There is no question that humans are unique among living things in possessing a rich communications vehicle like language. However, by itself, this is insufficient to explain why such a thing should exist, so it might be useful to examine what is it that makes humans unique among animals?

Often we hear arguments about consciousness, or intelligence, or some other element, but to my mind these are too vague to be of much use, since we often see similar capabilities among animals that do not possess a language.

In the previous two posts, I have argued that the role of a belief system, or worldview is a fundamental function of the brain based on the organization of data. That it is taught and formed by adults and society, it becomes the basis for the values that ultimately shape the adult. I will continue to argue that it is these values which form the basis for what we call culture.

A people’s culture is based on a common set of beliefs and values, which are often enforced by experience and rituals that are intended to enforce the sense of belonging to the group. One important element of this is that it will tend to operate in a hierarchy with the lowest level (closest to the family) having the most influence up to higher more removed levels. Therefore we tend to see strong loyalties to family, friends, and local groups with less demonstrated, for example, to the government.

As an example, while patriotism is often viewed as loyalty to the country/government, it truth it is actually a manifestation of loyalty to the branch of service, and then the local unit, and ultimately to friends. An individual typically isn’t fighting for their country as much as they are fighting for their friends and unit. However, it is also highly probable that the initial sense of patriotism was actually taught by parents and family rather than as something learned in adulthood from the government.

This is another reason why we see such intense loyalty to specific groups, whether they be as innocuous as a favorite sports team, to a neighborhood street gang. Each promotes identification with the group and conveys a sense of “cultural” values which tends to unite those that participate within that group.

Having said all this, there’s an important ingredient missing; how can we convey this to each other? In this instance, I will argue that all this structure has culminated in the development and evolution of language. It is the one mechanism that is absolutely required in order to be able to pass on these values, as well as identifying those that would share them.

Since the development of culture and values is essential in forming the worldview we hold. It is equally important in determining how we approach the world and will directly relate to our ability to survive in it. Therefore it becomes quite relevant to consider how one goes about finding a mate that shares these values and ideas. In my view, this can only occur with the development of language.

Most of the elements associated with values and beliefs do not exist in the physical world, so the only way to exchange information about them is verbally. They are very much a product of the mind, so language becomes an important mechanism for sharing this data, and creates a “selection pressure” to ensure language evolves. In particular, the selection pressure would occur if the ability to communicate more specific information resulted in finding better mates, allowing better cohesion in groups that shared the same values, and consequently improving the survivability of the group.

In conclusion, it is my contention that the development of language is a direct consequence of our brain’s data organization function which gives rise to a data framework, or belief system. As a result, it is this need to articulate the particulars of this belief system which would have created a selection pressure where language would have made group cohesion and mate selection a strong advantage over those groups that only had limited communication capability.

The Nature of Belief Systems
Belief Systems - Part 2