Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The Evolution of Speech - and the Information Flow model of Human Intelligence

In considering the evolution of human intelligence I will obviously need to address the relationship between speech and language and a recent article "Why Human Speech is Special" by Philip Lieberman helpfully reviews what is known about the evolution of speech, and includes some useful references.
I will be discussing the role of language and speech in some detail when I complete the relevant section of my report on the last 5 million years of human evolution. However it would be helpful at this stage to use the subject to highlight the difference in approach my model takes.
My approach is to identify the mathematical logic used by the brain to store the information it collects and to make decisions, and it is not directly concerned with the physical form of the messages or the organs which detect/generate the message. In effect it assumes that all neurons use the same messaging logic so that, in theory at least, any part of the brain, at any level, can exchange messages with any other part. Of course some will be assigned special functions - such as processing sight, or controlling movement - and have different inbuilt connections at the generic level. As with any other organ of the body, the relative size will depend on the evolutionary demands on the species and there will be accompanying genetic changes. If evolutionary pressures favour changes to the vocal organs one can expect changes in the parts of the brain most intimately involved - but my model predicts that the internal communication language that the brain uses will remain unchanged.
Of course no-one can deny that the fact that language plays an important part of the evolution of human intelligence. However in information flow terms there are many different ways that animals might communicate if the evolutionary pressures are right. Once an effective communication route has opened the language would evolve at a rate appropriate to the evolution of culture - which is far faster that genetic evolution. This raises the question which came first? Evolution often develops new features by modifying existing features, and the important thing is to understand the evolutionary pressures that brought on the changes. 
 In the case of speech there appear to be two alternative for the origins of :an effective communications language
  1. A long-drawn-out process where a simple proto-language was proving to have survival value but there was no really effective way of improving communication - apart from evolving new facilities over a genetic timescale.
  2. A much more rapid process where a previously evolved vocal system evolved (for example) to aid in hunting by imitating animal calls turns out to be the basis for a new form of communication.
On the evidence I have so far the information flow model would suggest that the later is the more likely. If you know of any evidence which points either way please feel free to comment below.

Science is about asking the Right Questions

... And then investigating, questioning and debating possible answers
This web site asks about the origins of human intelligence and explores a possible solution that many will find counter-intuitive. It starts from the assumption that the human brain is genetically little more than a rather large animal brain. The difference is that humans developed a tool (which we call language) which allowed us to efficiently copy tool-making and other skills from one individual to another, and our "superior" intelligence compared with other animals is almost entirely due to the extensive body of cultural information which language makes possible. Some of the deficiencies of the human mind - such as the small size of the working memory, an unreliable long term memory, and the problem of confirmation bias are a direct result of our animal brain lurking underneath an outer coating of cultural learning.

Well, it's an interesting idea - but am I right? As a scientist I welcome critical comments and questions which challenge my theory, and also information on other research that supports the idea or suggests other exciting avenues to explore. Your comments below, or under a relevant blog posts, will help me to either strengthen the theory - or perhaps blow my theory out of the water.


If you are asking me "How does your evolutionary model cope with the research on a particular line of research?" please include a link to a source describing the research which is not behind a pay wall. 

In each case I will post a "Q&A" reply post attempting to give an answer (or to admit defeat!!!).

To see the questions I have answered search for
"Your Questions Answered"

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Why Sex is an Important Factor in the Evolution of Human Intelligence

A paper in Nature about the DNA in the above bone fragment, found in the Denisova Cave, Russia, has been widely reported in the scientific press over the last few days. The fragment is about 50,000 years old and comes from a girl about 13 years old. The girl's mother was a Neanderthal while the father was a Denisovan with some Neanderthal ancestry. It has been known for some years that there was some interbreeding between Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans - and that possibly other species of hominins have been involved - but the finding of a bone from a first generation child is a surprise because early hominin remains are so rare.

The discovery emphasises the importance of sex in the development of human intelligence. Let me explain:

Monday, 27 August 2018

Brain Storms - Some of the Background Blog Posts

When I started thinking about the possible links between the computer Language CODIL and the human brain a few years ago I started by posting a series of "Brain Storms"on my blog Trapped by the Box and some of the more interesting ones are listed below.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Black Hole in Brain Research
  3. Evolutionary Factors starting on the African Plains
  4. Requirements of a Target Model
  5. Some Factors in choosing a Model 
  6. CODIL and Natural Language
  7. Getting rid of those Pesky Numbers
  8. Was Douglas Adams right about the Dolphins?
  9. The Evolution of Intelligence - From Neural Nets to Langauge
  10. The Limitations of the Stored Program Computer
  11. An Evolutionary Model of the Brain's Internal Language
  12. Step outside the Box to understand the Evolution of Intelligence
  13. How the Human Brain works - Concept Cells, Memodes and CODIL
Some other early posts may also be of interest.
Over the last couple of years I have been attempting to bring these, and other ideas, together in a paper, and this has been slow work because it involves many different disciplines and I know some people will find the ideas controversial.  Two developments have helped in this process.

The first was doing a FutureLearn course on"Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World" put on by the University of Groningen last year. Doing this highlighted the importance of making a clear distinction between complex uncertain systems and complicated deterministic systems.

The second relates to the need to define a mathematical framework which would contain the model. My initial idea of an infinite recursive network really had too many degrees of freedom - but I found a good starting point was to map evolution onto a network with genetic information being passed through the generations. The complete network was a complicated but fully deterministic one, but because the individual animal nodes only had a short lifetime all that could be seen was a window onto the current living generation - which was complex because the paths to it were invisible.

As a result I am currently drafting the paper, in a number of sections, and progress will be reported on this blog, together with notes on relevant topics, and answers to any questions you ask about how my model fits in with other research.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Modelling how the Human Brain Works

On the FutureLearn course "Psychology and Mental HealthI am currently following I have just reached a section which starts:
The New Scientist has a very good, user-friendly, account of the human brain and how it works.
I would be the first to agree that the New Scientist is good at explaining science in easily readable terms – having been a fan since I brought a copy of the very first issues when I was a student. Its web site has good descriptions of the brain, and its components, and other aspects of modern brain research. However there is a glaring omission – there is no overall description of “how it works” which explains how the neurons in the brain work together to support intelligent human mental activities.
The New Scientist is not alone. The Scientific American has just published a special issue “Humans: Why we’re unlike any other species on the planet” which fails to answer the same question. In fact you can read book after book about the brain, and also many research papers, and while there are a number of purely descriptive surmises, the best answer you can get is that there is currently no adequate predictive model of how the brain’s biological computer actually works to convert activity at individual cell level into a system capable of doing what the human brain can obviously do.
I am currently working on "An EvolutionaryModel of Human Intelligence “ which attempts to show how activity at the neuron level supports the high level mental activities which characterize the human species and it is perhaps appropriate to add my ideas on the subject with outline details of my research.