Humans Trained Themselves in Symbolic Thought

From animals to man, the transition is not violent, as good philosophers will admit. What was man before the invention of words and the knowledge of tongues? An animal of his species, who, with much less native instinct than the others, whose king he then considered himself to be, could not be distinguished from the ape and from the rest, except as the ape itself differs from the other animals; which means, by a face giving promise of more intelligence. Reduced to the bare “intuitive knowledge” of the Leibnitzians he saw only shapes and colors, without being able to distinguish between them; the same, old as young, child at all ages, he stammers out his feelings and needs, like a dog who asks for food when he is hungry or, tired of sleeping, wants to be let out.

Words, languages, laws, sciences, and the fine arts, have come, and by them our rough diamond of a mind has been polished. Man has been trained in the same way as animals; he has become an author, as they become beasts of burden. A geometrician has learned to perform the most difficult demonstrations and calculations, as a monkey has learned to take off or put on his little hat to mount his tame dog. All this has been done through signs, every species has learned what it could understand, and in this way men have acquired “symbolic knowledge,” still so called by our German philosophers....

All this knowledge, which blows up the balloon-like brains of our proud pedants, is therefore but a huge mass of words and figures, which form in the brain all the marks by which we distinguish and recall objects. All our ideas are awakened in the same way that a gardener who knows plants recalls, at the sight of them, all the stages of their growth. These words and the objects designated by them are so connected in the brain that it is comparatively rare to imagine a thing without the name or sign that is attached to it.


Folksonomies: philosophy empiricism

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Mind (0.913377): dbpedia_resource
Brain (0.887794): dbpedia_resource
Law (0.884273): dbpedia_resource
Psychology (0.864658): dbpedia_resource
Knowledge (0.862291): dbpedia_resource
Human brain (0.791813): dbpedia_resource
Monkey (0.785603): dbpedia_resource
Cognition (0.764610): dbpedia_resource

 Man a Machine
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Offray la Mettrie, Julian (1747), Man a Machine, Retrieved on 2021-10-17
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  • Folksonomies: science philosophy medicine