Consciousness Blog 08 September 2013

Research carried out at the University of Liverpool provides support for the idea that complex tool-making and language co-evolved in humans. Natalie Thaïs Uomini, from the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, and Georg Friedrich Meyer, from the Department of Experimental Psychology, used functional transcranial Doppler ultrasonography (fTCD) to measured brain blood flow lateralization patterns in subjects who performed the planning component of Acheulean stone tool-making and cued word generation as a language task. The patterns were extremely similar in the initial 10 seconds of task execution.

In their article, Shared Brain Lateralization Patterns in Language and Acheulean Stone Tool Production, the researchers say that both skills share underlying brain processes and systems, and that aspects of language might have emerged as early as 1.75 million years ago, with the start of Acheulean technology. The two skills share conceptual similarities, such as the need for structured and hierarchical action plans to be successfully executed, and there is considerable co-development of tool-use and language in human children. Language dominance therefore suggests similar laterality for temporal and spatial movement representations – the ability to imagine or act out motor actions that rely on semantic memory – and the researchers' results support this prediction.

Acheulean knapping was selected for study because related brain activation patterns suggest relatively higher cognitive demands when making Acheulean bifaces compared to Oldowan flakes, which preceded the Acheulean version by half a million years or more. Say the researchers: "The emergence of the Acheulean techno-complex points to a change in the cognitive capabilities for making stone tools before 1 Mya."

The researchers posit that concurrent emergence of gestural and vocal communication would place a greater emphasis on the linkage of hand motor activity with linguistic networks. Although the research does not determine whether the Acheulean techno-complex or language emerged first, or whether they emerged in parallel, the researchers point out that: "Co-emergence could explain the rapid and wide spread of the Acheulean, possibly due to improved teaching and learning of the knowledge and know-how for complex stone tool production facilitated by aspects of language."

Dating the origins of language to 1.5m years ago has its difficulties, since spoken language as we understand it would not have been anatomically possible until less than half a million years ago. However, signing, singing and primitive vocalization involving syntax are supposed to have developed long before that, along with lateralized, language-specific areas of the brain, concomitant with the emergence of the human group.

Read more in Chapter Three of Agent Human by Michael Bell, The Evolution of Social Consciousness in Humans.

While language was of course highly adaptive for humans, it may be supposed to have replaced earlier methods of non-verbal communication, possibly including telepathy. Of course there is no generally accepted evidence of telepathy between humans, but there is a great deal of suggestive research, perhaps more convincing among animals than among humans. This is what you would expect if telepathy was (and is) an ingrained method of communication between organisms with moderately advanced brains. There is no adequate theory of how telepathy might take place, although the development of quantum mechanics edges towards a possible mechanism.

Read more in Agent Human: Supplement by Michael Bell, The Involvement Of PSI In The Evolution Of Consciousness


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