|Abstract||Language comes so naturally to us that we are apt to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is. Over the next hour you will sit in your chairs listening to a man make noise as he exhales. Why would you do such a thing? Not because the sounds are particularly melodious, but because the sounds convey information in the exact sequence of hisses and hums and squeaks and pops. As you recover the information, you think the thoughts that I want you to think. Right now I am conveying ideas about language itself, but with a slightly different sequence of hisses and pops I could be talking about anything from theories of the origin of the universe to the latest plot twists in your favorite daytime drama. The fundamental scientific problem raised by language is to explain this vast expressive power. What is the trick behind our ability to fill each other’s heads with so many kinds of thoughts?|
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