Brownian thought space

Cognitive science, mostly, but more a sometimes structured random walk about things.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Rochester, United States

Chronically curious モ..

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Innovations: Segway to language

A signboard on my way home: "High-tech gadgets repaired."
What really is a high-tech gadget anyhow? Take the Segway. Nothing like it existed before it did. It would be hard to argue that this was not a genuine innovation - and a reasonably high-tech one.
But what makes it high-tech and an innovation at all? Certainly, as this gentleman shows, it isn't stuff like the "brushless servo motors with neodymium magnets" or wheels of "sophisticated engineering-grade thermoplastic."
That is, all the parts pre-existed, and can be replaced by equivalent, crappier parts that in themselves are old hat, and aren't necessary for the innovation itself.
What about the software? Well, it's using some version of C or Python or some such. So that's not new. Neither is the general problem, which as Wikipedia tells me, is that of the inverted pendulum.
So why is the Segway an innovation? And really, is it even an innovation at all? I think you might agree that, in a sense it is. Oh sure, maybe someone else thought of the idea before and never got around to implementing it, but as far we know, Dean Kamen invented the Segway.
Now here's the point - I think it's the same deal with language and cognition. Sure, language might rely on a whole bunch of stuff - the cognitive equivalent of neodymium magnets and thermoplastics, but in the end, I believe that it is a genuine innovation like the Segway is.
Look at what the Segway relies on (/is made up of), and you find that all the pieces pre-exist, and can be found in several other, crappier devices that don't do half as much. Look at the code, and you'll find data structures and operators from the simplest "Hello World" program. Similarly, look at what language relies on (/is made up of), and you'll find the same old cognitive systems like memory and attention and, I wouldn't be surprised, sex, drugs & rock'n'roll; cos those are the bits the mind is made up of anyway.
But nevertheless, like the Segway is an invention of Dean Kamen, language is an innovation of our species. So the next time you read a paper that pretends that language is nothing more than memory or attention, think of the Segway.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home