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20200830 – Intelligence All that matters


The main idea here is to discuss meaning of IQ, how it relates to overall intelligence, how it is tested, where it comes from (nature/nurture) and, most important, how to increase it. Author also discusses controversies around IQ and its value for individual achievement and prosperity. The overall objective is to convince readers that IQ research important and should be supported.


  1. Introducing intelligence
    This starts with definition: “Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. It is not merely book-learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings, ‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do.”

After that author provides a brief history of IQ starting with Francis Galton (1822-1911) and then discussing works of McKeen Cattell (1860–1944) – Sensory testing, Alfred Binet (1857–1911) – children with mental disabilities selection, Théodore Simon (1872–1961) – mental tasks for low IQ children, Lewis Terman (1877–1956)- tasks for high IQ selection, Robert Yerkes (1876–1956) – Group testing, Charles Spearman (1863-1945) – Statistical technics for analysis, and Sir Godfrey Thomson (1881–1955) – education.

2. Testing intelligence
In this chapter author is looking through a set of tasks one could expect to complete for IQ test today. How does a person’s performance on one task relate to performance on the others? To what extent was Spearman correct about ‘general intelligence’? The author responds affirmative and then discusses idea of multiple intelligences and substructure of intelligence. He also provides a few graphs for IQ distribution and substructure change with age:

4. The biology of intelligence
Chapter 4 goes ‘under the hood’ to look at the biology of intelligence: how it might have evolved, how it relates to genetics, and what a smarter person’s brain looks like. Author discusses nature/nurture, provides some images and concludes:” A common mistake is to come away with the impression that, since intelligence is related to biology, it must be immutable. Nothing in the genetic studies (which never show 100-per-cent heritability) or the neuroimaging (which shows only neural correlates of intelligence) leads to that conclusion. Certainly, the genetic results imply that attempts to equalize outcomes in areas like education are fool’s errands: it will be extremely difficult to eradicate genetically influenced differences between children. There may be biological limits on what we can expect from some people: although intelligence is not immutable, it is unlikely to be infinitely malleable

5. The easy way to raise your IQ
Chapter 5 asks whether we might be able to improve intelligence and make people brighter. Do ‘brain training’ games work? What about education? So far there is no reason to believe that there is reliable way to get smarter either via “Mozart effect”, or breastfeeding, or brain training. However, there is well known Flynn effect that demonstrates IQ increase over generations.

6. Why is intelligence so controversial?
The final chapter, Chapter 6, asks why, if there’s all this scientific evidence backing it up, intelligence is still so controversial. In the historical sketch above, author mentioned a couple of reasons, but the discomfort with intelligence testing goes deeper than just revulsion at its history: it touches on profound political and moral issues about equality, race differences. Author briefly reviews these and other aspects of IQ debate and provides reasons for IQ studies:

a. Link between IQ and health: smart people are healthier and live longer

b. Ageing – need to maintain IQ at good level to the end

c. Societal importance of intelligence

d. Scientific curiosity


The political and moral (but usually evidence-free) debate around intelligence distracts from the truly interesting questions. What causes the general factor of intelligence? Which specific genes make a person smarter? Why, exactly, do these seemingly simple tests relate to so many important things in life? What, precisely, is happening in the brain when it’s working through an IQ test? How can we make it do that more efficiently? Lately, the field of intelligence research has been buzzing with intriguing new results that begin to address these questions. We can ignore these results, and continue to pretend that intelligence tests are a discredited remnant of psychology’s past. Or we can engage with them, and uncover the science of what makes us differ in this most human of attributes.”


It is nice and brief review of IQ, its definition, meaning, value, and validity of methods of its increase. Based on my own live experience I am pretty sure that lower IQ would not only decrease quality my live, but would probably prevent its continuation on a couple occasions in the past. Obviously few people had such a wonderful opportunity to recognize its value, but everybody could see value of IQ and try to improve it as much as possible.

20200823 – The Measure of Civilization


The main idea of this book is to provide technical support for author’s other book “Why the West Rules – for Now” by reviewing methodology of social development processes divided into four domains: Energy Capture, Social Organization, War-Making Ability, and Information Technology.


1 Introduction: Quantifying Social Development  
The problem author discusses here is the one that Western intellectuals had for the last 250 years. It is difficulty of explaining why the West took over the world. Author then defines his objectives in this book and moves to provide some key definitions such as:

Social Development: “is a measure of communities’ abilities to get things done in the world; social development is the bundle of technological, subsistence, organizational, and cultural accomplishments through which people feed, clothe, house, and reproduce themselves, explain the world around them, resolve disputes within their communities, extend their power at the expense of other communities, and defend themselves against others’ attempts to extend power.”

Author also provides intellectual background for this discussion starting with Spencer’s idea of evolution increasing complexity of the systems. Author reviews Marxist approach to progress and then return to evolutionary approach. Author also reviewing various attempt to quantify progress and even provides table based on history:

Finally author looks in some detail at core conceptps of social evolution:

  • Differentiation
  • Complexity
  • Evolution
  • Progress
  • Stage Theories
  • Society
  • Quantification

 2 Methods and Assumptions  
Here are assumptions author puts in the core of his ideas:

  1. Quantification
  2. Parsimony
  3. Here is how author defines traits using of Human Development Index (HDI):
    1. The Criteria of Useful Trait”: The trait must be relevant: that is, it must tell us something about social development as I defined it in chapter 1.
    1. The trait must be culture independent. We might, for example, think that the quality of literature and art are useful measures of social development, but judgments in these matters are notoriously culture bound.
    1. Traits must be independent of each other—if, for instance, we use the number of people in a state and the amount of wealth in that state as traits, we should not use per capita wealth as a third trait, because it is a product of the first two traits.
    1. The trait must be adequately documented. This is a real problem when we look back thousands of years because the evidence available varies so much. Especially in the distant past, we simply do not know much about some potentially useful traits.
    1. The trait must be reliable, meaning that experts more or less agree on what the evidence says.
    1. The trait must be convenient. This may be the least important criterion, but the harder it is to get evidence for something or the longer it takes to calculate results, the less useful that trait is.
  4. Focusing on East and West rather than the whole world
  5. The Meaning of East and West
  1. Chronological Intervals of Measurement
  2. Units of Analysis
  3. Approximation and Falsification

Author also provides notes on calculation and geographical representation of meaning of East and West:


Generally, I believe the technical content of this book is valid and makes lots of sense, except for linking Social development to the size and population of the cities. The size of cities is probably more depends on density of population, which in turn depends on productivity of land: rice supports more people per acre than wheat. I think author could easily avoid it by linking Social development to share of urban population. This parameter would provide picture consistent with other domains. For example, China achieved 50-50 breakdown between urban and rural population in 2010, while USA in 1920. Probably if one makes adjustment for different levels of technology, he would find similar parity between USA of 1920 and China of 2010 in other domains.

20200816 – The Kill Chain


The main idea of this book is to use author’s experience as military adviser to late senator McCain to bring to light issues that in author’s opinion put future American security in jeopardy due to continuing support of outdated systems and failure to develop and stand up new systems mainly because of political and bureaucratic processes in which people are more concerned with well-being of their constituencies that US military power. This situation was developed over decades after fall of USSR when USA had no military peer and was absolutely dominant everywhere in the world. Now rise of China and somewhat revival of Russian military made these attitudes not sustainable and USA had to change or it will fall behind.


Author starts by presenting his credentials as close adviser to senator McCain and notes how much McCain was disturbed by military growth of China and its emerging ability to win conventional war against USA. Then author explains notion of kill chain and states that America needs in order to avoid defeat: ”It requires a sweeping redesign of the American military: from a military built around small numbers of large, expensive, exquisite, heavily manned, and hard-to-replace platforms to a military built around large numbers of smaller, lower-cost, expendable, and highly autonomous machines. Put simply, it should be a military defined less by the strength and quantities of its platforms than by the efficacy, speed, flexibility, adaptability, and overall dynamism of its kill chains”.

1. What Happened to Yoda’s Revolution
In this chapter author refer to former director of Office of Net Assessment Andrew Marshall, nicknamed Yoda, who argued that technological revolution makes existing American military based on large expensive platforms outdated and vulnerable. Yoda proposed massive change in approach to the new equipment, but he was not successful and was defeated by two forces – political preference for massive platform and war on terror that completely distracted military away from preparing to fight peers, not low grate rebels and terrorists.

2. Little Green Men and Assassin’s Mace
In this chapter author discusses wakeup call that occurred on February 27, 2014 when Russian military invaded Ukraine demonstrating the great improvement in its equipment, training, and tactical ability. American military leaders were impressed and realized that the new Russian military could be a difficult adversary and that American technological superiority was greatly diminished. Similar discovery occurred with another much more powerful adversary – China, which developed a number of effective weapons designated as Assassin Mace that would provide for ability successfully win regional war against USA.  Author briefly describes these weapons and stresses that they based on the latest achievements of information technology.

3. A Tale of Two Cities
Author starts this chapter with reference to American development of intercontinental missiles and politico-bureaucratic straggle around it with air force leadership resisting. The result was successful implementation of the newest technology. Author admires what happened then, but express fear that now it is different America that is not capable for such feats of ingenuity and industry. Current leadership both political and military cares more about getting more dollars for their constituency and themselves producing expensive, but not effective systems that could fail against Russian and Chinese forces.

4. Information Revolution 2.0
In this chapter author discusses Information revolution that occurred in private sector and produced very powerful technology that could be used in military. However contemporary military procurement system and interplay of multitude of special interests made it all but impossible, so military technology is a lot less powerful than regular civil technology available over the counter. Author also describes attitude changes that make it difficult for Silicon Value companies cooperate with American military.

5. Something Worse Than Change  
Here author starts with claim that the problem of loosing technological superiority did not occur because people’s failure or technological deficiencies, but rather because of incorrect strategic approach of investing in large, expensive, and eventually vulnerable platforms rather then in multitude of smaller and less expensive platforms that would be difficult to trace and destroy. Author correctly notes that it is just about impossible to keep military effectively upgraded because only actual war would demonstrate what works and what not. However, author provide examples such as Assault Breaker that were developed during Cold War and eventually proved to be effective. Author suggests that it should be done now again and stresses how important it is:” The stakes of this emerging strategic competition with the Chinese Communist Party are nothing less than what kind of future world we want to live in. This competition will require the full mobilization of our society, our economy, our diplomacy, our values, and our allies who share them. But the foundation for all of this is America’s hard power, because the only way to ensure that this competition stays peaceful is by clearly being capable of defending what is most precious to us if the Chinese Communist Party—or anyone else, for that matter—chooses to confront us through aggression or violence. And that is what most concerns me: The entire basis by which the US military understands events, makes decisions, and takes actions—how it closes the kill chain—will not withstand the future of warfare. It is too linear and inflexible, too manual and slow, too brittle and unresponsive to dynamic threats, and too incapable of scaling to confront multiple dilemmas at once. That is why there is a growing concern within our defense establishment that America could lose a future war against a great power such as China. This, to me, is something worse than change. Most Americans have lived blissfully free from the many kinds of privation, injustice, aggression, and depredation that countries through history have suffered at the hands of more powerful rivals that realized they could prevail in war if push came to shove. I have no desire to see how dangerous the future could become for Americans if we lose the ability to deter conventional war against the Chinese Communist Party or any other competitor. This situation should compel us to build different kinds of military forces that can defend Americans and our core interests in the absence of military dominance. This is possible, but it requires us to reimagine the kill chain and compete more urgently in the new strategic race over emerging technologies that is now under way.”

6. A Different Kind of Arms Race
This chapter is about new types of weapons – specifically AI controlled autonomous drones. The author’s concern is that while Western military are restricted by ethical norms, their adversaries Chinese and Russians have no moral or ethical restrictions whatsoever. Author discusses in some details shift information warfare and advances made by China. At the end of chapter author suggest that the new arms race is not possible for USA to win and the best one can hope is achievement of some sort of parity.

7. Human Command Machine Control
Author starts this chapter with discussion of aerial bombing and then moves to ethics of killing and possibility of decision-making transfer to AI. He states that in near future the only feasible use is for narrow AI and analyses how the decision breakdown between human and AI could work out in the future.  

8. A Military Internet of Things
This is mainly about drones and how they would interact with each other with minimal if any human intervention via battlefield network – Internet of things. Author especially concerned that current version of it is slow, not very reliable and overall is behind of commercial development.

9. Move Shoot Communicate
Author starts this chapter with the story of Jan Bloch – the railroad magnate of early XX century who without any military experience was able to predict correctly nature of future wars. Then author discusses each component and notes that with current saturation of the world with sensors and communications both military and civilian it is nearly impossible to hide movement of big assets. Similarly, the second part also demonstrate vulnerability of such assets because they could be more readily attacked by swarm of small and relatively cheap weapons of high lethality. The same applies to communication – it is easier to find and suppress communications of big valuable target such as air career than multitude of cheap self-controlling distributed in space.

10. Defense Without Dominance
This chapter is about American loss of military dominance, which is per author reality that has to be accepted. The consequence should be change in assumptions and the new strategy: “a strategy of defense without dominance.”. Author proposes a number of various measures, but the main change is strategic objectives: instead of traditional American search for dominance the objective should be prevention of China dominance: “The United States is headed into a future that will be as unsettling as it is unfamiliar, but we do not need to fear it. We can still manage to defend the people, places, and things we care about most. Even amid the erosion of our military dominance, America can avoid a future in which a peer competitor is able to consolidate its own position of military dominance. Achieving this more limited, defensive goal requires a wide-ranging reimagination of America’s defense strategy, which is possible, but not optional. The main question is not whether the US military should change but whether we can change—and change fast enough.”

11. Bureaucracy Does Its Thing
This chapter is about workings of American military and political system with its huge bureaucracy, special interests, and stakeholders all of which makes system highly conservative, keeping investment flowing into outdated technologies that have political support and starving emerging technologies with no established special interests supporting them. Author provides a nice example for selection of the new pistol for Army, which took many years and millions of dollars to decide.

12. How the Future Can Win
Here author discusses how to overcome bureaucratic resistance and provides an example of change in old JSTARS being successfully retired despite multiple constituencies fighting against it. The key to success per author was a very sophisticated political plan of developing new constituency for the change inside existing system. At the end author expresses his optimism:” National defense will always be fundamentally different from everything else we do in the civilian and commercial worlds. But does it have to be this different? Do the men and women of America’s military really have to struggle this hard to do their jobs and get faster access to better technologies, many of which they use in their daily lives? Can’t things be better?

Yes, things can be better. There is no structural or cultural reason why not. We have the money, the technological base, and the human talent. And our leaders have all of the flexibility and authorities they need, both in law and policy, to carry off the transition from the military we have to the military we need. As I have said, it ultimately comes down to incentives. If we want different and better outcomes, we have to create different and better incentives to get them. This is hardly beyond our reach. It involves doing a lot more of the commonsense things that many within our defense establishment struggle to do every day: define problems correctly and clearly, compete over the best solutions, pick winners, and spend real money on what is most important and can make our military most effective.”

In conclusion author once again expresses his loyalty to McCain and believe in his greatness and ability to direct things to correct objectives. The final thought is that even without McCain not everything lost.


I think that author pretty much correct about both of his main statements: deadly bureaucracy and need to change from building military around few high value assets to expanding multitude of much cheaper assets that would make swarm attacks practically impossible and allow rapid expansion if and when needed, especially if they are based on AI, Internet of things, new materials, and designed consequently remove requirement to have massive human involvement. I am more optimistic than author, probably because I believe that massive changes are coming that will completely reshuffle existing politico-bureaucratic structures in all areas, making military change just one of many changes, albeit with extremely high price of failure, that I hope would never happen.

20200809 – Shaping our Nation


The main idea of this book is to describe history of immigration and internal migration in the United States based on racial/ethnic groups from before independence until recently. The groups authors reviews are: Northern Yankees, Southern Grandees, Scotch-Irish, Irish, Germane, Blacks, and some more recent arrivals. The point is that, while each group maintains its identity at least partially, they also go through complex process of mutual assimilation: groups to mainstream of America and its mainstream adapting at least some characteristics of groups.


Preface: A Story for Our Time
This starts with description of author’s deep interest in American ethnic make up and how it was developed over the centuries. Author describes books he previously written about American and British revolutions and multiple books written by others that describe historic migrations of different population all over the world. Then he briefly describes content of this book that traces both immigration into America from different parts of the world and then internal migration to the West after Eastern part of USA was pretty much populated.

This chapter is about the first massive non-English migration that occurred even before United States obtained independence:” During the course of the eighteenth century some 250,000 Scots-Irish migrated from the British Isles to the North American colonies, about 125,000 in the decades between 1717 and 1763, and another 125,000 in the dozen years from 1763 to 1775.” Author describes political situation in the country of origin and reasons that pushed people out. He also describes the first push of newly arrived immigrant away from coast deep into continent where they encountered not only Indian resistance, but also resistance of colonial authorities, which would prefer containment of white population at Appalachia. Author uses example of Andrew Jackson’s family to narrate the story of this movement. Here is American settlement geography in the pre-revolutionary time:

After that author describes further expansion of this group and discusses some of its cultural specificities, especially their military prowness that demonstrated itself on many occasions in all American wars, especially Civil War. Another important ferature of this groups is this: The Scots-Irish have been the least ethnically conscious of America’s migrant groups. From Jackson’s time to the 2010 Census, they have tended to describe themselves not as being of Scots-Irish (or Scotch or Irish) ancestry but as simply being American.”

This chapter is about two ethnic groups that became the first Americans. Yankees: descendants of New England Protestants that for over 2 centuries expanded into Midwest and Grandees descendants of Virginia settlers that expanded by Southern route from Virginia, Carolinas, and Georgia. The Yankees main characteristics was hard work, religiosity, hypocrisy, and persistent attempt to force their believes on others. The Grandees were nice people with a small flaw – their particular institution of slavery. Author discusses in details how this institution that was seemingly on its last legs in early XIX centuries was revived and became highly productive due to improvements in methods of cultivating cotton. Here is a graphic illustration:

Author then discusses in detail how both these movements: Yankee’s Northern movement to the West pushing Indians out and substituting them with farmers and Grandees’ Soutehrn movement expanding slavery created America with dual sensitivities, attitudes, and believes that eventually clashed in the Civil War to decide which one of them will be dominant in one America. The Scotch -Irish during this epic clash were divided and bravely fought on the both sides of the war. The Yankees eventually won the war, but lost peace, failing to overcome resistence to reconstraction and eventually accepted division into separate development way up until civil rights movement of 1960.

This chapter is about another wave of European immigrants, which came to America in XIX century. The first were Germans coming after failed revolutions of 1848, but not far behind were masses of Irish running away from potato hunger in 1850-60s. Author uses example of Kennedys to demonstrate a success story, but there were millions of others by far less successful. Author provides two maps demonstrating results of these waves:

Author discusses in details patterns of settlement for both groups, their preferred types of business and employenment, patterns of behavior, consequences of their Catholizism, and finally, their impact on American politics.

Author starts this chapter by characterizing Civil War and Yankees conquest of America. However, this conquest was incomplete because South managed to retain its specificity for another hundred years after it lost the war. The price paid was high: economic stagnation for the most part of this period. Author looks at reasons why it happened and why there were no mass migration from South up North despite difficulties for both Southern populations: black and white:” The conclusion one must draw is that they thought they would not be welcome—and they were surely right. White men born in the 1830s and 1840s had been shooting and killing one another in large numbers, with many suffering disabling injuries; those who survived lived on for decades, many well into the twentieth century. Confederate veterans, whose only pensions came from state governments, had an economic as well as cultural disincentive not to move to the land of their recent foes. Union veterans, conscious that the troops and officials enforcing Reconstruction until 1877 had been attacked as corrupt carpetbaggers and had been shunned by southern elites, had no desire to reenter what had been a scene of conflict after the troops were withdrawn. In 1898 officials in the War Department in Washington, dispatching troops to Tampa for embarkation to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, stationed sentries along the rail lines to prevent southern attacks, while one southern army officer in his delight at seeing the Spanish forces retreat in Cuba, yelled, “We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run.”

Author ends this chapter with discussion of mass immigration from East and South of Europe at the end XIX and beginning of XX centuries – Ellis Island immigration. Here how it changed demographics of America:

This new immighrants brough lots of good things: hard work, talents, entrepreneurship, but also not a few nasties like socialism, leading eventually to laws restricting immigration.

Author begins this chapter with discussion of Hollywood and myths creation that forged one American culture by movies, sports, books, and radio in the place multiple and only loosely linked cultures of South vs. North vs. West vs. new immigrants of different backgrounds. Then author adds the narrative of how WWII intermixed everything and everybody in one global military and mass industrial movements, including blacks from South to the North and population of California. Author extends narrative of this chapter all the way to 1960s when economic changes, Vietnam war, civil rights movement, riots, welfare state, and cultural revolution changed everything destroying old norms, breaking black family and start breaking white families the same way.

The final chapter reviews the most recent waves of migration mainly internal, but with huge and increasing component of international migration from Asia and Latin America, which once again is changing American racial, cultural, religious, and all other components of population. Internally it included movement from North down South away from more bureaucratic cold states to business friendlier southern states, while externally political movement of Cubans, Koreans, Vietnamese, and at the end of century East Europeans running away from communism and likes, business and professional movement of Indians and many others to better paid and more fulfilling high tech jobs in America, Mexican and later other South Americans movement to better jobs and welfare opportunities and so on and on.


It is nice description of ethnic migration / immigration process of formation of American population, but in my opinion, it does not sufficiently describe cultural conflicts / adjustments between groups. I think it would be also very interesting to trace coalitions that groups form to support or fight each other.

The very interesting example would be to trace all groups interactions during Civil War, which initially was driven by strive to save Union at any cost by Yankees with cost often paid by others on one side and strive to save Southern states sovereignty, including its particular institution of slavery with price mainly paid by people who did not own slaves. Eventually one could say that both sides won: Yankees saved the Union and their dominant place within it, while Southerners by winning asymmetric war of Reconstruction curved out a part of country in which they managed to maintain probably something like 80% of their particular institution in form of segregation and denial of rights to the blacks for another 100 years. I think another important part would be addition of class dimension, which also led to ethnic/ racial coalitions forming and falling apart as situation developed.

20200802 – Why Chimpanzees cannot learn language


The main idea of this book is to use author’s experience with Project Nim of teaching chimpanzee to use human language in order to present author’s views on development and use of language. Author stresses his believe that this development was natural evolutionary process, that it occurred as result of need in effective communication tool for complex scavenging support, that words came first and grammar much later, and, finally, that animals, even such close relatives as chimpanzees do not have such tools.  


Here author describes why and how he wrote this book and defines its topic as language evolution. He refers to ideas of Chomsky and his own participation in debates on the side of behaviorists. He also describes his William Schoff lectures that are the foundation of this book.  

The prologue is about author’s experiment (Project Nim) of teaching language to the chimp, how he come to start this project and two main contentions that rose in regard of language evolution: words vs. grammar as key foundational component of language and communications tool vs. mechanism of thinking as most important driver of evolution.

  1. Numberless Gradations

This chapter starts with brief discussion of evolution as the main tool for understanding everything in biology, which author applies to language, but not that much to its grammar, as to its words as key ingredient. After that author moves to discuss his background as behaviorist and reviews ideas of instrumental conditioning, presenting a nice table of examples:

He also discusses in some details Chomsky’s critique of verbal behavior, which pretty much moved author away from pure behaviorism and his search for empirical confirmation that starting in 1960s turned him to attempt to teach chimpanseses to use language. Author also looks at evolutionary processes and controversy caused by its requirements to have long incremental process withmeaningful improvements on each increment, which seems to be inconsistent with reals speed of human development. The author review of the newest paleoanthropological data led him to conclusions that: “In sum, there are at least three reasons to consider why recent hominin ancestors provide a more realistic baseline than chimpanzees for clues about the evolution of language: bipedalism, a large brain, and a small birth canal. Although none of these differences were selected to enhance linguistic ability, the need to cradle a human infant for six months led to profound changes in maternal care.”  In support of this idea author provides review of the development of nonverbal language during the first years of human life.

2. Ape Language

In this chapter author reviews in details experiments with teaching chimps to use language by trying to raise them as human children, sometime using sign language because chimps could not imitate human sounds. Author discusses his own “Project Nim” and Premack method, which uses graphic symbols. The key conclusion that author makes are based on these data:” Ape language projects have shown that chimpanzees can learn the imperative function of symbols (that is, how to use them to obtain rewards). Although children learn to use words as imperatives, imperatives are only a tiny portion of their vocabulary. Language would never develop if children were limited to learning imperatives. In that sense, the failure of these projects can be attributed to an ape’s inability to learn that things have names and that words can be used conversationally.”

3. Recent Human Ancestors and the Possible Origin of Words

Author starts this chapter with discussion of non-linearity of evolution that, contrary to Darwin believes, quite convincingly proved by recent paleoanthropological discoveries demonstrating parallel development of multiple hominin species. He then discusses fossils in some details: locations where they are found, dating methods, how changes in fossils relate to corresponding climate changes, and how increase in functional abilities of the human brain provided for much more efficient accommodation to these changes, eventually resulting in human expansion all over the world. After discussing usefulness of the big brain, author moves to hypotheticals of language development. Based on fossils that have traces of human scavenging evolution from being the last to being the first consumers of big animal’s corpse author believes that such activities necessitated development of worlds to communicate to others what and where was found and in what condition it currently is, so they could help with processing.  

4. Before an Infant Learns to Speak

Here author moves from species evolution to individual, discussing how infants acquire human communication abilities: first by imitating visual and/or audio communications, including human emotions and attitudes, eventually resulting in joint attention functionality unique to humans. It results in need for words to generate joint attention to something that is not present at the moment and later on to abstractions that exist only in human imagination and are communicated via language.

5. The Origin of Language, Words in Particular

Here author moves more into origin of language and how humans pick it up from parents and other around them: “The difference between animal and human communication is also reflected in the number of signals they each produce. In animals, that number rarely exceeds twenty and it does not vary with age. Human vocabulary grows with age during the first few decades of a person’s life. A two-year-old child knows approximately 300 words; a five-year-old approximately 5,000; a minimally educated adult at least 15,000; and a college graduate at least 50,000 words.” Author then discusses Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, which he generally supports except for putting much more weight on words, their creation and use. Author then reviews various relevant to his research schools and experiments.


This is pretty much discussion of popularization of author’s Project Nim, which left him not very satisfied, especially about documentary by Marsh.   


I am pretty much in agreement with main position of this book except for some relatively small points. I do not think that debate between what came first words or grammar makes lots of sense. I think they came in parallel. I also somewhat puzzled by controversy about liner or parallel evolution of human brains because it seems obvious that it should be both: initially with human expansion with evolutionary modifications into multiple variations of hominin living in different localities with consequent pruning out less competitive sub-species by the more effective ones, and since they all rely on the same ecological niches and were capable expand globally, the most effective – we humans, eliminated everybody else some hundreds of thousands years ago and we still continue eliminating different parts of ourselves, albeit somewhat less frequently in more recent times. I, however, hope that with advance of technology, productivity, and AI, plus clear movement of changing meaning of live from multiplication to enjoyment, we’ll find equilibrium between all types of us and between us and environment that would make our lives worth living.