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  Topic: Where are the Linguistic Savants?, Child savants: mathematical only?< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
blipey



Posts: 2061
Joined: June 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 18 2007,00:56   

This topic came to mind as I was reading BWE's "passive verb" thread.  I have heard people (you know, just random people in the ether) say that there are only mathematical child savants.  This struck me as a very interesting claim.  AtBC, it seems to me, would be the place to find real, actual, knowledgable people who could tell me wheher this is true or not.

Some specifics of my wondering:

1.  I assume that "only mathematical" encompasses musical savants as well.  Music is pretty mathematical in nature, but are music and higher math processed in the same way?

1a.  Do many mathematical savants actually do higher math?  It seems that a lot of it is arithmetical and not necessarily higher math.  This may not be the case, however.

2.  Are linguistics something that a young mind cannot grasp due to lack of exposure?

3.  Is there an evolutionary path that leads to mathematical, and not linguistic (or other) type, savants?

4.  What is the difference between child (or adult) savants and those, for example, who have great facility for language (speaking a dozen or more fluently, etc)?

Any insights by Arden et al would be spiffy.

may gravity be kind,

blipey

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But I get the trick question- there isn't any such thing as one molecule of water. -JoeG

And scientists rarely test theories. -Gary Gaulin

   
keiths



Posts: 2041
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 18 2007,06:59   

Hi Blipey,

I don't know how early his linguistic talent emerged, but British mathematical savant Daniel Tammet (born 1979) can learn new languages with astounding rapidity.

This video shows him achieving conversational fluency in Icelandic in one week of study, a feat his teacher described as "not human."

I recommend watching the entire video -- it's absolutely fascinating -- but if you want to skip ahead to the part about learning Icelandic, it's at 41:40.

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And the set of natural numbers is also the set that starts at 0 and goes to the largest number.  -- Joe G

Please stop putting words into my mouth that don't belong there and thoughts into my mind that don't belong there. -- KF

  
Reciprocating Bill



Posts: 4265
Joined: Oct. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 18 2007,09:31   

Blip -

I wonder, from an evolutionary perspective, if it is more accurate to say that almost everyone is a "language savant," in that we are adapted for the production and comprehension of language, but few are mathematical and musical savants.

Almost all human children acquire the language or languages to which they are exposed with astonishing ease and rapidity, most often using only casual and fragmented models (the ordinary speech of the adults around them) and without explicit tutelage. This reflects the fact that we likely possess domain-specific neural/cognitive adaptations for the acquisition of language. We can also speculate that because this adaptation has been so essential to survival in human communities for so long, and because its adaptive value emerges in cooperation among individuals (and hence may be lost when a startling new variation emerges in a given individual), its developmental unfolding (in children) is significantly "canalized," and hence subject to less frequent broad variation.

Contrast this with the acquisition of reading/writing and especially mathematics, which for most requires years of difficult tutelage. Both are much too recent cultural inventions to have shaped human evolution to a significant degree, and therefore press into service cognitive resources/neural equipment that evolved for other functions - and very likely recruit different combinations of those resources in different mathematically gifted individuals. Because the acquisition of these skills is not developmentally canalized, and the value of its expression is less dependent upon rapid, real-time consumption within a cooperative community, startling variations may emerge as a consequence of unique learning histories and/or the occurrence of structural variation from individual to individual.

Music (and dancing) probably falls somewhere between these extremes, with community cohesion and sexual selection playing a role in its emergence... (see Geoffry Miller's "The Mating Mind.")  

Just so.

--------------
Myth: Something that never was true, and always will be.

"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you."
- David Foster Wallace

"Here’s a clue. Snarky banalities are not a substitute for saying something intelligent. Write that down."
- Barry Arrington

  
blipey



Posts: 2061
Joined: June 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 18 2007,10:49   

Keiths:

thanks for the video link.  I had seen a small clip of this on 60 Minutes or some such, but had not seen the whole thing.  It is fascinating.

Reciprocating Bill:

Thank-you for te excellent response.  I had not thought about it in quite the "math is the exception" vein before.   Though, I suppose I should have--it makes all the sense in the world, children pick up languages very easily.

I do have a couple questions on the "canalization" of evolutionary adaptions now.  By "canalization" do you mean that certain selected factors (such as linguistic ability) are "more" hardwired into us than others?  Then, because of this, significant variations are harder to realise?

At the end you say that music and dance are somewhere in between.  In terms of selected features, this may or may not be true, I don't know.  There are musical savants such as Mozart that truly showed drastic variation within the population.  But, afaik, there aren't literary (I realise this is different than linguistic) savants.  No one is writing the next great American novel at age 6.

Music (and especially composition) is something most people need extensive tutelage and/or exposure to in order to become any good at all.  Poetry, or fiction wriing seems to me to be in the same boat.  Yet, we have musical extremes in the population and not(?) poetical or literary extremes.

Though, I suppose, music in some form has been around much longer than mathematics and may have more available ways to express itself.  Is this some state between "canalized" and freedom to have wider expression?

--------------
But I get the trick question- there isn't any such thing as one molecule of water. -JoeG

And scientists rarely test theories. -Gary Gaulin

   
Ra-Úl



Posts: 93
Joined: June 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 18 2007,12:35   

Cases of savant musical performers have been recorded, less of savant poets and novelists, but given the minuscule number of known savants I don't know what meaningful generalizations can be made. Henriett Seth F., a Hungarian, wrote novels and there are cases of savant composers. Do you use savant in the sense of autistic savant? Never really though of Mozart as an autistic savant. Rimbaud wrote verse in Latin well enough to win competitions, wrote 'The Drunken Boat' at 16 and by the time he abandoned writing at 19 had revolutionized French poetry, again, not a case I identify as an autistic savant. Outliers in the arts like Mozart and Rimbaud (Mozart more so) that bloom in childhood or the edge of puberty are not always classed as savants in the autistic sense. Often it seem s to me that savants have extreme gifts for memory and mimicry which I relate to art. I don't think I have an outstanding gift for language, but I found out at 42 that I understood and spoke Italian after about ten minutes with an old man who spoke French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Ladino; I had picked it up when my father studied it at home. I did not differentiate between written Spanish and Portuguese at round 7, and learned to read English and Spanish apparently on my own at the same time. I grew up in a very diverse environment with Portuguese, English, Italian, German, Yiddish, Hebrew and Ladino spoken in the neighborhood and picked up a lot of pieces, but only the Romance languages got organized enough, I suppose because of Spanish is my first language. I also know children who shift with amazing facility between English, Spanish, French and Hebrew, all spoken at home, and children in musical households who pick up styles and mannerisms of different genre of music when the perform, at a very young age, without training in those genre.
I started editing to take out the passive forms in the post and added several typos. . . Sigh.

Ra-Ul

--------------
Beauty is that which makes us desperate. - P Valery

  
Reciprocating Bill



Posts: 4265
Joined: Oct. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 18 2007,19:01   

Quote (blipey @ Mar. 18 2007,09:49)
I do have a couple questions on the "canalization" of evolutionary adaptions now.  By "canalization" do you mean that certain selected factors (such as linguistic ability) are "more" hardwired into us than others?  Then, because of this, significant variations are harder to realise?

At the end you say that music and dance are somewhere in between.  In terms of selected features, this may or may not be true, I don't know.  There are musical savants such as Mozart that truly showed drastic variation within the population.  But, afaik, there aren't literary (I realise this is different than linguistic) savants.  No one is writing the next great American novel at age 6.

Music (and especially composition) is something most people need extensive tutelage and/or exposure to in order to become any good at all.  Poetry, or fiction wriing seems to me to be in the same boat.  Yet, we have musical extremes in the population and not(?) poetical or literary extremes.

Though, I suppose, music in some form has been around much longer than mathematics and may have more available ways to express itself.  Is this some state between "canalized" and freedom to have wider expression?

To directly quote Ariew:  "Canalization denotes a process whereby the endstate (the product of development) is manifested despite environmental perturbations."  It is a nuanced expression of the notion of innateness that recognizes that while specific environmental conditions are required for the developmental emergence of virtually all traits, once those conditions are met for a highly canalized trait it will emerge within a "normal" range regardless of wide variations in environmental inputs.  

In this model canalization occurs on a continuum, with some physical structures and behavioral traits highly canalized by natural selection, others less so, and still others not at all.

See:  Ariew, A. (1999). Innateness is canalization: In defense of a developmental account of innateness. In V. G. Hardcastle (Ed.), Where biology meets psychology: Philosophical essays. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

I would guess that the ability to participate in musical activities is likely somewhere between mathematics and language - depending upon which phase of musical activity we consider.  The ability to enter into communal states of rhythm and singing has probably played a role in social cohesion and participation in "deep social mind" (after Andrew Whiten on the emergence of human theory of mind) throughout human history (and all the while subject to an incredible degree of cultural elaboration), and even small children enjoy and even organize similar activities.

Other elements, such as the deployment of complex systems of scales and harmony (e.g. the circle of fifths fixed by Bach in the Well Tempered Clavier), the invention of musical notation, and cultural inventions such as "composer,"  "performance," "sonata form" etc. are likely to be much more like mathematics, and hence require the tutelage to which you refer.

--------------
Myth: Something that never was true, and always will be.

"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you."
- David Foster Wallace

"Here’s a clue. Snarky banalities are not a substitute for saying something intelligent. Write that down."
- Barry Arrington

  
k.e



Posts: 1948
Joined: Mar. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 18 2007,20:18   

Quote (Ra-Úl @ Mar. 18 2007,19:35)
Cases of savant musical performers have been recorded, less of savant poets and novelists, but given the minuscule number of known savants I don't know what meaningful generalizations can be made. Henriett Seth F., a Hungarian, wrote novels and there are cases of savant composers. Do you use savant in the sense of autistic savant? Never really though of Mozart as an autistic savant. Rimbaud wrote verse in Latin well enough to win competitions, wrote 'The Drunken Boat' at 16 and by the time he abandoned writing at 19 had revolutionized French poetry, again, not a case I identify as an autistic savant. Outliers in the arts like Mozart and Rimbaud (Mozart more so) that bloom in childhood or the edge of puberty are not always classed as savants in the autistic sense. Often it seem s to me that savants have extreme gifts for memory and mimicry which I relate to art. I don't think I have an outstanding gift for language, but I found out at 42 that I understood and spoke Italian after about ten minutes with an old man who spoke French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Ladino; I had picked it up when my father studied it at home. I did not differentiate between written Spanish and Portuguese at round 7, and learned to read English and Spanish apparently on my own at the same time. I grew up in a very diverse environment with Portuguese, English, Italian, German, Yiddish, Hebrew and Ladino spoken in the neighborhood and picked up a lot of pieces, but only the Romance languages got organized enough, I suppose because of Spanish is my first language. I also know children who shift with amazing facility between English, Spanish, French and Hebrew, all spoken at home, and children in musical households who pick up styles and mannerisms of different genre of music when the perform, at a very young age, without training in those genre.
I started editing to take out the passive forms in the post and added several typos. . . Sigh.

Ra-Ul

Interesting, where was that Ra-Úl? Alway enjoy your posts btw.

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The conservative has but little to fear from the man whose reason is the servant of his passions, but let him beware of him in whom reason has become the greatest and most terrible of the passions.These are the wreckers of outworn empires and civilisations, doubters, disintegrators, deicides.Haldane

   
Ra-Úl



Posts: 93
Joined: June 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 19 2007,01:48   

ke
I'm from Colombia; I grew up in Bogota until I was twelve, and for a few years lived in a neighborhood with a Hebrew school, the Presbyterian school I attended, a building that housed my best friend's mixed Catholic-Jewish family, my German cousins, and the Ambassador of the UAR. My extended family was mixed even then, with Germans, Spanish, East Indians, and Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Here in the US we have the addition of Irish, Scots, Swedes, Italians, Filipinos and Thanksgiving dinners that couldn't be beat.

Ra-Ul

--------------
Beauty is that which makes us desperate. - P Valery

  
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