Wednesday, October 26, 2016

July 4, 2015

July 4, 2015

Written by Maximus Peperkamp, M.S. Verbal Engineer

Dear Reader, 

This writing is my response to “Sound on the rebound: bringing form and function back to the forefront in understanding nonhuman primate vocal signaling” by Owren and Rendall (2001). I first respond to the abstract, which tells me that this paper is about the complications involved in “comparing human language with primate nonhuman primate vocal behavior.” Especially, there are “conceptual worries, particularly in the teleology inherent in using complex linguistic phenomena from humans as models for simpler vocal processes in nonhumans.”

Sound Verbal Behavior (SVB) is the kind of talking in which the speaker is aware of how he or she sounds, that is, how he or she is perceived by the listener. If the listener experiences the vocal behavior of the speaker as an appetitive stimulus which sounds good then the speaker and the listener are engaging in SVB. If, on the other hand, the listener experiences the sound of the speaker as an aversive stimulus, the speaker and the listener engage in Noxious Verbal Behavior (NVB). As the discoverer and explorer of these two universal subsets of vocal behavior in humans, I know better than anyone else about the implications and complications involved in the SVB/NVB distinction. 

Whenever people in SVB listen to the sound of their own voice while they speak, they realize that they are not fixated on what they are saying and concerned with how they are saying it. This shift of focus is profound. Surprisingly, what people are saying is gaining more importance due to how they are saying it. Also, the speaker-as-own-listener is not trying to say anything in any particular kind of way, but is simply, calmly, authentically and consciously expressing him or herself. In other words, there is no struggle in the speaker to find the right words, to get the attention or to convince others. When the environment, consisting of other people, is receptive to the speaker-as-own-listener, to the person who listens to him or herself while he or she speaks, the speaker is able to remain effortlessly focused on what he or she wants to say. Stated differently, when a speaker is not trying to impress others, but is able to say whatever he or she is thinking and feeling, the listener can effortlessly listen and comprehend what the speaker is saying. Furthermore, when a listener wants to be a speaker, he or she can do that and a former speaker then becomes a listener to this speaker. Like the first speaker, the second speaker is also listening to him or herself while he or she speaks. As a result of turn-taking speakers and listeners  reciprocally reinforce each other during SVB. However, NVB occurs again when speakers no longer listen to themselves.  

I will now describe how this paper explains things about the SVB/NVB distinction. We have to carefully pick apart the sentence that “it also creates conceptual worries, particularly in the teleology inherent in using complex linguistic phenomena from human models for simple vocal processes in nonhumans". 

We have to be mindful that we are only reading and writing about these matters. Speaking about linguistic phenomena or listening to a speaker who talks about these matters is an entirely different behavior than reading or writing about it. 

Speaking about "linguistic phenomena" in a SVB or in a NVB fashion will be experienced differently by the listener. I think that most of these conceptual worries occur as we don’t speak about it (but mainly write and read about it) and those very few moments that we do talk about it we engage in NVB. All our conceptual worries can be dissolved in SVB. 

The “difficulties engendered by a linguistically inspired, meaning-based view of primate calls, specifically that vocalizations are arbitrarily structured vehicles for transmitting encoded referential information” are in my opinion reifications caused by too much writing and reading and a lack of talking. We treat abstractions put together by our verbal behavior as real things. Moreover, we make processes into things as we change verbs into nouns. Presumably human beings possess thoughts and feelings do things with these thoughts and feelings as if they were tools in a toolbox. Although, like everybody else, these researchers don’t know anything about how to stimulate and maintain SVB, since they are scientists, they are more inclined to be objective when conversations get stranded in NVB. Owren and Rendall fully acknowledge that "linguistically inspired" researchers have elevated written definitions above reality itself. This is why, according to them, we are stuck with the “metaphor-as-explanation approach.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

July 3, 2015

July 3, 2015

Written by Maximus Peperkamp, M.S. Verbal Engineer

Dear Reader, 

This writing is my fourth response to “What do animal signals mean?” by Rendall, Owren & Ryan (2009). In yesterday’s writing I commented on the mentalist view that courtship signals “must be honest to be be functional.” Since humans, in the process of learning how to read and write join their speaking and listening behaviors, literacy involves the development of the speaker-as-own-listener, that is, of consciousness. “Honesty” is a word  only used in certain environments. Although under certain circumstance we make the sound which is functional, we don’t decide to be functional or to make that particular sound. 

Skinner once said “men think they shape the world, but they are shaped by it.” However, when SVB can happen it will happen and this not a matter of honesty. 

“How the courtship signaling dynamic plays out and where it is at any point in evolutionary time will depend on inevitable asymmetries in the reproductive interests of males and females coupled to constraints placed on signal production and perception by morphological and neurological limitations.” 

In conclusion to responding to this paper, I want to change the author’s question “What do animals mean?” into “What do humans mean?” Ultimately, if we learn anything from animals, it will be that we, like them, have evolved to influence each other rather than to send, decode, store and retrieve information. 

Language is a recent event in evolutionary history. This animal research provides the contrast we need to loosen up about our verbal fixation, which obfuscates the fact that we are either influencing each other in ways which are positive or negative. In NVB we are negatively influencing each other, but in SVB we are positively influencing each other. What we say can only play a significant role in SVB, but in NVB it is mainly about how we say it. Anyone familiar with the SVB/NVB distinction agrees that in NVB, the speaker always threatens, forces, provokes, overwhelms, intimidates, agitates, denies, rejects, frustrates, ignores, disrespects, abuses and violates the listener.  

The question “What do animals mean?” is better than “What information do animals convey?” as it leads humans to the  acknowledgement that they are influencing each other with  NVB or with SVB. This sets in motion a development in which we will be able to decrease our NVB and increase our SVB.  

The sound of the speaker induces an appetitive or an aversive experience in the listener. While we speak, we always influence the listener (the listener within our own skin included) with an appetitive or an aversive contingency. I agree with the author’s “emphasis on influence that stays closer to the basic evolutionary principles in ascribing signalers and perceivers distinct roles and potentially divergent interests in communication processes.” NVB is ubiquitous because we have not yet looked at our way of talking from an evolutionary perspective.  We assumed all sorts of things about our human interaction that distracted from what we do biologically: we are emotionally and intellectually influenced by each other.   

“The corollary is that we must also accept that signaling phenomena will often entail asymmetries not generally observed or modeled in formal systems like language.” With our sound we signal whether we as speakers are feeling safe, supported or threatened. The speaker's anxiety, anger, fear, stress or confusion is audible in his or her voice and this immediately affects the listeners. Whether we know it or not, our voice sets the tone for our conversations.  I agree that “understanding animal signaling is likely to be the key to working out the evolution of human communication behavior as well.” 

The authors conclude with “It is also both teleological and circular in using constructs developed for one recently evolved and possibly highly derived system of communication (language) to model processes involved in scores of other simpler and phylogenetically older systems in other species.”  NVB is based on phylogenetically older systems such as fight and flight, but SVB is based on the more recently developed "highly derived system of language." In other words, NVB is not and cannot be scientific and only SVB can be scientific. 

In NVB we are again and again putting the horse behind the wagon. “That [informational] approach always gets the evolutionary and the epistemological logic completely backwards.” Without knowing it the authors have also provided evidence for SVB and NVB in nonverbal organisms. “Instead, and as in other areas of ethology and biological inquiry, it is by comparing phenomena across a wide range of animal taxa that we discover the general principles with which to understand the characteristics of any single one.” 

It is 5:00am and the birds are singing. I appreciate these ethologists for reinforcing our understanding of human language. Interestingly, those who object to a behavioral account also object to an evolutionary account. Their NVB prevents SVB, in which we have “more agreeable and biologically realistic accounts of animal behavior.” 

Monday, October 24, 2016

July 2, 2015

July 2, 2015

Written by Maximus Peperkamp, M.S. Verbal Engineer

Dear Reader, 

This writing is my third response to “What do animal signals mean?” by Rendall, Owren & Ryan (2009). The authors give some great examples of Noxious Verbal Behavior (NVB) in primates.  They state “Lower-ranking victims of aggression seldom offer much serious physical resistance, but they can make themselves unappealing targets by screaming vociferously, producing loud, jarring bursts of broadband noise and piercing, high-frequency, tonal sounds in variable strengths who aversive qualities are difficult for listeners to resist or habituate to.” 

Humans too produce danger-deflecting noises while they talk. Those who, due to their status, can coerce others, often don’t need to sound aversive, but will hold it against anyone if they raise their voice. The relative calmness of someone’s voice doesn’t necessarily produce SVB. The listener who listens to the boss who always forces his or her way, knows his or her calmness is deceptive, because if he or she doesn’t do what he or she is expected to or doesn’t agree with what the boss says, he or she risks being fired. Also, the bosses’ calm tone doesn’t evoke a safe feeling in the listener and the subdued tone of voice of someone who is being bossed around maintains NVB.  

Since NVB is more common than SVB, we habituate to NVB faster than to SVB. This is different with primates, where the rate of NVB is low compared to humans. Most interactions among primates get everyone what they need. This cannot be said about the way in which humans communicate. We are so used to and are so often surrounded by aversive voices of NVB that we don’t even notice. We don’t protest as we don't know how to change it. Although NVB is threatening, intimidating and causing only problems, we think it is normal. We only find out how abnormal NVB is when we finally have some SVB. Usually, however, even if the circumstances make it possible, we don’t believe we can prolong it, let alone behaviorally engineer it.  

Instead of exchanging information, the described alarm calls signify a “behavioral context" that epitomizes the "push and pull of social conflict.” NVB bears “the mark of design for influence and manipulation with features well-suited to access and exploit listener’s basic perceptual sensitivities and central nervous system reflexes.” In SVB, there is no conflict at all, no manipulation, no exploitation and no coercion.  Moreover, in SVB both speakers and listeners experience positive emotions.

Furthermore, the authors comment that the informational approach doesn’t work for sexual selection. There are no frogs, fish, birds or insects “sending out signals about their male qualities”. They don’t “encode quality information in their signals” and females don’t “extract this information to make mating decisions.”  Such “metaphorical and abstract” ways of thinking makes the mentalists lose sight of the obvious: “The most basic requirement for any signal is that it be detectable against back ground noise.” 

Nowadays we use technology to drown out “back ground noise” to constantly promote ourselves and to outdo our competitors. In NVB, we want others to listen to us, but we are not listening to ourselves. In NVB, other-listening is more important than self-listening. Focus on other-listening excludes self-listening, but focus on self-listening includes other-listening. 

The more we want others to listen to us, the less we listen to ourselves. However, others weren’t listening to us. As long as SVB had not been realized they couldn’t. Although many felt that others weren’t listening, this didn’t lead to the discovery of SVB, to the contrary, it only led to an increase of NVB. It could only lead to discovery of SVB if self-listening somehow became more important than other-listening. People have gone insane over this, as it goes against everything we know. 

The opposite of what was just described is also true: the more we listen to ourselves, the less we want to listen to others, that is, the less we want to be involved in NVB. It is better to have SVB on our own than to have NVB with others. To learn more about SVB, one has to withdraw from NVB, but one can only do that if one recognizes it. Although SVB ideally is learned from others, these others are often unavailable and our only realistic option to learn SVB is by ourselves and to share it as much as possible when others are available. SVB can only be taught by someone who has explored it on his or her own. 

We all know SVB a little bit, because we have been in talking situations which were friendly, supportive and congenial, but there was never enough continuity and stability to prolong our fleeting moments of SVB, so that we could recognize the great  difference between SVB and NVB. Once we are faced with that experience, we will choose SVB over NVB every time, but we can’t choose SVB if this contrast was never apparent to us. It took many years of accumulating and analyzing SVB instances to make these conclusions possible.  I gradually became better at achieving SVB and avoiding NVB. In the beginning, I wanted to have SVB so very badly as I was having it so very little. 

The signaling of non-humans is important in sexual selection. For instance, if the sender’s courtship signals of birds are not detected by the female receivers, no mate can be attracted, that is, if the female cannot locate the male, who is producing the kind of elaborate song that will make her choose him, no genes will be passed on. “Importantly, the process of simply detecting and localizing the signals can by themselves play an important role in modulating female mating behavior.” Since only behaviors which lead to creation of offspring are adaptive, it is important to recognize phylogenetically caused behaviors in humans. “Direct effects of courtship signals on female receptivity and mating behavior are well-known in birds, which produce some the most structurally complex and variable sounds in the animal world.” Human beings also attract each other with songs or with how they sound while they speak. 

These animal examples bring us the evolutionary significance of listening. Whether sound is detected is of a matter of survival. A baby can only attract the attention from the mother by crying and young penguins in a colony of many others are only recognizable by their sound.  Humans are lost during NVB as they neither have the ability to localize each other, nor do they even know how to localize themselves. Sadly, during NVB we all become disembodied communicators.

While localizing and attracting others may be essential for sexual selection, in human interaction localizing and being our ‘self’ rather than striving to be our ‘self’, is very important. We can only be our ‘self’ if we have SVB, that is, if we as speakers affect each other with voices, which are perceived by listeners as appetitive stimuli. Among these listeners is the speaker-as-own-listener, whose voice resonates his or her ‘being’. In other words, ‘self’ is just ‘being’ at peace. I am reminded of Skinner, who wrote, I paraphrase, that who we are is just a location at which variables converge. Let me look that up and locate a nice quote to support my point. How do I do that? I type "Skinner" and add “there is no self.” In my Google search I behave verbally, just like him.  In “About Behaviorism” (1974) Skinner says that a ‘self’ or ‘personality’ is “a locus, a point at which many genetic and environmental conditions come together in a joint effect.” 

It is only when we listen to our sound while we speak, that we can be conscious and sensitive about how we actually effect the listener. The ‘self’ is also beautifully described by Skinner as the “speaker-as-own-listener.” In NVB, we not only lose touch with each other, but we lose touch with ‘ourselves’, with the "speaker-as-own-listener."

"The important function of structurally complex song appears simply to preclude perceiver boredom or habituation.” If in many nonhumans “Analogous anti-habituation effects have been shown at the molecular, cellular and neural levels as well” this indicates how vital the stimulating effects of human vocalizations must be. The nightingale doesn’t sing its beautiful song because it is stressed, anxious, frustrated or sad. In a similar fashion, in SVB, speakers are calm and peaceful and this is when our voice resonates at its optimum. It isn’t a matter of believing it, but of trying it out. During SVB we never get bored listening to each other, because each speaker is already his or her own listener. In NVB, on the other hand, we are bored, dull and insensitive and, consequently, relationships are so problematic and aversive that we want to escape from them and we become more and more isolated. 

The informational approach to courtship signals argues that “they must be honest to be functional.” This anthropomorphic  view overlooks the long-established fact that “perceivers have evolved sensory systems to detect, localize and discriminate important features of the environment; and that they must perform these functions in many contexts, not just in the service of mate choice.” Since there is phylogenetic continuity, humans can learn from non-humans that they have inherited by birth the ability to discriminate between SVB and NVB signals.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

July 1, 2015

July 1, 2015

Written by Maximus Peperkamp, M.S. Verbal Engineer

Dear Reader, 

(Just so you know, I am in the process of posting my journal writings on my blog. That is why it is no up to date.  By the way, you can google these papers I am referring to).

This writing is my second response to “What do animal signals mean?” by Rendall, Owren & Ryan (2009). The statement by Cheney & Seyfarth (1996) that “mental mechanisms underlying the vocalization of nonhuman primates…appear to be fundamentally different than those that underlie human speech” presumes that nonhuman and human primates have “mental mechanisms.” This fictitious, but widespread concept has made it impossible to acknowledge that human conversation is often not real. In Noxious Verbal Behavior (NVB), neither the speaker really speaks nor the listener really listens.  In NVB, the speaker pretends to be speaking and the listener pretends to be listening and since most people are not aware of the great difference between Sound Verbal Behavior (SVB) and NVB, they accept it, just like people once accepted the earth was flat and the center of the universe. Similarly, we still accept nonsensical “mental mechanisms” although we already know there are no words, there are only neurons with axons, dendrites, synapses and neurotransmitters in our brains. Firing neurons cannot tell us why we talk the way we do. Only environmental stimuli explain why SVB or NVB, why different brain activity occurs.

Behaviorism is inevitable. This is most obvious in research on nonverbal primates where inadequate verbiage stands out even more than in human communication. SVB and NVB have not been identified because, as we all know, in human speech people can endlessly beat around the bush. However, this is not the case with autistic children, and, not surprisingly, this is where behaviorism gains most of its credibility. Eventually, however, all our lousy and intellectually lazy mentalist constructs give way to a realistic behavioral account.  It is illustrative to read  how non-behaviorist animal researchers keep on changing their constructs. “Efforts to establish the meaning and referential quality of primate signals” are currently happening “under the banner” of “functional reference.” The effort mentalists put into maintaining their outdated way of talking by stretching the concept of language is absolutely laughable. Instead of adopting a genuine behaviorist view, they justify their ridiculous way of talking by saying “the motivation for this terminological change was to make clear that nonhuman animal calls are not exactly like human words, but rather appear to function in the same way.” If words really function in the same way as animal calls then they are not really all that different.  

These authors beautifully expose the mentalist bias which at any cost continues to “rely on the notion that signals have independent meaning, and are, like human words, ‘about’ things, even when signalers do not intend to transmit the information they are encoding” (Cheney & Seyfarth, 1996). If these researchers, instead of responding to each other’s work in writing, would actually talk together about these matters, it would soon become apparent that mentalists have more NVB than  behaviorists. The misinformation that is spread by the mentalist account perpetuates our NVB. Although behaviorists of course also have high rates of NVB, they are more inclined towards SVB as their theoretical perspective explains and stimulates it.

The authors correctly call the idea of “functional reference” an “oxymoron”, but this will not change the mentalist’s way of talking.  One can imagine the argument that happens when one person tells the other person that he or she is wrong, while the other thinks that he or she is right. We are all familiar with such conversations which can never go anywhere, because it is NVB. 

The change from NVB to SVB is as much needed for mentalists as behaviorists.  The concept of “functional reference” is like McDonald’s, who sells hamburgers and milkshakes with the slogan “I’m loving it”, that is, by putting words into people's  mouths. As in NVB the behavior of the speaker is presumably  more important than the behavior of the listener, “functional reference” seems to imply “that the information conveyed simply allows the receivers to infer the context of signal production.“ 

This dualistic going back and forth between the ends of some imaginary continuum is another characterization of NVB. If  speakers and listeners are construed as existing at the ends of the continuum, it would preclude the speaker-as-own-listener.  Naturally, in NVB the speaker doesn’t listen to him or herself while he or she speaks.  This happens only during SVB, in which the two behaviors are joined as they occur at the same rate. 

When “either distinction between the end points evaporates” the speaker is the listener and the listener is the speaker. The fact that these mentalist animal researchers, against all logic, continue to hang on to their “conceptual and empirical ambiguities” proves that their NVB overemphasizes the behavior of the speaker.  Indeed, the “placement of a signal on the continuum thus comes to depend less on its purported information content and more on whether one adopts the signaler’s or perceiver’s perspective.” A speaker can only adopt the perceiver’s perspective to the extent that he or she perceives him or herself, that is, to the extent that he or she listens to him or herself as he or she speaks.  Moreover, the SVB speaker is used to turn-taking in which he or she becomes the listener and someone else can then become the speaker.  

In NVB there is an absence of turn-taking, which means that one person usually does all the talking, while the other person only listens and then does what he or she is told to do. Such hierarchical communication is similar to communication of nonhuman primates. Separate treatment of signalers and receivers in nonhuman primates is foremost a consequence of human NVB, but also, of evolution, which puts our nose on the “distinct roles in the communication process” of “senders and perceivers”, “including often divergent interests”.   

To identify NVB and SVB, we must maintain an evolutionary natural perspective. “In this view, the function of signaling is to influence the behavior of perceivers rather than metaphorically transmit meaningful, language-like information.” The SVB/NVB distinction is equally applicable to nonhuman primates as it emphasizes “the role of signal structure in effecting such influence” and expands “the concept of communication well beyond just representational-like exchanges.” 

Everyone who experienced SVB agrees that NVB is superficial, because in it we fixate on what we are saying at the expense of how we are saying it.  NVB speakers are upsetting to listen to. It wouldn’t be adaptive if “alarm vocalizations produced upon encountering dangerous predators” weren’t “short” and “abrupt” and “noisy.” 

“Brainstem regions regulating whole body arousal and activation” are involved in the elicitation of “the listener’s immediate orienting response and movements preparatory to flight.” With NVB social engagement is impossible due to activation of lower brain regions. What Stephen Porges (2001) calls immobilization (freeze) response and mobilization (fight or flight) response is a “highly conserved response system” that is “traceable to detection and localization functions related to predator avoidance and prey capture in in early vertebrates (Grothe, 2003). 

Primates don’t react to what alarm calls mean and that is why we need a non-informational account which “looks at more concrete explanations grounded in the influence that specific acoustic properties have on broadly conserved neural, sensory, affective and learning systems in listeners that together help to support adaptive behavioral responding.” In NVB our voices often “have sharp onsets, dramatic frequency and amplitude fluctuations and chaotic spectral structures, which are exactly the sort of features that have direct impact on animal nervous systems.” Moreover, “such sounds are common in infants and juveniles, who otherwise have little influence on the behavior of older and larger animals.” Our high rates of NVB can be explained by saying that we are developmentally stuck. In NVB, we keep demanding each other's attention like children.  

When the speaker in NVB demands the attention of the listener it takes a lot of energy and effort to listen to such a speaker. “A frustrated primate weanling cannot force its mother to nurse, but can readily elicit such behavior with sounds whose acoustic features trigger the mother’s attentional mechanisms, increase her arousal state, and with repetition become very aversive.” We don’t look at it this way, but whenever we try to coerce each other with our NVB way of speaking, we behave in a similar fashion. 

In SVB, by contrast, the speaker’s sound gives, creates and maintains attention and is easy to listen to. Consequently, what is said is understood better, quicker and without any effort. The voice of the NVB speaker has been described as stabbing, grabbing, punching, pulling, choking and draining, but the voice of the SVB speaker has been described as soothing, uplifting, space-creating, validating, supporting and energizing. 

The authors are on the right track to discover NVB when they state “Adults can be similarly impotent when interacting with more dominant individuals. “ They describe the nonverbal version of NVB. Moreover, these kind of “squeaks, shrieks and screams” are “a class of vocalizations produced by many primates but also by many other mammals, bird and crocodilians.”