In a way, Wolfe distorts the issue of language evolution with his own suggestion, even as he rightly challenges the Darwin paradigm here. The question of Chomsky, to me, is on the sidelines. It is not a full theory of language, let alone its evolution, but Chomsky, without saying so very clearly, is a non-darwinist. Evidently the academic environment makes it hard to speak out. Bravo for blogs like this! The idea of recursion in Chomsky should be challenged, but it remains somehow a very relevant theory. I think in a general way he is right about a language module, but we have extended that to language as a subprocess in the ‘evolution’ of mind with correlates in consciousness, ethical reasoning, creativity/aesthetic sense, and much else.
Does language evolution explode the theory of evolution? If you equate ‘evolution’ with natural selection, then it does. Aren’t there other meanings of the term ‘evolution’? There are, and we have proposed a slew of different approaches. That, and a reference to J.G. Bennett’s approach which is so far ahead (which doesn’t make it right) of current thinking that it makes natural selection theory seem ridiculous. Let’s illustrate the point in terms of the ‘eonic model’ discussed here many times, keeping mind that I never create hybrids of my model with speculative outside theories. But we can restate Bennett’s point very simply.
In terms of the eonic model we see a process that is directional, which immediately blows the issue out of standard science. How do we discuss a directional (hence teleological) process? Over and over in the eonic model we see a phenomenological dynamic that our model zeroes in on, but what it can’t do is really observe, let alone explain, the process behind that remarkable version stated in terms of a finite transition model of discrete transitions. We used Schopenhauer to deal with this: the phenomenology of evolution veils a ‘thing-in-itself’ aspect: teleology seems to be a noumenal aspect of the outer phenomenology of evolution. That’s elegant, but a conjecture beyond the eonic model. But the specific aspects of the phenomenon of transitions induces a sense of shock: what we don’t see is an enigma: it looks like a design argument, and yet it looks mechanical at the same time (teleology would induce that feeling). But we are talking about high level culture under transformation. The ‘what does this and how’ remains a mystery. We can see that there is a hidden form factor and this invokes a demand from physics itself to help out here. Physicists have already proposed a suggestion, fine tuning arguments, which they wish to undo and make disappear. But they are on the record here, whatever the future of research. Let’s state the point very simply: something we can’t see in the physics is generating a future set of developments, in life, then in the emergence of mind, of man, and then of his civilizations. Getting specific is hard.
Lo and behold, a close look at Bennett gives a few hints. Note that a teleological process is meta-causal. Uh Oh, problem Bennett in his vast system proposes the ‘simple’ way out, a new geometry of time, in a six dimensional model, three d space and three d time: time, eternity, hyparxis. Now we have it: the pattern/potential of ‘evolution’ is carried in the dimension of eternity and interacts via hyparchic time with an evolutionary process that realizes a latent future. That’s bit wild, but it does produce a model of how a directional process in history can operate. It raises its own questions, to say the least, but it tells us how far off natural selection theory is.
That still doesn’t tell us how language evolved, but it is related to the more general question of the evolution of mind, and this is part of the more general teleological development of the evolution of life.
I neither endorse or full reject Bennett’s type of analysis, content to point out that a ‘paper napkin in a coffee shop’ model is in existence to resolve the hopeless difficulties of darwinism, and has a suggestive relative in history.