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Ritual/Speech Co-evolution: A Solution to the Problem of Deception Essay

In this paper, the writer sees words as the reverse of ritual. The implication is that words are cheap & carry no conviction unless backed up by an external source, whereas ritual performance is costly, and therefore essentially convincing. He questions why & under what conditions words or vocal signals should be trusted. The theory proposed links confidence in words with partnerships linked through pretend play. Human rituals, a metaphor for pretend play performances affirm the identity of the group & form a boundary against an out-group.

Scaling down of the display is not possible because outsiders wouldn’t be impressed by what he calls coded whispers. These displays produce & replicate in participants heads a shared in-group self representation, an example given is god. Words are seen as the ritual in-groups using an abbreviated version of their pretend play routines; because there is mutual trust costs can be cut. The use of coding also excludes those that are ignorant of the code. Darwinism is seen as being the only theory with the potential to solve the major outstanding problems in human origins research.

Others, such as Freudian & Chomskyan are unable to explain evolved human mentality because they assume this as a basic premise, but Darwinism avoids this circularity by making no such assumptions. Although Darwinians are convinced that an explanation for the emergence of symbolic culture will be found so far this hasn’t happened. In this paper speech is treated as a revolutionary development, made possible by the establishment of unusual levels of social co-operation. The process is one of a limited number of ‘major transitions’ throughout life’s evolution on earth.

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Each transition is revolutionary because it entails a relatively sudden & dramatic reorganization, the barrier to the new level of complexity comes about even though there is an emergent potential for self organisation on a greater level, because the essential co-operative approaches lose out to strategies of selfish gene replication. Past theories of language origin ignored this, seeing speech as better than the gesture call system of primates. According to Pinker, speech lets us into a communal pool of knowledge, which saves duplication of effort.

Byrne & Whiten say that a Machiavellian social dynamic would weigh heavily against reliance on unsupported, 2nd hand information. A novel adaptation, such as speech, spreads only if the benefits outweigh the costs, earlier thinking on speech evolution has ignored the costs. Speech differs from a primate gesture call system in that it assumes an entirely new level of representation. Through exposure to various media we learn to internalise a set of representations that are vital to the self organisation of a cultural community. This new representational level will most likely add a new level of complexity to communication.

Linguistic reference is a mapping from linguistic terms to communal constructs; representations established in the universe of discourse. This universe is structured by people’s ritual & other symbolic experience. Words are the type of representations that aren’t perceptually provable & therefore constrained by anomalous levels of trust & social co-operation; linguists have avoided explaining this by assuming the existence of a commitment to co-operation & honesty. According to Grice, speech assumes social co-operation, but a Darwinian would ask; how can this level of co-operation be assumed?

According to Trivers, it would be expected that those who use deception for selfish gain would have greater health than those who co-operate. If animals have contradictory interests they will deceive & exploit, not share. As this discord grows so does the display, eventually only the most costly & ritual like signals will be focussed on. Where interests converge, receivers can act on trust, signals become less ritualised, more cryptic, Dawkins calls this conspiratorial whispering. Social insects communicating in their colonies use this highly useful whispering.

In animals this trust allows the possibility of cheating, & where a listener expects honesty is where they are most at risk from deception. In humans speech can be equated to conspiratorial whispering, linking words with meaning is learned & removing emotion & other referents leaves listeners open to deception. In primates trusted sources are valued in exact proportion to their informational content seeming unintentional. Even though speech isn’t inherently trustworthy, people generally expect intended honesty. Without habitual honesty in volitional signalling speech couldn’t have evolved.

In human evolution, what was once deceptive & routine, became reversed into sharing of good information. How can an honest strategy invade a deceptive one & become stable? To realise stability it has to dominate over deception. Krebs & Dawkins imply that speech has been co-operative from the beginning, to account for this Darwin’s reciprocal altruism theory is used, if you lie to me I’ll never again listen to you, so be honest. A human speech community is a large, extended group that exceeds limits of affiliation. With a primary situation of Machiavellian competition an honest strategy seems unlikely to take over.

A key point is that primates don’t collectively deceive, but humans do, as part of setting up group identity. The example used here was Southern Ethiopians telling Sperber that local leopards were Christian, he supposed symbolism, & this led to, ‘that’s symbolic’, why? Because it’s false. This implies that symbolic culture could be understood as a world of fictions held to be true on a deeper level. According to Knight, all expressions of human culture can be understood as collusion in deception. Durkheim showed that a community will only trust those fictions emblematic of itself.

But, one group’s most sacred truth may be another’s transparent lies. Pretend play is vital to the development of the cognitive skills necessary for distinguishing surface from deeper meaning. The concept of co-operative pretend play is essential to the current understanding of how children acquire speech, & to speech act theory. Expressions only have power when involved with a system of ritual. Ritual is visibly costly & therefore authentic, because in principle it can’t deceive, initiation to the in-group is costly & necessitates commitment.

Therefore group confidence in other cheaper, vocal signals, can be based on this. Effective speakers then have authority. How does this relate to the origins of ritual? Darwinian strategies of status escalation, a resistance to domination by others can lead to egalitarianism where playing fair becomes a stable strategy. Knight suggests symbolic behaviour emerging in counter dominance strategy by females suffering reproductive stress as brain size expanded rapidly, leading to what was termed strike action, the women giving out signals that were patently untrue.

What about the origin of speech? What stopped its evolution in other species? Primate resistance to deception, impedes the emergence of the features of speech. The freedom to speak supposes that the listener trusts enough to give the benefit of the doubt, why? In primate Machiavellian politics the costs would far out weigh the benefits. The suggested model here is that with enough in-group pressure a reversal of selection pressures would be initiated, releasing speech on the basis of already evolved capacities.

This model sees the different features of language as logically interrelated, & determines a link with symbolic behaviour, sees dependence on speech as a type of faith. Returning to deceptive signals, if they are internally co-operative, those joined in giving out fictions have occasion to understand each other through them. In this model speech is seen as conspiratorial whispering. Metaphor, as pretend play, is essential to linguistic creativity, grammatical markers are metaphorical expressions. It is suggested here that words evolved as part of a system.

In-group unity at out-group expense was shown through ritual display. Ritual performance granting authority to speakers gave import to these vocalisations. Conclusion, in the paper is that speech came about through an evolutionary quantum leap, that primitive humans used protolanguage, which had a lexicon, but no syntax, the emergence of syntax caused by a genetic mutation rewiring the brain, the contrasting view is that something like syntax has been around a long time, but not as a way of ordering words, but as hierarchical, recursive embedding of one pretend play fiction within another.

Pre-modern humans are greatly occupied with communal pretend play, influencing volitional control over emotional vocalisations. According to Knight, the symbolic revolution began about 130. 000 years ago, coalitions becoming stable & bounded through balanced opposition, constructing shared self representation. The morally authoritative enactment, functioning as the sacred, word, validating lower order semantic meanings & vocal markers. Through this social & ritual context syntactical speech emerges.

It isn’t disputed that humans are dishonest, this model shows how restructuring could redistribute honesty & dishonesty, co-operation & competition, resulting in symbolic culture. Up until the conclusion this paper is quite detailed & seems to have data that supports its theories, then in the conclusion, there’s this evolutionary quantum leap. In Damasio there is the theory that although the elaborate social conventions & structures we live by must have come about & been transmitted culturally, they probably originate in the strategies we used for survival.

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