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Terrence W. Deacon on Symbols - Dictionary of Arguments
Symbols/Deacon: Tradition: assumes that symbolic association is formed by learning the connection between a sound or string with something else in the world.
DeaconVsTradition: this is what we mean by index or index-like or indexing association (see Icon/Deacon).
Words can also be an index: e.g."Aha!","there" etc.
Understanding: a sign that someone has understood a word is his ability to use that word in other sentences. However, if the word is only inserted somewhere, it would only be an index-like or iconic understanding.
Symbol: to use something as a symbol, you should be able to handle the referential functions (what does it refer to?).
Definition stimulus generalization: the transfer of associations from one stimulus to a similar one. Similarly, the transfer of learned patterns to a similar context. This is often confused with symbolic associations.
Learning/DeaconVsTradition: such transfers are not special forms of learning, but simply iconic projections. This happens by itself, because ambiguity is always involved. Psychological models often speak of rules for this transfer.
DeaconVs: since this is an iconic relation, there is no implicit list of criteria that is learned. ((s) Images are compared directly, not based on lists of criteria).
Icon/Deacon: Words or stimuli stand for a set of things that differ more or less from each other. People and animals learn this. This learning is not done by criteria for symbols, but by iconic overlapping. This provides the basis for an indexed reference.
Symbol/learning/Deacon: the difficulty of symbolic learning stems from the complex relation a symbol (e.g. a word) has to other symbols. Such complex relations do not exist between indices (simple signs with a physical connection to an object).
Symbols/Deacon: Problem: Symbols cannot be learned individually as they form a system among each other.
Before a single symbol-object association can be detected, the complete logical system of symbols must be learned.
Problem: even with a few symbols there is a very large number of possible combinations, most of which are pointless. These must be sorted out, i.e. "forgotten".
Symbols/Deacon: Symbols are not an unstructured set of tokens representing objects, but they represent each other. Symbols do not refer directly to things in the world, but they do so indirectly by referring to other symbols ((s) because they are located in a syntactic and semantic system).
Limitation/Borders: Randomly uninterpreted strings of signs have no reference and therefore no limit in their set. Other symbols: their quantity is limited because of (practical, external) use and because of the use of the other symbols by which they are defined.
Question: why are only some types of symbol systems implemented in human languages, but not others?
Symbols/Deacon: it is wrong to assume they are located somewhere in the brain. They are rather relations between tokens, not the tokens themselves. It is also not constituted by a special association, but by the set of associations that are partially represented in each instance of the symbol.
In the brain, the operations for organizing these combinatorial relations are located in the prefrontal cortex.
Symbols/language/brain/evolution/Deacon: Thesis: it is the use of symbols that made it necessary for our human brain to develop in such a way that special emphasis could be placed on actions in the prefrontal cortex. (See also Adaptation/Deacon).
Symbols/Evolution/Brain/DeaconVsPinker/DeaconVsChomsky: whatever we call "language instinct", symbol processing is so widely distributed in the brain that it cannot be subjected to natural selection. Thus language is cut off from what biological evolution can shape.
Universal grammar/language evolution/solution/Deacon: Co-evolution of languages with regard to the circumstances and dispositions of the brain. This can be an explanation for a developing grammatical universality._____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
T. W. Deacon
The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of language and the Brain New York 1998
Terrence W. Deacon
Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter New York 2013
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