Looking at Michael Tomasello’s Book (2008) “Origins of Human Communication” (Part 11 of 12)

0167 What are the phylogenetic origins of human communication?

0168 Tomasello works from two buckets of inquiry.

One bucket is filled with observations of great apes in the wild and in captivity.  These observations are modeled by biologists and cognitive scientists.  These species represent our last common ancestor (more or less).  The great apes do not diverge.  Our lineage does.

Biological uniformitarianism predicts that some sort of continuous line connects the last common ancestor (LCA) to ourselves.  Tomasello isolates a key feature of hominin communication that corresponds to an early adaptation.  Joint attention and shared intentionality are adaptations into sociogenesis, occurring after the genetic divergence between the chimpanzee and human lineages, around 7Myr (million of years ago).

Tomasello’s phylogenetic origins hypothesis proposes that, after this divergence, hominin cooperative behaviors become adaptive in an environment where mutual collaborative activities pay off.

0169 One question is, “When?”

A change in geological eras might do the trick.  The Pliocene era begins around 5.3Myr.  Bipedal australopithecines(southern apes) appear in the fossil record around 4.2Myr.  The adaptation of bipedalism associates to savannah and woodland environments.  Hominids walk from one area rich in seasonal resources to another.  Do some of the species within this genus develop mutually collaborative activities?

That is…, “Do some australopithecines develop teams?”

I suspect so.

0170 Communication is one aspect of these mutual collaborative activities.

Hominin cooperative communication, what I call “hand talk”, emerges as part and parcel of the adaptation of joint attention and shared intentionality.  Hand talk evolves within each of these mutual collaborative activities.  Hand talk adapts to teams.

0171 The other bucket is filled with observations of newborns and infants at home and in psychological laboratories.  These observations are modeled by cognitive and evolutionary psychologists.  These cute little bundles of joy represent later hominins, before civilization, and maybe, before the appearance of our own species, Homo sapiens

Or, maybe they represent early hominins, like those australopithecines.

Perhaps that is why learning to walk is like the best thing… I mean… the best!

0172 Tomasello’s ontogenetic origins hypothesis states, more or less, “Human newborns and infants cooperate, collaborate and communicate.  They display the characteristics of shared intentionality, prior to the acquisition of language.”

0173 Soon after their first birthday, infants start to communicate cooperatively.  By three years old, they are aware of language’s normative dimension.

To me, these observations imply that the infant figures out the specifying sign by one year and is uses the interventional sign to communicate.  The exemplar sign?  Surely, the exemplar sign must be involved in the circuit of sign-processing.  Perhaps, it is crucial to hominin cooperativity.

0174 Here is a picture of Tomasello’s hylomorphe, with research into cognitive development substituting for ontogeny (phenotype) and research into the evolutionary psychology of joint attention substituting for phylogeny (adaptation).

0175 Can the substance, the contiguity between these two research programs, be labeled, “culture”?

Yes, labels can be applied to anything.

No, Tomasello’s adjustment to the scholastic interscope for how humans think seems to be a better descriptor for the substance in the above figure.