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Indeed, the dual process theory of human reasoning developed over the years by Evans and colleagues Wason and Evans, ; Evans and Over, , and more recently by Stanovich , combines elements of each of them. On this account, in addition to a suite of computationally powerful, fast, and implicit reasoning systems from our perspective, a set of conceptual modules , the mind also contains a slow, serial, and explicit reasoning capacity, whose operations are conscious and under personal control, and which is said by some theorists at least; e.

Essentials of a Theory of Language Cognition

Evans and Over, to involve natural language. Not only is some form of dual-process theory plausible, but it should also be stressed that these accounts are independent of central-process modularism. Those who deny the existence of any conceptual modules can still accept that there is a level of thinking and reasoning which is both language-involving and conscious. It is surely plain, however, that none of the above accounts can amount to the most fundamental cognitive function of language once conceptual modularity is assumed.

Given conceptual modularity, then unless the above views are held together with the thesis to be developed in section 5 below — namely, that language provides the medium for inter-modular communication and non-domain-specific thinking — then we can set their proponents a dilemma. Either they must claim that a domain-general architecture was in place prior to the evolution of language. Or they must allow that there was no significant domain-general cognition amongst hominids prior to the appearance of language and language-involving conscious thinking; and they must claim that such cognition still evolved as a distinct development, either at the same time or later.

The problem with the first alternative, however — namely, that domain-general reasoning capacities pre-dated language — is that the evidence from cognitive archaeology suggests that this was not the case. For although the various sub-species of Homo erectus and archaic forms of Homo sapiens were smart, they were not that smart. Let me briefly elaborate. As Mithen demonstrates at length and in detail, the evidence from archaeology is that the minds of early humans were in important respects quite unlike our own.

While they successfully colonized diverse and rapidly changing environments, the evidence suggests that they were incapable of bringing together information across different cognitive domains. It seems that they could not or did not mix information from the biological world utilized in hunting and gathering with information about the physical world used in tool making ; and that neither of these sorts of information interacted with their social intelligence.

Although they made sophisticated stone tools, they did not use those tools for specialized purposes with different kinds of arrow-head being used for different kinds of game, for example ; and they did not make tools out of animal products such as antler and bone. There is no sign of the use of artifacts as social signals, in the form of body ornaments and such-like, which is so ubiquitous in modern human cultures.


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And there is no indication of totemization or other sorts of linkages between social and animal domains, such as lion-man figurines, cave-paintings, or the burying of the dead with presumably symbolic animal parts - which all emerge onto the scene for the first time with modern humans. As Mithen summarizes the evidence, it would appear that early humans had sophisticated special intelligences, but that these faculties remained largely isolated from one another. The problem with the second horn of the dilemma sketched above is just that it is hard to believe, either that a domain-general reasoning faculty might have evolved after the appearance of language some , years ago in just the 20, years or so before the beginning of the dispersal of modern humans around the globe , or that language and domain-general capacities might have co-evolved as distinct faculties.

And it is hard to discern what the separate selection pressures might have been, which would have led to the development of two distinct faculties at about the same time language and domain-general thought , when just one would serve.

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The hypothesis which I particularly want to explore, then, is that natural language is the medium of non-domain-specific thought and inference. Versions of this hypothesis have been previously proposed by Carruthers , a , by Mithen , and by Spelke and colleagues Hermer-Vazquez et al. I shall sketch the thesis itself, outline the existing experimental evidence in its support, and then in the section following consider some of its ramifications and possible elaborations.

Finally in section 7 I shall discuss what further evidence needs to be sought as a test of our thesis. The hypothesis in question assumes a form of central-process modularism. That is, it assumes that in addition to the various input and output modules vision, face-recognition, hearing, language, systems for motor-control, etc. Evidence of various sorts has been accumulating in support of central-process modularism in recent decades some of which has already been noted above.

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One line of support is provided by evolutionary psychologists, who have argued on both theoretical and empirical grounds that the mind contains a suite of domain-specific cognitive adaptations Barkow et al. What cognitive resources were antecedently available, then, prior to the evolution of the language faculty? Taking the ubiquitous laboratory rat as a representative example, I shall assume that all mammals, at least, are capable of thought — in the sense that they engage in computations which deliver structured propositional belief-like states and desire-like states Dickinson, ; Dickinson and Balleine, I shall also assume that these computations are largely carried out within modular systems of one sort or another Gallistel, — after all, if the project here is to show how cross-modular thinking in humans can emerge out of modular components, then we had better assume that the initial starting-state was a modular one.

Furthermore, I shall assume that mammals possess some sort of simple non-domain-specific practical reasoning system, which can take beliefs and desires as input, and figure out what to do. I shall assume that the practical reasoning system in animals and perhaps also in us is a relatively simple and limited-channel one.

Perhaps it receives as input the currently-strongest desire and searches amongst the outputs of the various belief-generating modules for something which can be done in relation to the perceived environment which will satisfy that desire. I assume that the practical reasoning system is not capable of engaging in other forms of inference generating new beliefs from old , nor of combining together beliefs from different modules; though perhaps it is capable of chaining together conditionals to generate a simple plan — e.

The central modules will take inputs from perception, of course.

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So if the practical reasoning system is to be able to do anything with such contents, then it, too, would need to have access to the outputs of perception, to provide anchoring for the various indexicals. And in some cases, too, the inputs to a module will include the outputs of other central-process modules; for we might expect that there will be cases in which modules are organized into some sort of hierarchy.

But what of the outputs from central-process modules? Besides being directed to other modules in some instances , and also to the practical reasoning system, where is the information which is generated by central-process modules normally sent? And in particular, is there some non- domain-specific central arena where all such information is collated and processed? The hypothesis being proposed here is that there is such an arena, but one which crucially implicates natural language, and which cannot operate in the absence of such language. Moreover, the hypothesis is not just that our conscious propositional thinking involves language as sketched in section 4 above , but that all non-domain-specific reasoning of a non-practical sort whether conscious or non-conscious is conducted in language.

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And as for the question of what a non-conscious tokening of a natural language sentence would be like, we can propose that it would be a representation stripped of all imagistic - phonological features, but still consisting of natural language lexical items and syntactic structures. The role of syntax in the present account will be further explored in section 6.

We can then claim that all cross-modular thinking consists in the formation and manipulation of these LF representations. The hypothesis can be that all such thinking operates by accessing and manipulating the representations of the language faculty. But where the LF representation is used to generate a full-blown phonological representation an imaged sentence , the thought will nomally be conscious. And crucially for my purposes, the hypothesis is that the language faculty has access to the outputs of the various central-process modules, in such a way that it can build LF representations which combine information across domains.

As I shall mention again in a moment and as I shall return to at some length in section 6.

Its production sub-system must be capable of receiving outputs from the conceptual modules in order to transform their creations into speech. And its comprehension sub-system must be capable of transforming heard speech into a format suitable for processing by those same conceptual modules. One of these systems is a theory of mind module. And on the sort of higher-order theory of consciousness which I favor Carruthers, , perceptual and imagistic states get to be phenomenally conscious by virtue of their availability to the higher-order thoughts generated by the theory of mind system i.

So this is why inner speech of this sort is conscious: it is because it is available to higher-order thought. The hypothesis, then, is that non-domain-specific, cross-modular, propositional thought depends upon natural language - and not just in the sense that language is a necessary condition for us to entertain such thoughts, but in the stronger sense that natural language representations are the bearers of those propositional thought-contents.

So language is constitutively involved in some kinds of human thinking. Specifically, language is the vehicle of non-modular, non-domain-specific, conceptual thinking which integrates the results of modular thinking.

Before moving on to discuss the evidence in support of our thesis, consider one further question. Why does it have to be language, and not, for example, visual imagery which serves the integrative function? For visual images, too, can carry contents which cross modular domains. But such visual thinking will access and deploy the resources of a peripheral input module. It cannot, therefore, play a role in integrating information across conceptual modules, because the latter exist down-stream of the input-systems.

I shall return to this point again in section 6. What evidence is there to support the hypothesis that natural language is the medium of inter-modular communication, or of non-domain-specific integrated thinking? Until recently, the evidence was mostly circumstantial. For example, one indirect line of argument in support of our thesis derives from cognitive archaeology, when combined with the evidence of contemporary central-process modularism Mithen, So the simplest hypothesis is that it is language which actually enables cross-modular thinking.

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Another strand of indirect evidence can be provided if we take seriously the idea that the stream of inner verbalization is constitutive of some forms of thinking Carruthers, For as we saw in section 4 above, such views can only plausibly be held given the truth of central-process modularism together with the present hypothesis that language is the main medium of inter-modular communication. Much more importantly, however, direct tests of limited forms of our hypothesis have now begun to be conducted.

The most important of these is Hermer-Vazquez et al.

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The background to their studies with human adults is the apparent discovery of a geometric module in rats by Cheng , as well as the discovery of a similar system in pre-linguistic human children Hermer and Spelke, , Cheng placed rats in a rectagonal chamber, and allowed them to discover the location of a food source. They were then removed from the chamber and disoriented, before being placed back into the box with the food now hidden. In each case there were multiple cues available - both geometric and non-geometric - to guide the rats in their search.

For example, the different walls might be distinctively colored or patterned, one corner might be heavily scented, and so on. In fact in these circumstances the rats relied exclusively on geometric information, searching with equal frequency, for example, in the two geometrically-equivalent corners having a long wall on the left and a short wall on the right. Yet rats are perfectly well capable of noticing and remembering non-geometric properties of the environment and using them to solve other tasks. So it appears that, not only are they incapable of integrating geometric with non-geometric information in these circumstances, but that geometric information takes priority.

This makes perfectly good ecological - evolutionary sense. So a strong preference to orient by geometrical properties is just what one might predict. Hermer and Spelke , found exactly the same phenomenon in pre-linguistic human children. Young children, too, rely exclusively on geometric information when disoriented in a rectangular room, and appear incapable of integrating geometrical with non-geometrical properties when searching for a previously seen but now-hidden object. Older children and adults are able to solve these problems without difficulty - for example, they go straight to the corner formed with a long wall to the left and a short blue wall to the right.

In contrast, the only significant predictor of success in these tasks which could be discovered, was spontaneous use of spatial vocabulary conjoined with object-properties e. Even by themselves, these data strongly suggest that it is language which enables older children and adults to integrate geometric with non-geometric information into a single thought or memory. Hermer-Vazquez et al.

In one condition, subjects were required to solve one of these orientation problems while shadowing i. In another condition, they were set the same problems while shadowing with their hands a rhythm played to them in their headphones. The hypothesis was that speech-shadowing would tie up the resources of the language faculty, whereas the rhythm-shadowing tasks would not; and great care was taken to ensure that the latter tasks were equally if not more demanding of the resources of working memory.

The results of these experiments were striking. So it would appear that it is language itself which enables subjects to conjoin geometric with non-geometric properties, just as the hypothesis that language is the medium of cross-modular thinking predicts. Of course, this is just one set of experiments - albeit elegant and powerful - concerning the role of language in enabling information to be combined across just two domains geometrical, and object-properties.

In which case, little direct support is provided for the more-demanding thesis that language serves as the vehicle of inter-modular integration in general. But the evidence does at least suggest that the more general thesis may be well worth pursing.