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Evolution and Human History, Conclusion

Image result for Pavlov's dog

The arguments about racial differences in intelligence, and in social behaviors, that I've engaged through Wade's book in these last three weeks remind me of the argument about language as a human trait, that I've discussed at other times in this blog and on others. I'll just give over this entry to thinking about the reason I am so reminded.

B.F. Skinner famously described language as a form of "verbal behavior," fashioned by a lifetime of positive and negative reinforcements, in a way not in principle different from the way a rat manages the navigation of mazes when properly reinforced by grain.

Noam Chomsky, even more famously, critiqued Skinner in a way that involved the question of innateness. Our brains, Chomsky maintained, are hard-wired for language. The wiring involves a "finite set of rules operating on a finite vocabulary to generate an infinite number of acceptable grammatical sentences and no un-acceptable ones."

Now, views of social life that posit race-based innate differences in behavior have different consequences politically than do views that posit species-wide commonalities of behavior, including language. But they are both innatist, and the contrary impulse may well be represented by Skinner.

Those are my thoughts at the moment, and that should close the discussion, until some bell rings and I salivate to return to it.


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