The Evolution of Language & The Coming Revolution in Cognitive Science

Thursday, 3-2-17, Reed 108, 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm, The Evolution of Language
Friday, 3-3-17, Reed 108, 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm, The Coming Revolution in Cognitive Science

Dr. Sydney Lamb, Rice University

Sydney Lamb, a native of Denver, Colorado, graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Economics and earned his Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley, where his dissertation was a description of a California Indian language.
     He taught linguistics first at the University of California, Berkeley, then at Yale University. At the University of California he directed the Machine Translation Project under grants from the National Science Foundation, and at Yale University he was Director of the Linguistic Automation Project, also supported by the National Science Foundation. He has also taught at summer Linguistic Institutes at the University of Michigan, UCLA, and SUNY/Buffalo. He spent the year 1973-74 as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, with a Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.
     In 1977 he left Yale to devote full time to the development of a new type of computer memory whose invention was inspired by the relational network theory of language he had been developing. After selling his invention to another company, he went to Rice University in 1981 as Professor of Linguistics and Semiotics. He was later appointed Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Sciences.
     His earlier research and publications were in the areas of North American Indian languages, historical linguistics, computational linguistics, theory of linguistic structure, and the design of associative memory hardware for microcomputers. He is known as the father of the relational network theory of language, also known as 'stratificational theory'. In recent years he has been developing the theory further and exploring its relationships to neurological structures and to thinking processes. This work is described in his book, Pathways of the Brain: The Neurocognitive Basis of Language, published in 1999 by the John Benjamins Publishing Company (Amsterdam and Philadelphia) and in Chapters 12 through 18 of his more recent book "Language and Reality", published in 2004 by Continuum Books. (See also the web page on Neurocognitive Linguistics.) Benjamins has also published an autobiographical sketch.

Thursday, 3-2-17, Evolution of Language: Some people have supposed that the evolution of language was a gradual long-range process while others contend that it occurred over a short time span. I intend to show that putting the debate in terms of these two alternatives is misleading, as the situation is more complex than they allow for, so that the question cannot be given either of these two simple answers. This issue is related to the relationship between language evolution and the evolution of the brain. It has been proposed (Deacon 1997, Schoenemann 2009) that the gradual evolution of language contributed to the evolution of the brain and vice-versa – the co-evolution theory. While attractive at first glance, this theory has serious problems. The real explanation for the great increase in brain capacity of humans lies elsewhere, in an altogether unsuspected non-linguistic realm. Moreover, the development of language required evolutionary change outside of the brain, namely in the vocal apparatus.

Friday, 3-3-17,  The Coming Revolution in Cognitive Science: The current position of the various cognitive sciences is that mind and consciousness can (some day) be fully accounted for as reducible to brain structures and processes. But despite the remarkable achievements of the past few decades, cognitive neuroscience is no closer than ever to accounting for consciousness. The alternative theory, increasingly attractive to a minority of investigators, is that consciousness and some other aspects of mind are not reducible to the brain. There are reasons for predicting that the attractiveness of this alternative, with its serious challenge to present-day scientific materialism, will continue to grow. The strong resistance to such a revolution is bolstered by the absence of a reasonable theory that can accommodate irreducible mind. Some avant-garde investigators are currently laying groundwork for such a theory, which may provide a reasonable account not only of consciousness but also of telepathy and other “psi" phenomena whose existence is being systematically ignored under the currently prevailing paradigm of cognitive science.

These events are free and open to the public!
Sponsored by the Linguistics Program and Cognitive Science Program