Monday, August 23, 2010

Addenda to "Meaning and mammals"…

[From an earlier dialogue:]

In repsonse to an article by David Premack, JT said, "Premack struck me as biased (kinda like many religious dogmatists), and this bias to anthropocentrism is what raises flags for me. Good link, nonetheless."

I replied:

I think you are much too dismissive of Premack. He's an interesting case. He (and his wife, I think) originally began with a research project to raise and teach apes like human children, but over time his own empirical studies disillusioned him. I know of no religious dogmatism infecting or prompting his skepticism about animal language. He's the farthest thing from a lightweight or ideologue in ethology. Check out some reviews of his books at Amazon. In any event, C. H. Vanderwolf (if I may coach his diction a bit), in his delightful little monograph on neural behavior, makes the same point in numerous places: verifiable, genetic microphysical differences between humans and non-humans just mean we are dealing with different species, and therefore, with different essential capacities. This is, actually, all it means in a bare sense to say that "the rational soul is the form of the human": the teleology of "being a human" gives a formal account of why we see these differences. To reverse the order of explanation is mere bias. The form of the human obviously epxresses itself––genetically and behaviorally in fundamentally different ways thatn than the forms of other animals and beings.

For animal semiosis to be like human semiosis, we would need to see the subjects coherently and consistently articulate that "x is a sign for X" rather than merely responding––in admittedly impressive ways!––to the fact that x is a sign for X. As Deely and Sebeok and Lorentz and Chomsky and MacKay, et alia note over and over in various places, the only 'supremacy' of human semiosis over animal semiosis is that the former enters the field of being per se, thus both allowing for 'things' to exist on their own, apart from dyadic exigencies (with respect to the agent's cognition), and for dwelling on *signs as signs*, rather than on signs as behaviorally determinant referents. It's not a slight against non-humans that they don't have the capacity to ponder signs as signs; it's just part of humbly facing the human experience. Indeed, it is often the case that entia rationes cause as much grief (in human cognition) as they provide for essential human 'superiority', so to speak. Biblically, humans are superior only in their culpability for failing to express the Word which makes them "worders".

Then, based on quasi-mystical epiphany I'd had the night or so before, I added:

All things speak because all things are spoken: all things have a proper (scientific) 'ratio' because all things are the integrated medium of the Logos (Ratio/Verbum Dei). Cf. Dionysius, St. Maxmius, St. Thomas, Poinsot, etc. *All creation* declares the glory of the Lord, albeit in *specifically analogous ways*. The Middle Ages actually had a robust sense of animal cognition insofar as various animals stood for (i.e. dynamically exemplified) numerous aspects of creation, many of which were not given to humans. Why else do you think, e.g., St. Francis called Sun and Moon and Body his Brother, Sister, and Donkey, respectively?

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