbered notes referenced in it: (1) the assertion, P⇒Q, crosses out the line of the P, Q, truth table in which P⇒Q is false. Next (2), the assertion, P, crosses out the two lines in which P is false, leaving one line in which P and P⇒Q are true, and in that line, that remaining alternative, (3) Q must be true. All alternatives having been ruled out, Q must be true.

     P  Q  P⇒Q 
    These operations on the truth table lead to the assertion of Q, and that's why Q can be added to the derivation in the proof after P⇒Q and P. The sameness of truth in the truth table and in the formal proof is why Modus Ponens is tautological.
Where THIS and THAT reference the same thing, THIS=THAT both says nothing and is absolutely true: it is tautological. Thus also Definition = Tautology.

Newton's Tautological Reasoning

Apply definition = tautology to Isaac Newton. We know he knew about the hourglass, the yardstick, and the scale, and that there he was, speculating about the laws of nature, about different physical relationships. Under the mythological apple tree, he considered what he did know, measureable qualities starting with 1) weight (with the scale), 2) change in location (with the yardstick) and 3) time (by the hourglass), therefore in principle he could certainly define and measure change in location divided by time i.e. 4) velocity, therefore also (since you can measure velocity, you can also measure velocity twice, and then find the difference, which is how you measure ...) change in velocity over time i.e. 5) acceleration. So, W for weight, let's say, and A for acceleration. Now the clever bit is, he decided to relate weight (under gravity) to acceleration by a discovered, no, an invented, no, a proposed, a DEFINED scaling he called mass, by saying M≝W/A, where here '≝' sign indicates a DEFINITION, or as we write it W=M*A, where here the '=' sign rather conceals the definition in the equation. So it was already a tautology to start with, the definition of the mass of a thing is its weight divided by its acceleration (under gravity). The idea is, if you take the movement out of the weight, you get a degree of non-movingness, of deadness, or unreactiveness, or uninfluenceability, a quantity of resistance to acceleration, that is its mass. So far so good, so pleasant, so firm: we believe it because you can define anything you want, and it'll always be true by definition, in its imaginary definitional world.

But today we stand in awe of this quite especially useful definition, we call it the amazing universal Second Law of Motion, that miraculously seems to apply equally throughout the universe, not just to an apocryphal apple bonking dear Isaac on the head in about 1666, but also over there, out to our planets, far out to other stars, and down inside here also even to molecules and atoms, and in time from the first beginning to the last end, or beyond. Was Newton's miracle the empirical universality of this law? Or was it just a definition, where as we know a definition is necessarily universal? It is universal because it is a definition, which is to say, a tautology. Because of course M is DEFINED as F/A (in the context of gravity W=F, an object's weight is the force it exerts being pulled down by gravity). A definition holds conceptually, that is, outside of time and the mind that conceived it: as a tautology, it asserts nothing, and saying nothing, it cannot be false, it is everywhere and always undeniable, true. It is like a perspective, come over here and look at it this way, then you'll see how things line up in this view. Every perspective is true; it's not the perspective that can be false but well or ill-observed conclusions of fact that may be drawn from viewing the world from that perspective.

The miracle is not that F=MA is true, but that it is useful. Where gravity is disregardable, mass still is measureable by applying non-gravitational force and seeing how much is needed to push the thing around. Nowadays we think the concept of mass that Newton defined into existence is as real as, or more real than, the measurements he started with to measure and define it. Flip a cognitive switch and mass becomes the primitive characteristic out of which complexities like force under gravity are built up, rather than the other way around. Think of it this way or that, however you find useful, the truth is it is true by tautology, by logic, the queen, the king of science, before and after, outside time itself. Tautologus Rex.

Plato awakes.

  • Similarly (logical) possibility is different from and precedes (in time and outside of time) both realization-in-reality and realization-in-subjective-conception. But we will get to this later.

Lazy Equals, or H notation

I like to say I'm a lazy boy, very lazy, where a choice exists. So here's a lazy boy trick. When I'm doing math, almost all the work intellectually is writing down what I know as an expression or equation and then thinking about it, primarily by substituting equal things into the expression. You can always substitute equals for equals and the result always is an equivalent expression, equally as true as you started with, because you could in principle substitute backwards, too, and get to the same thing.

My problem is penmanship. I suck at it, and I hate it. I have to re-write the whole equation all over and then over again when all I did was another tiny substitution of some part of it with something equal to that part of it. Maybe it's a very long equation, and maybe I have three or four parts to substitute, or maybe some parts get substituted time after time. And it makes for a lot of stupid, stupid work doing copying, when the only thing I really need to re-write in full is the last version at the end, when I want to talk about that one. So instead I just use what I call H-notation: It's a Lazy Equals sign (remember "Lazy" applied to a cow brand means a 90 degree rotation), an H.

H-notation is just my way of writing an equals sign vertically. It's not a curly brace! Curly braces suck: they are SO hard to draw attractively when large, or with economy of space on the page. Curly braces have a different, more vague, meaning. Curly braces pick something out for a generic comment, like circling something. The comment might or might not be a substitution of something equal to the marked bit, whereas H-notation means equality. Just because it's Lazy, it's still an equals sign. Just because it's partial, it refers to a part of an expression, it still asserts equality between the above and below subexpressions that it connects.

Here: Draw a super-wide H below the part you want to say something about, and write what is equal to that part below the H.

 ...   A   ...
Obviously, A being equal to B, the expression ... A ... is equivalent to the expression ... B ..., because you can substitute B in for A.

Thus H-notation lets you substitute equals for equals within any expression or equation.

  F     =  m  *         a
|---|            |------------|
  Fg               32'/sec/sec
For example, above, Newton's Law F = m * a, in the context of an object under gravity, becomes the statement that the force of gravity on that object is the mass of that object times 32 feet per second per second.

You can use H-notation as often as you want on either side of the equals sign, and you can do it in columns too.

I find that about half of my math homework problems go away, when I don't do the recopying and just use H notation. Try it, you'll like it!

Incidentally, the way real mathematicians seem to solve this is to skip or hide all the step-by-step reasoning and substitutions, and just write the last equation. If you ask them they say that part is "obvious". Because it's job security for them, you see, the more obscure the reasoning is, then the harder everyone has to work to keep up with them, and then they seem to be so much smarter than everyone else. That method works in a bunch of professions, like law, medicine, and even plumbing. But I think it's obnoxious, especially when you're teaching, and math is (or should be) nothing else but teaching people. Write it down, see what comes out, that's how you actually teach yourself, and that's how you also teach others. Surprise! Language works! Who knew!

Dearie, we never told you this but Grandma Della had a secret baby named Robert with that roughneck Joe Smith before she met and got married to Grandpa Fred and had Helen and Fred Junior and John. But Grandma never told Grandpa she had a boy already, and made Joe raise him on the other side of town. So then Bob grew up and met your Aunt Helen, and fell in love and asked her to marry him. But after we explained the facts, she told him No. Because Bob's your uncle.


Another way to say "H notation" is to say "Tautology". Like A = A is a tautology, you can also say

Because it's the same thing.

Tautologies are statements that are true automatically. If something is true by definition, like The sky is above or The earth is below, then they don't actually say anything. Of course it's true: Duh!

Actually it's not duh!, you can discover things that are very surprising using tautological reasoning, or H notation, or mathematical substitution, for example that those three things are the same thing.

You philosophers will recognize H as a Kantian analytic judgement: the consequent is contained in the antecedent, as contrasted with synthetic judgements in which the consequent contains something more that is added to the antecedent.

Evolutionary Tautologies

So far I haven't actually said anything, but now I want to seem to say some things about life and evolution and organisms, though I will continue to assert that I'm not actually saying anything. Observe whether I do or not.

The logic of biological evolution rests on tautologies.

D'oh! I guess actually I didn't say anything there. Just another tautology.

But tautologies have a peculiar force. You can't deny them, or argue with them; inexorable, they hold us all helpless. Therefore submit, brave heart, and see what you may learn! Here are some, in the world of evolution, where organisms can survive and reproduce.

If an organism survives and reproduces then it survives and reproduces.

If it dies then it dies. (But, why and how death itself evolved sure seems like a non-tautological question. Maybe understanding something means reducing it to tautologies.) Whereas if it dies before it reproduces, then none of its descendants actually descend, nor exist, nor multiply. Its branch in the tree of life is cut off. Does this say anything? No. H. It's just another way of saying the same thing.

If organisms with some feature die out of a species, then that feature has been "selected against". A definition: H. If the organisms carrying a feature reproduce before they die, and their descendants do too, then their branches in the tree of life continue forward generation after generation, and if there are many, then there are many; if these contrast with others in that the others without that feature don't, then the feature is "selected for". Definition. H.

Survival and reproduction are required for past, mortal, life to continue into the future.

When a community with internal relationships has members surviving and reproducing before death and its new young members come to participate in maintaining those relationships, the community itself survives and reproduces. Another definition.

The world in which life exists and continues into the indefinite future is a world of sufficient resources, energy, and time or stability, for life, at least for now.

I still don't think I've said anything yet. Just like 1=1.

Evolutionary Logic

So let me continue to elaborate tautological reasoning in the logical structure of evolution and living species. I will tag everything that says nothing with an H, indicating H notation or tautological or definitional reasoning has applied, giving perhaps a new way of looking at something, but not anything truly new.

A species is an environmentally compatible (H), practically self-sustaining (H) community (H) of organism-specifying information, comprising a set of fixed and variable genes, the variable ones comprising a set of mutually substitutable alleles within the gene (H) such that organisms each contain a copy of each fixed gene and a copy of one allele for each variable gene (H). Sexual reproduction mixes randomly-chosen halves of each of two parents, independently functional gene sets, to create each descendant, a new individual, a new functional gene set (H, H, H, H). After a few generations of reproductive mixture along with death of forebears in a living species, the genes are mixed around in different bodies but they are the same total set of genes and alleles modulo mutations (H). These practically useful information units depend on each other to survive into the indefinite future (H). If some combination of genes and alleles happen to systematically interfere with survival of its carriers, then the community will drift in the direction of having fewer of that combination within it (H), eventually none (H).

The fixed genes are like fixed framing sentences in the story, everyone's story has these same bits. The alleles, which substitute in as the values of a gene with variable contents, are like mutually substitutable sentences in a story. Then each organism's information is a single story, with the fixed parts, plus a sequence of selections from the substituteable sets. You might consider a happy ending and a sad ending as two substitutable sentences in a short story, for example. The living population, which embodies the species, is the entire set of life-specifying stories currently selected within all the current living organisms, and the species itself is this sort of abstract pond of information, carried by the group of organisms, each being a bearer of its own copy of shared bits of the story. The fixed bits are shared with all, and the variable bits are shared with some, of the other members of the species. The species itself, you might say, is a kind of abstraction, which includes the happy ending AND the sad ending, both at once. It is the commonality across the set of all those stories or narrative subselections. It is defined in biochemistry by the actual DNA choice points and actual choices chosen there, and is defined in bitter logic by their compatibility with and enhancement of mutual or shared survival. Without successful, survival-and-reproduction-compatible cooperation among these informational units, the many choices cannot individually survive, so mutual compatibility is a filtering requirement on the choices and their interactions.

If a life form does not have systems in it which tend to, nay, which reliably, make it survive and reproduce in its environment, then it won't (H). Therefore effective survival and reproduction mechanisms are necessary for an organism and will be present in any evolved species (H). In general if a species has (a) evolved specialized anatomy for a function, it would seem to have (b) a reliable solution for that problem and to hold it (c) high on the priority list for the species to carry out that function. Thus air, food, and reproduction each have both (a) and (b) and (c).

We are moving in the direction of what you, I, and humans all care about.

Prioritization in Evolution

Directions and path-sequences being innumerable, and pathways compatible with survival being few and limited in character, it follows that if a living system doesn't prioritize, or shall we say, aim at, its target, then it is not likely to hit it (H). These mechanisms may seem designed for an intended (or logically specifiable) purpose only because the link between mechanism and its associated outcome must be rather tight in order to be functional, that is reliably tending toward survival or reproduction or the observed subsidiary outcome (H). The argument is not teleological evolution, but selection based subject to logical constraints. Of course random mutation may or may not create a particular logically possible useful solution to a problem; only if it happens to do so, can that solution be selected for. "Design" in this context is this combination of random creation and functional selection, not something attributable to a some smart individual with a goal and an idea in mind separate from the creation itself; indeed mutation, survival-filtering, reproduction, and selection, is a process that comes up with amazing results.

But it is not a happy story getting there. In cases where a survival-connected outcome is only loosely predictable from a certain variable mechanism (with probability P <<1), the carriers of the mechanism will only loosely survive (with probability P) in one generation, and over a few, or for a subtle effect over many, generations without otherwise increased reproduction, that total probability (Pn) will approach zero (H). Functional logic is harsh and controlling, when the tautologies of evolution impose it on life.

From this follows the prioritization of survival before reproduction where separable: you can reproduce another day if you survive first, but if not, then not (H).

We can generalize over many priorities.

If survival depends on multiple subordinate outcomes, and each subordinate outcome has an evolved, effective mechanism to satisfy it but which cannot operate simultaneously and at equal priority with others, then the competitive prioritization of all the mechanisms (for their respective outcomes) and suppression of alternatives to the chosen priority must be done by a competent meta-mechanism, which is able to make and enforce a detailed rank ordering according to system state or circumstances, so as to orchestrate the few survivable and reproducing outcomes reliably (H).

Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the Hindu chakra system, the Freudian plural id, the hormonally-defined (and -governed) subpersonalities, and the at least hypothalamic system for choosing which subpersonality must be in charge when: these are perhaps expressions or, roughly, homomorphisms of a single, of one and the same, of this functional logic and prioritization constraint set, imposed on complex life by the tautologies of life. Of course survival first. Respiration, temperature, rest/sleep, sustenance, have their nonlinear hierarchy of systemic control, which may derive from the duration of time you can survive without that particular homeostatic requirement being met. The sooner you die without some requirement being met, the higher the priority and the more rigid the enforcement. This seems like raw tautology, but we now have separable mechanisms linking to separable functional outcomes: were it not so, were it instead that mechanisms were not linked to outcomes, then those fatal outcomes would fail to be defended against, and at some greater probability would occur, and over generations those life forms will not last long, as the chances multiply. So long-term evolutionary survival statistically implies (over tens, thousands or millions of generations it more and more categorically implies) strong and reliable, carefully, calibratedly, mutually prioritizing, mechanisms to defend against each of the various standard modes of practical failure, of death or non-reproduction.

Bits in Evolution

Observe: Functional outcomes are categorical and discrete. It can be expressed in hard yeses and noes, binary digits, bits, category-based logics, despite the physical continuity and statistical probabilization of every kind of dimension, measurement, control variable or physical Blob in this world at least at the levels we are talking about, far above the level of quantum chemistry. Because there are Outcomes: simple, discrete, dispositive facts. You live, or you die. You reproduce, or you don't. You turn left or turn right, and thus approach food or flee toxicity. In this way evolutionary outcomes or constraints are isomorphic to what come to us as sets of linguistic categories: discrete, typically binary assertions; thus we may talk about the "choices" and "motivations" of an organism. (*It may be a yeast or paramecium entirely lacking in high level brain structures designed to make choices and implement motivations in the form human organisms might have, but considered from a functional, logical perspective, it can be seen as facing choices and balancing motivations.*) In this way organisms are constrained to survive in a symbolically expressible world: a world of discrete abstractions. Not a world of mere low level, continuous physicality, but a world of choice, decision, and action: of discriminating and motivated frames.

This is so not just at the level of conscious, linguistic, supposedly rational humanity, for which internal symbol representation and manipulation and, for example, discrete planning processes are axiomatic among cognitive scientists. It is even true at the level of paramecia, of single-celled mobile creatures (and in recent news even at the level of groups of mitochondria within a cell).

Because if the life form doesn't have mechanisms that reliably produce surviving, reproducing outcomes, which are discrete outcomes, then it won't continue to evolve, but will drop out even from the very dustbin of history into the vacuum of non-existence, as something that never even needed to have been tried as an experiment.

A scientist's job therefore includes the cognitive scientist's job.

Cognitivity of Evolution

The cognitive scientist, remember, creates categorical, discrete logic systems mapping between discrete informational inputs and outputs, using inferred internal "mental" representations that can be modelled using the computer metaphor with bits and memory and actuators and software objects like goals and control subroutines. These logical machines are asserted to be descriptions at some level of organismal process and constraint. They are called cognitive models because they look a lot like computer programs containing logical representations that purport to model what goes on inside organisms of more or less intelligence: formal psychological models.

Is this just the mental masturbation of overexcited grammarians? Or is it a necessary level of description of the functional logic of what actually ends up happening within the context of discrete, evolutionarily unavoidable and potentially bitter outcomes. I say the latter. Because if you can't get that logical system right in describing a biological system, then you don't understand why the thing is able to actually survive and reproduce, and more fundamentally even if you know the physics, the chemistry, the biochemistry, the cell biology, every detail of every subsystem, you still don't have any handle on WHY it survives or not: you don't understand it. System understanding depends on the cognitive scientist's modelling. H! Just try to prove me wrong.

So, what are these discrete categories and the motivational frames of organismal existence, what is the rank ordering of priority, what is the logic controlling their relations and community of interest, and the communications or interactions they must have, if only in sharing to an internal Master Controller their several concerns and status reports or awarenesses for it to mediate or sort?: A scientist must also describe these discrete, cognitive behaviors within the functional logic that applies to them. For if the organism doesn't follow, doesn't implement, that logic, it will shortly be gone. Thus I make room for, I demand!, cognitive modeling of animal behavior, not just of humans or human language, but at least down to the level of protozoa.

To take it to an extreme, we like to think we have a Soul with a Will, with the uniquely human characteristics of drivenness, attention, spatial awareness, integrated action control. Don't you believe you have those qualities? Aren't they at the heart of what you are? Do you think that makes you special, makes us special? I say the same thing goes all the way down, just follow the logic.

For example, it seems that the driven-personality quality of people, as we are, is a quality equally driven and necessary in the least watery wiggler. If an organism isn't driven, doesn't coalign all its available and useful resources, you might say, with all its might, in circumstances that threaten it, to drive toward whatever motivations can be ascribed to it (cognitively) for its (necessary) survival, then obviously it may fail to survive. The tautologies apply, and bye-bye. Even a slight probabilistic slip between mechanism and the survival it relates to will lead over a million generations to obliteration. 0.9991,000,000 is an excellent approximation of zero.

Consider attention itself, consisting in the continual reassessing of priorities and of situational awareness tending to inform those priorities. Attention would seem to be a highly valued early evolutionary achievement. For otherwise rapidly changing conditions would be fatal, and yes the Tautologies of Evolution apply.

Similarly, integrated behavioral control, whereby a single target of action is aimed at, since one can hardly hit two targets at a time much less more, would also seem highly valued, evolutionary speaking. For if competing incompatible priorities are allowed to remain unresolved in a circumstance of potential action, no target may be obtained, an outcome likely to be, or evidently, evolutionarily inferior to one where the most important single target was actually aimed at and acted towards or into being.

I'm not saying mechanisms are the same between humans and protozoa. Mechanisms might be different for the same functional outcome, if new ones might be evolved that are as good or better, but the functional logic is the same, from paramecia to people. Functionally one could say those mechanisms perform the same task, indeed, are the same system. They live in the same functional box, subject to the same logic. No efficient designer, neither Ockham nor hurried evolution itself, would fail to reuse the contents, by the way, so why we should think we are so different from worms with our special uniquely human characteristics of attention, spatial awareness, integrated action control (a.k.a. Will), I don't know. I don't think we are.

I have argued that the unarguable tautologies and harsh constraints of evolution impose a symbolic, discrete logic on successfully evolved (all living) organisms. From what may evolve, I turn next to when things may evolve, in what order.

Putting changes in sequence

How shall we reason about evolutionary changes? If there are many observed changes in view, then the least, perhaps the best, we might hope for is to order them in sequence with one another.

We are given a descendant species with some set of novel characteristics N as compared with the shared set of characteristics Sh among the other species in the genus. Are we perhaps entirely unable to reason about the sequence by which the N characteristics evolved? There may be no archeological or DNA data on the question.

Logical ordering

But suppose it can be established that some feature N1 is logically prerequisite for another feature N2, then we can at least provisionally infer that N2 evolved after N1. Agreed? If you logically can't have N2 without N1, then N1 must have preceded N2.

For example, what came first, eyes or blue eyes? Blue eyes couldn't have come first in the sequence of evolution, because you can't have blue eyes without having eyes, whereas you can have eyes and even light sensitive patches without irises entirely, without having blue eyes.

Or, what came first, fingers or fingernails? Perhaps it's a failure of scientific imagination, imagining fingernails on something other than fingers, then growing fingers out underneath them, but that sure doesn't make sense to me.

If you can see two features as logically dependent in this way, it would seem to require the dependent feature to follow, or at least not to separately precede, the independent feature. A fuzzy thinker might propose an argument noticing a dependency where an opposite argument may later be found, in that case logic may seem to waver. But logic is universally reliable, for those that can use it. And true logical dependency requires that one feature not independently precede another, and we can use that to absolutely rule out certain orderings of observed features in the evolution of a species. Such a conclusion is not a matter of observation, of contingency, or of probability, but of Logic itself, which precedes the Big Bang itself and anticipates every true discovery ever made, since each must always be logically possible, though noone may have ever noticed, nor may ever.

Is this the limit of our powers? I don't think so, though my professional evolutionary biologist friends seem to act as though all evolutionary reasoning not conducted by their own PhD students or subject to their PhD defense cross-examinations is intellectually substanceless and can be assumed to be morally perverse. I exaggerate slightly. Job security does not give you the right to shut everyone else up with attacks ad hominem or otherwise than based in reason.

Probabilistic ordering

Suppose that N2 is easier to evolve in the circumstance where N1 exists: not impossible, but easier. May we make the parallel inference? Well, yes, I think so. The nature of evolution is such a grand statistical drift that statistical effects are very likely to prevail.

Suppose a certain result associated with N2, such as a measureable average, or a population frequency of some feature, etc., is, say, X% more likely to be reproduced or enhanced with another feature, N1, precedent and present than without. That is,

    P(N1<N2) = P(N2<N1) * (100-X)/100.
Then what is the likelihood of one ordering N1<N2 versus the other N2<N1? It's not just a single point event in the case of evolutionary time, but an accumulation of more or less probable events across generation after generation for tens and hundreds or thousands of generations. Let AP(o,g) be the accumulated probability of order o across g generations. We have to compare the relative likelihoods of P(N1<N2) occurring g times, versus P(N2<N1) occurring g times. Suppose N2<N1 is taken as the null hypothesis with relative probability 1, then
   AP(N1<N2,g) = P(N1<N2)^g / P(N2<N1)^g = P(N1<N2)^g = ((100-X)/100)^g
                              |------|     |------|
                                  1        100-X/100
Thus, if X is only 5%, meaning that both novel features N1 and N2 could each logically or potentially, precede the other, but there is a 5% advantage in one generation if N1 arrives first, then after only 100 generations,
   AP(N1<N2,100) = 0.95^100 = 0.00592, about 1/2 of 1%.
In this way, small relative fitness differences may justify strong reasoning about the ordering of novel features in the evolution of a species.

Restating: the full-sequence likelihood of the opposite order is (100%-X%)^G with G the number of generations. If X is 5%, and G is 100 generations, then the likelihood ratio of N1 preceding N2 versus N2 preceding N1 (which we can use as null hypothesis with likelihood 1^100=1) is 0.95^100 / 1 = 0.0059. In short, a small degree of relative ease of one evolutionary path versus another potentially reordered path may be translated to an enormously strong argument, from a statistical perspective, for that sequence being the easy rather than the even ever-so-slightly-more-difficult path.

This actually gives us a lot of leverage on the problem. It's not impossible to find relative ease differences, possibly-small impacts on how one feature supports the functionality of another feature.

Human evolutionary steps

Things I think can be ordered in this way are quite a few, in no particular order.

My favorite, Aquatic Ape features: Bipedality. Voluntary breathing control (necessarily preceding speech). Love or tolerance of swimming. Body Hairlessnes. Long head hair. Control of fire. Diet changes. Long distance running. A huge heel. Body temperature regulation by sweating. Ability to swim. Fear of snakes, of sharks, of the various kinds of unknown. Compared with chimps, more acidic stomachs, more ketotic metabolism, less chimp-like raw-fiber digestion, preference for fatter (large) prey. Changes in disgust sensation; Stench, a.k.a. stinky smell sensitivity. Eclectic carnivory; obesity. Tool use. Conversation. Sign systems. Language. Joketelling. Storytelling. Lying. Theory of mind and emotions. Clothing. Multi-sensory integrated spatial awareness. Bodily Decoration. Art. Religion. Moralizing. The Lecture. Admiration. Scapegoating. Mob violence. Male gang formation, predation, rape, war. Multiplication of dominance hierarchies. Gender contrast in anatomy and strength relating to fight and flight contexts. Oversized male larynx. Lowered larynx such that breathing and swallowing are not simultaneously possible. Female relative lack of sense of direction (?). Female sexual attraction to funny males. Cryptic fertility of females. Female orgasm. Commerce and exchange. Lying. Negotiation. Subpopulation variation in melanin concentration, eye color, height, strength, task endurance. Sexual anatomy & physiology peculiarities: excess size, glans skin furrowing, glans shelf, mobile foreskin, extended duration coitus, semen deposit volume and viscosity and viscosity change over short time periods. Subcutaneous body fat distribution. Literacy. Architecture. Internal storytelling about self as a method for emotional regulation. Various subspeciation changes: more vs less curly hair differences, the Asian epicanthic fold, the northern european adaptations for low-light survival despite metabolic need for light-requiring vitamin D3: translucent skin to make the most of little sunlight and lactose tolerance to get D3 from milk sources.
My personality is MB ET, an extrovert thinker: I like to talk and think, which are nearly the same thing for me; I accept that being wrong is part of the process. I'm happy to be wrong! If a logical argument shows a stronger effect in the opposite order, fine. And for two events there can only be only three orderings, before, after, and overlapping, and as I've shown we can legitimately reason from one order being a little easier than the other, already it's a strong argument given the exponential filter of evolution. So it's worth making stabs in the dark, if they seem reasonable, because that starts things off. Stating clearly an initial possibly wrong position allows it to be contradicted by something better and thus can progress be made.

Taking this obnoxious yet humble approach, my own view is:

  • that females naturally led in general and social intelligences, perhaps as compensation for a lesser degree of specialization for combat as compared with males, perhaps for advantages in childrearing or group childrearing, perhaps across increasingly extended childhoods;
  • that humans specially evolved around the fire as or before Homo Erectus, which made for an environment particularly strongly selecting for social compatibility: if you couldn't be compatible with the group then out from the safety of the fire into the darkness with you, and to your death; thus selection for social compatibility became an even stronger force on the species;
    • perhaps due to the organizing of the group around the fire, alpha male dominance lessened as compared with beta males, since obnoxious alphas could be rejected from the safety of the fire by the group more easily than before fire when they might have had a fighting chance against even a group of betas in combat.
    • Fire pulls the group together by definition by: providing a spatial center to come together around, by bringing warmth in cold-night environments, by expanding the circle of safety, now instead of sleeping more or less separately in trees, it is safe to sleep together on the ground, away from canine, feline, and colubrine (snake) predators, with the fire creating an area on the ground safe from predation danger but at the same time shrinking the sleeping area to nearby the fire.
  • that female sexual selection of males based on intelligence was a consequence of female sexual preference for funny male partners;
    • that this was early, though perhaps after fire reduced the dominance of alpha males, thus enhancing the scope of female choice; this unshackling of a probably pre-existing preference (by females for funny males as reproductive partners) drove the species' level of intelligence up and up and up without limit;
  • that however there was a late change associated with the split from the Neanderthals whereby our branch, the so-called Sapiens, was selected for either passivity and followership on the one hand, or persuasive genius of leadership on the other hand, or both, which allowed larger groups to organize than the Neanderthal max group size of 50 persons, and those larger groups of coordinated and group-submissive (read, mob-participating) humans of 150 or so, even if individually perhaps less active, creative, and intelligent than the Neanderthals they killed, their ability to organize into armies allowed them to destroy and kill any platoon of Neanderthal or Denisovan or other human species. (This may have been the same change as a change in male submission to the duties of more-involved parenting.)
  • The passivity or followership selection did not reduce the murderousness or sexual predation aspects of the human species. I understand from the Neanderthal genes we inherited are exclusively from females; just as, similarly, the genes of predecessor communities that the descendants of conquering Indo-European or Yamnaya acquired in their genes were mostly or exclusively from the females of those predecessor communities, consistent with killing the males and raping and enslaving the females, i.e., murderousness and sexual predation. (Ask me to elaborate.)
Female choice leading to sexual selection of funny males over evolutionary time is, to me, what surely drove the evolution of language. Everyone can sit around the fire, now, and this becomes an evolutionarily selecting environment, and some can make snide grunts or tell better stories and jokes and make everyone laugh and that makes the girls more willing, perhaps due to the nature of humor as containing a persuasive view that the situation is not a subjective moral violation, i.e.., things are emotionally safe with this guy. Willingness has its evolutionary role even in a species with a proportion of forced sex. A female's willingness to have one male's babies might deliver that one's genes into future generations, if that one has a larger vocabulary, if he can can string more words together, if he can produce subordinate clauses or a progression of tense, because he can tell better, more exciting stories and funnier jokes. If his linguistic capabilities are expanded, then his expressive capabilities are expanded.

So my happy view is that a lot of human evolution was folks sitting around the fire, with some guy making everyone laugh, and then going off into the bushes to have willing sex and smart babies. Humor first, language after. Humor's social power ran the show; language came after and was driven to ramify, elaborate and grow by humor's sexual selection power, as it is a proxy for general intelligence, as well as social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and linguistic intelligence, to the degree those are even separable.

Another way to put it is that the females are a quantum of intelligence ahead of the males at each point on the evolutionary march, and maybe it's not that their expectations are so high that they go for all the genius men, but rather that they just want a man who can at least try to keep up. Dragging the boys along. Today a misspelled profile loses a lot of interest among the ladies: A proxy for intelligence being above minimum threshold. Somehow if there are some smart babies, the girls will generally be smarter, at least as regards social intelligence; they have that extra chromosome which will keep them always a fraction ahead; they mature sooner, perhaps; they have major responsibilities sooner, perhaps. Not really a pretty picture for the boys, but at least they didn't subspeciate into not even having language, which could have been a risk, in the extreme.

Another angle on this is that the selection pressures on female and male intelligence are different; female intelligence is selected for by the burdens and opportunities of femaleness, whereas male intelligence is selected for by females. So they could be quite different kinds of intelligence, in principle.

A Conceptual Archeology


Here is a conceptual zooming in, focussing my lens down from the very broadest of what we know to the most specific bits that make us most human, a sort of conceptual archeology of human language and cognition. I wrote this section backwards, and it came out unintentionally and to my surprise. It challenges you, dear reader, to carry out the familiar task of reading in a slightly different way. The repetition of the word "first" may intrigue you into looking back and seeing the relationships, where one idea might break into others. You may find yourself becoming an conceptual archeologist. Have fun, you can do it!

It started at the end, saying "First" (as a linguist would, considering the fundamental concept of the linguistic Sign). Trying, I'd have one view of things and start writing, first X, then Y, then Z. Then I'd realize X didn't start with X but itself includes M, N, O. Then I'd realize M didn't actually start things either but itself started with A, B, C. Then, etc., you see how this goes. So "First" below means just that at one point I was thinking in a certain frame and in that frame this thing came first. But you'll notice that "First" isn't actually written first except at the very first, now not even then. So you might think about what you see and can read here, as a sort of archeology of the process of writing it, rather than as a digested process of reading it. Maybe that'll be more fun, to follow along with my actual process of thinking, than to consume something fully pre-digested. You of course, get to have your own process of thinking, and maybe putting it in this order will encourage you. So here I write at the first, what's actually the end of a certain path of thinking through what's below:

Strata of Knowledge

First, we have no idea.

First, we have the possible laws of physics.

First, we have our laws of quantum and relativistic physics.

First, we have the big bang and everything as plasma and quarks flying about.

First, we have hydrogen clouds, coagulating, and nuclear fusion.

First, we have our (first) sun, atomic physics, filling up of the periodic table of elements, and a collapsar supernova event.

First, we have chemistry with heavy elements in a planet around our (second, current) sun.

First, we have a hydrocarbonaceous watery environment with biochemistry and a cycling, available energy source.

First, we have a replication engine and materials.

First, we have accelerated metabolic biochemical pathways to get more done.

First, we have cell walls containing stuff doing stuff replicatably. (See On the Origin of Life, written 14 years ago, evidently in advance of, yet surprisingly consistent with, the latest thinking, with its RNA world preceding cell wall structure.)

Functors vs. Cues vs. Signals

First let's talk about information within biological systems, and conceptually evolving toward human language.


First, we have something that acts as a FUNCTOR which is REPEATABLE and USEFUL, which, let's say by definition, separates the doing from what makes the doing go: it initiates (and probably is the first part of) a specialized, available, and useful function, transmitting the information that that function (the rest of it) is to be carried out. So yes at this point the functor itself might also participate in carrying out the function but at least we have some separation between, first, the initiation which represents, by its association with the process, the information that the function is to be carried out, and second the actual carrying out and completion of the action function. So this includes bio-chemical stuff like protein signalling, gene expression controls, RNA machinery triggering and cascades, etc. Viruses already have functors in them, and the stuff inside cells and organelles are no doubt full of them. Already there is lots of information involved, there might be transmission of a trigger within or between cells, there might be some degree of abstraction across distinct but similar and equally effective triggers because the functor is distinct and once activated it cascades to a behavior which is distinct and both are suitable for a variety of related similar contexts therefore there is abstraction.


First conceptually is the CUE, which is a functor that is uptakeable, that is to say, it works across a greater separation between the source of relevant information and the distinct behavior which is influenced by it. Being more separate, for example having the source be outside the implementing cell or organ or organism, means that the relationship of trigger to effect is removed from and in a way abstracted from the behavior-implementing process.

Whereas when a functor carries out a biological function through a direct biochemical reaction pathway, we consider there to be information present at the initiation point in the sense that, as viewed from outside, one path is chosen to be taken instead of another, but in the implementing reality it's more that some particular chemical is present in some particular concentration, which makes the changed behavior occur, and only from the outside analyst's perspective acts like information in the abstract, although from the Darwinian perspective it is is the functionality of the response in perpetuating the species which is essential, and as extensively argued above this can also be considered logical or informational rather than merely chemical.

On the other hand in the case of a CUE, there is a greater separation between trigger and outcome along with some form of detection system comprising with specialized detector units, cells, organelles; perhaps there is optionality of the detection event based on organismal priming such as hunger or other prioritized need state; and in this separation we automatically acquire abstraction across stimuli, for if there is any process of detection, it will operate over a variety of stimuli and those might be more or less different yet still inducing the detector to respond, and thereby leading to the same triggered response/behavior/activity carried out by the recipient/responding organism. This pattern, where a variety of stimuli leads to a fixed response, amounts to categorization by the organism.

Given these characteristics of SEPARATION of organism-internal detector from the information source in the external environment, of OPTIONALITY, of ABSTRACTION, and of CATEGORIZATION, we can think of the process as being representational. Thus the existence of cues, or cuing, means the cue-responsive organism implements an abstract categorical representation of external reality.

Said organism might not, it surely does not, contain a motorola microcontroller with bits and actuators and serial ports and compiled code from a high-level language, sure, but what it does can be, and to get the logic right (that is, both, to be survivable evolutionarily and to be understandable by us) it must be understandable as an abstract, categorical, world-representing system. That's what "implements an abstract, categorical representation of external reality" means. Maybe you will wonder what a logic compiler might correspond to in biology.

In addition, with optionality we also can consider motivated framing. If the organism might or might not take up a particular cue in any given moment or circumstance based on its own reasons, we can think of it as operating as though it has a directed purpose, a motivated frame, an organized and effective hierarchy of goals, in short an emotional universe, because whether or not there are internal data structures with those labels in the software of the organism, the behavior of the organism will be as if it did. For example, it may chase food when it's hungry but instead will escape predators or toxins even if it's hungry when those are detected, etc.

The logical hierarchy of what we see in its behavior when confronted with different circumstances, that is, what we can infer about its decisionmaking, had better be functional in the Darwinian sense if the organism is to succeed evolutionarily; if it eats even while being eaten then that one might not survive another generation, but if it will postpone eating until it can escape from being eaten, then survival and propagation might be optimized. In this way we need have no idea how the prioritization is done by the organism, but certainly it must do it, for the logic of its universe demands it. Perhaps there is competitive mutual downregulation between alternative behavior-generating processes even within the cell or organelle. The logic of how that competition resolves in different circumstances shows the effective goals and priorities of the organism. That is, goal prioritization and operating within a motivational frame must exist very early in the hierarchy of organisms, so long as multiple outcomes are required for survival and reproduction.

To summarize on cues, they are not just detectable and distinguishable but also understandable within the motivational frame and representational or cognitive capacities of the recipient. A cue doesn't need a sender with an intention but only a recipient responding to a distinction. Cues may be, (N1) first, internal cues as in cell-internal biochemical conditions taken notice of by biochemical pathways which functionally respond thereto, and (N2) second external as in organism-external conditions detected by the organism and used to adjust behavior functionally. (N1 jumps to N2 by more than one step, thus there may be intermediate levels between them so that one could distinguish, for example, cell-external but organism-internal cues, e.g., some cells' characteristics or behavior somehow cuing responses to other cells in an organism, as in organs aiding the homeostasis of the body; or for example, digestive-processing cues that are sort-of-inside, sort-of-outside the organism.)

So to give an example, a male bullfrog being extra big is a cue that female bullfrogs may use to choose it as a mate; there is uptake of information without a sending event; the boy just IS, rather than specifically carrying out a bit of behavior which SAYS. (Labov distinguishes cues from signals in this sense in sociolinguistics, or for example dialect perception.)


First (we can stop the conceptual archeology here, this is where it started: was that a fun ride?), we have the SIGN which is repeatable and useful like a functor, which in the event of its optional uptake, abstracts and categorizes a separate external reality, like a cue, and further includes having a FORM which is PRODUCIBLE by senders and detectable and DISTINGUISHABLE by recipients, and also has a MEANING, which again is abstract, useful, understandable within the motivated frame and cognitive capabilities of the recipient. The chicken/egg question between the meaning and the form of the sign is hereby answered: the meaning comes first (in conceptual archeology), for meaning is established in cuing, whereas a producible, distinguishable form is added to cuing to develop, in general, the sign.

Second (finally there is a second, after a first), we have a relatively rich perceptual capacity, so that more signs could potentially exist and be distinguished, though for the moment that capacity may not be used. Here we need fairly detailed perceptual and behavioral systems for this to happen, but that's not too much to ask, since even flies have many eyeballs and bees can dance at many different angles up and down the beehive wall.

Third, the number of signs not just potentially but actually increasing above one so that now there is a vocabulary.

The bee dance might or might not be considered multiple vocabulary items, really it's an analog representation of food source distance and direction, with essentially continuous (down to the resolution level of bees as dancers and as audience). A hard-boiled discretist phonologist insisting on discrete analysis might divide all the horizontal directions from upwind to downwind on left and right into a discrete set, and declare that bees have discrete, phonology-like categorization in their communication system, and since the resolution is limited to what bees on their crowded dance walls can differentiate, the phonologist can never be wrong. On the other hand a continuous-parameter-friendly phonetician might remind everyone we're actually talking about continuous values here, but at a low resolution. You figure it out.

If we're talking about vocal signing, we presuppose

  • first, nutrition
  • first, digestion
  • first, an enclosed digestion location meaning also having a means of closing i.e. lips.
  • first, a food/digestion pathway
  • first, an airway
  • first, a vocal tract

Fourth, we have an analysis of potentially complex signs into parts such as hand position versus hand movements or parts in time a.k.a. sequences. Notice especially the consonant vowel sequence, which is itself inevitable given anatomy specialized to be a signal source, at the glottis, anatomically separate from the sound-shaping downstream anatomy that provides a long, enclosing, resonant chamber and zones of more or less closure along the vocal tract, such as the lips. As vocal tract movements go from more closure to more opening, the consonant vowel sequence arises automatically.

Reflected in perception, imitation, practice, and thought, these conveniently loud and numerous, sub-reaction-time-duration, overlapping, gesture orchestrations are eventually analyseable as discrete, consonant + vowel sequences. With analysis, or at least consistent diffentiability, comes combination, so that the different, analyzed, and now combinable, sound or sign forms can be combined as parts, together, in different sequences, or perhaps in combinations that are non-sequential, such as sign language signs, etc.

If a class of organism has evolved to this point, then it has the capability of larger, even extremely large vocabularies.

In a vocabulary of signs, logically each inherits the characteristics of being a sign, a cue, and a functor: being useful, uptakeable, repeatable, optional, abstract, expressible, detectable, distinguishable, etc.

Evolution of language above the Sign

Signs may exist in a one-word universe, perhaps prairie dogs have this. At some point in evolution, miracle of miracles, an increasing number of signs available for use can be expressed in sequential combination, producing the two word utterance (perhaps in unordered juxtaposition, perhaps not yet predicative in meaning). Because for example, if you have BLOOD to help in the business of eating you can use that for RED and since even rats have deixis to point in a direction now you can comment on the sunset, with RED+thataway and once you have a word for directions then you can say RED+UP. In this way already surprising things can be stated like RED+SKY if there is a forest fire outside the cave this morning, etc.

After a two-word phase the evolution of human language is pretty simple, you will start to have multi-word expressions, more than two, and you will have systematic relationships among the word types like for example you will distinguish nouns and verbs and adjectives and then you will use noticeable conventions like order or explicit marking, etc., to indicate some distinguishable relationships like predication or topic/comment structures perhaps in a clear case.

I should think that predicate-argument structures would evolve in the order first arguments, then predicates, since a predicate presupposes, only makes sense given the pre-existence of, arguments. Therefore one might consider that Noun evolved before Verb evolved, if nouns are arguments and verbs are predicates, but again, imperative verbs can have their arguments implicit in the context and thus could be linguistically independent and therefore evolutionarily unordered.

Similarly adverbs like Now in [Shoot the Mammoth] Now! can be understood as having the action and the participants all implicit in the living context and the mind of not just the speaker but the other participants as well.

In this way the evolution of a linguistic modifier like Now need not follow the evolution of its linguistic prerequisite, since that prerequisite may preexist cognitively rather than linguistically, in the mind rather than expressed explicitly in speech. In this way the cognitive system of the species predates and supports the lingistic system of the species, providing for implicit shared structures for reasoning, and into which communicated forms fit as aid for an orchestration of shared thought by participants in a shared community with shared experiences and shared goals and values. The primary system is the system of individual and shared thought, of mutual knowledge and cooperation, that the community members share, but an evolutionary ramification of this, enabling increasingly complex orchestration, is the explicit world of, now shall we call it, linguistic communication. We might assume that all linguistic structure pre-exists in the shared cognitive structure, since likely some of it certainly did, else how could communication even succeed.

=But such caveats don't seem to me to apply to: subordinate clauses could only evolve after clauses; prepositions and postpositions only after the phrasal units that they include as required internal constituents.

Next, something might not quite fit with the usual interpretive schema for most cases, but with that schema or form or structural relationship regularly used and established its usual circumstances it can still usefully be re-used, the form imposed on the ill-fitting case, and users may go ahead with it, and now the linguist will extract required structures that fail to have consistent semantic interpretation and that means phrasal syntax.

Finally you get Chomskyan Merge which gives recursion. You can't recurse on a category unless you already have that category. Thus we have ordered quite a lot of human language evolution into a sequence of developments, at each point there being a coherent useful and structured system benefiting its users by some higher degree of getting on the same page, social coordination, and thus better survival and reproduction for those capable of it. And by now you have human language, with vocabulary, syntax, and semantics.

Next, we will touch on pragmatics, and finally follow along again with the evolution of phonetics, which is very cool.

Pragmatics before the Sign

Pragmatics of course has to exist once sign interpretation is optional or you might say voluntary, and since optionality is present in cuing systems, it follows that pragmatics had to exist even during a cuing-only stage of species development. Does the cue imply cooperation with a con-specific? A receiver might calculate the reliability or unreliability of the sender's cue, might infer alternative conclusions from those normally inferred from the cue, might have an effective representation of 'self' and 'non-self' or even of 'other' and a world of other impinging abstractions with which to effectively reason about the cue and its meaning for the receiver. These are pragmatic possibilities before the linguistic sign ever arises.

Three of the four Gricean implicature rules in the field of pragmatics seem to fail to apply within the universe of cues. Consider (1) quantity, (2) quality, (3) relation, and (4) manner.

(1) FAIL: Does the cue, if it includes a QUANTITY, imply that the maximum, or perhaps the minimum, quantity involved is the one indicated by the cue, or just that the cued quantity is within some inferrable but unknown range? It seems that the quantity cued is exactly the actual quantity in the cue itself, so that implicature toward set maxima or minima are neither relevant nor reasonably, customarily, inferrable.

(2) SUCCEED: Does the cue imply the QUALITY of truthfulness? We do see species that try to fool each other, but cues wouldn't have value if there weren't useful, i.e., sufficiently true, information involved.

(3) FAIL: Does the cue have proper RELATION to the goals of the cue-detecting organism, or is it rather an irrelevance or distraction? Since a goal-directed organism may need to explore in the weeds until it finds what it needs to move forward, this Gricean issue of relatedness, relevance, or pertinence, seems to be in the eye of the beholder, and not packaged therefor by any cue-er. The maxim of relation applies only at or above the level of the sign, it appears.

(4) FAIL: Does the cue provide the needed information in a clear, brief, orderly, evident, and unambiguous way? Again this is in the eye of the beholder. It is the job of the perceiver to perceive what is useful in a world of noise, whether that is an easy job or a hard one. So the maxim of manner again seems to be useless in reasoning at the cue level, therefore applicable only at or above the level of the sign.

So much for pragmatics.

Evolution of Phonology

Let's have a evolutionary run-through with an eye on phonology. In the above conceptual archeology of increasingly human language like systems, there never appeared a moment in which the brain had suddenly evolved to incorporate a new silicon or other discrete-logic-based module comprised of a digital, binary, finite state, representational machine for the phonological system with established bits for labiality and velarity and nasality etc. Such models are scientific abstractions, however pretty to phonologists. No, on the contrary there has long been, before combinatory signing, a given, pre-existing, anatomical and functional production-and-perception system capable of making a variety of detectable, distinguishable, reliably producible sounds, repurposed from the mammalian aerodigestive, breathing/eating/puking orifice and passageway which obviously was already multi-purpose.

Let's take one phonological feature, the glottal state bit known in Chomsky's Sound Pattern of English as [Voice]. Where did the glottis come from, indeed, this sound source separate and deep in the vocal tract? It goes far back on the evolutionary tree to land animals with lungs. Does it go back to gilled fishes? Once you have lungs (or gills) and you double-use your food orifice for respiration, you will also need a larynx. So in the reptile aero-digestive tract, the larynx is a simple breathway tee-valve to keep the food out of the lungs, its structure being the larynx itself, and its closing elements being the ligaments of the glottis.

This weird buzzy widget develops and ramifies miraculously across species. Who knew?! In a variety of mammals, muscles can jam the larynx right up inside behind the nose, with the glottis open, so that nasal sniffing, smelling, and breathing can all go on continuously while the mouth is being used simultaneously to suckle, swill, or strangle, to catch, carry, or chew. It is freaky to imagine.

Kids, don't try these at home! Our human larynx of course won't allow it. We have to either breathe or swallow, not both at once, not safely. Because our larynx doesn't plug up inside the nasopharynx in humans, instead it hangs low, between a relatively lengthened oral cavity and a shortened esophagus, and the epiglottis and glottis redundantly cover and protect the airway tee branch to the trachea and lungs from drippings or food. Worse, the larynx is grossly enlarged, and even more lowly hung in the male of the species, but in either sex making a supra-glottal resonant chamber even better for loud vibrating sounds. We call them vowels. But it was long before humans that the glottal ligaments became evolutionarily useful in noisemaking, loud noisemaking, on behalf of their owners. For dogs bark, prairie dogs yip, rats squeal, all these providing noisemaking power antecedent to the ramifications of phonology. Not that the lowered and larger larynx didn't further develop with the same evolutionary benefit of more resonating power.

Yes, given that the inherited system could make some sounds is a good enough starting point.

But before that had to evolve the aero-digestive oral tract, with a digestive passageway, passageway for air, passageway separator (larynx etc.), tongue, teeth, and lips, along with sub-oral components like the digestive tract itself, or the lungs and the diaphragm to push on them. First a digestion capability to transform raw environmental findings to incorporateable nutrition. (First there was exterior digestion: there exists some beast that digests prey outside its body, perhaps an octopus?). Then an enclosure for digestion, which being an enclosure had to comprise a cavity (to hold the work) and a mouth for controlled transit (letting in (eating), and letting out (excreting), keeping in (preventing escape of the doomed), and keeping out (preventing ingress of non-foods)).

First, we might could benefit from a passageway through, to speed up and specialize processing steps for food, since a single sac with regurgitating of waste like jellyfishes means all the steps have to be available in the same space and they may interfere in time, space, or process, making the digestive process inefficient or weak. To the rescue, perhaps a single mutation could double the enclosure count from 1 to 2, with a connection between, with an initial efficiency advantage from the fact that now stuff can be ejected from one end while being ingested at the other, being faster than intermittent operation of swallow-then-spit. The passageway and other opening being advantageous from the start, specialization of digestive processing at different points along the passageway might evolve to make the system even more efficient, able to get more nutrition from worse food, thus expanding the reachable universe for life. And so we discover.

Among Tongue, Lips, Teeth, what evolved first? Was it the tongue first to position and move food inward? Then lips second to contain food and keep it from backing out -- which is logically second because you don't need to contain what you can't position and draw inward. Yet the body's orientation and approach could, perhaps less efficiently, do the work of positioning and drawing inward, without yet a tongue, so the reverse order seems sensible. Do jellyfish have lips? Either way, teeth seem to come third to improve the food capture and processing part: Sharp hard bits have their uses.

I am a bit confused about lungs and voluntary breathing through the aero-digestive tract. Perhaps evolution was, as we might say in personifying its actions, trying a wild variety of options as tetrapods moved from water to land. I suppose fish with gills already have mouth-to-gill ventilation of the organs; and I thought some fish have external gills: well, how could those move down into the abdomen? Evidently the creatures might be more able to be out of water by having air-oxygen incorporating tissues on their outside. Then cover these air-gills for keeping them suitably wet and uninjured so that it can bash about on land survivably. Then provide active yet non-distracting ventilation for them, for even more safety, perhaps back out the mouth rather than through gill outlets in the side of the neck. Not sure how that proceeded. It seems a pretty unlikely, even a sharp, mutation to move an organ from the outside of the neck to the inside of the ribs, but once there it might more gradually evolve a trachea, brachii, and lung sac alveoli, but by now you essentially have evolved lungs and you can climb onto the land.

Could the shutoff valve larynx have evolved after the aerodigestive tee shaped tract? Certainly it would be useful in such a context. To solve the chicken-egg problem, perhaps there were two passageways competing for the narrow neck transit space, say we'll call one opening a "nose" when it's the air passageway, and we'll call it a "mouth" when it goes to the food passageway, and then there needed to be some stiff, cartilaginous, membraneous structure just to keep their tubes apart and allow simultaneous use despite both sharing the tight spaces of a neck. Once it became a single organ, with two inputs and two outputs, it could simplify to become a tee valve, adding some evolutionary value at this step also. Because it is advantageous for air and food to be able to share a passageway, and then the fact we have both mouth and nose today would be an evolutionary holdover from when the mouth couldn't be used for air. Somewhat persuasive, but I don't know any physical archeology that bears on this. It would seem to be early, and maybe we're talking about when we were still fish.


In conclusion, we are evolution's popcorn, or perhaps its slaves. The leash of Life is tight, just as Life is itself tied tight by the leash of Logic, our Queen. Life, Pambios, cooks, pops up an effervescence of bubbling popping random alternatives to everything within its worldwide self, and it kills by death, gentle or cruel undistinguished, across whole species, unblinking. Pambios is that nearly-eternal entity which comprises all of life. They, for Pambios is both genders and certainly plural, gives us the freedom of popcorn, to take a random shape, yet it controls us, filters us, fiercely, down to the finest, not all, but to the finest distinguishable detail and with a cold and analytical heart.

Every feature in every species, that comes down into posterity as a feature of that species, only took hold after innumerable mutations that failed to survivably coexist in the species. After that one feature proved survivable, still it had to multiply against valid alternatives; still after being endemic in the species it had to show an advantage. In showing an advantage such that the whole species now has it, something like an entire species worth of childless uncles and early-killed lovers had to be consigned to death, perhaps eaten, perhaps horribly, and certainly decomposed and recycled without living trace, such that the spread of that feature may later be ensured and that the carriers of its alternates can no longer exist in the species. Every species feature has cost a species-wide genocide of early death, or organismally unfulfilled life without offspring, for that feature to now fully characterize the species. And if that is true for any one feature, how many thousands and millions of features we see across all the species in the amazing natural library of species of the world? Each is a testament to accumulated death and loss in an unimaginably long and bloody past. We ourselves are not even blips in this flow, in the cascading wash of life. Let us be deeply humble, as befits our station.

Was that as fun for you as it was for me? Hoo!

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Modified: September 22, 2020, January 23, 2021