Language Evolution and Tetris! Part 2

Ok, so my previous experiment was an incredible failure.  The program crashed in sixteen different ways, including suddenly deciding not to respond to key presses for no apparent reason.  A rather lazy Ghost in The Shell.  Although about 8 people participated, the data was unusable.  What on earth was I trying to achieve?

The experiment was a typical human Iterated Learning experiment (e.g. Kirby, Cornish, Smith, 2008) – there were a set of meanings (Tetris blocks) which varied along two dimensions (shape and colour).  Participants were shown the words for half of the meanings, but then asked to recall words for each meanings.  These responses were then given to the next participant as input.  Over time, other such experiments result in meanings which are compositional and more learnable.  However, the meaning space tends to ‘collapse’ as the same label is applied to many meanings.

I was trying to do an iterated learning experiment which teased apart the difference between labelling a form and labelling a function.  If participants label the function of an object, the environment will play a greater role in the evolution of the language.

There were two chains –  one played Tetris where you have to complete lines to score points – colours are irrelevant.  The other chain played “Coltris” where you scored points by placing more than 4 blocks of the same colour next to each other.  Also, each individual block in a brick finds its own lowest point (i.e. the brick breaks apart), meaning that shape is much less important. That is, for Tetris, the functionally salient feature was shape while for Coltris it was colour.

What I was hoping was that, for the Tetris players, the signal space would ‘collapse’ in the colour dimension.  That is, labels would distinguish bricks by shape, but not colour.  For the Coltris, the opposite should have happened – labels would have distinguished bricks by colour but not shape.

Gary Lupyan has shown that naming categories of objects can affect your perception of those objects (Lupyan, G. (2008). The Conceptual Grouping Effect: Categories Matter (and named categories matter more). Cognition, 108, 566-577.).  My experiment looks into where those distinct category names came from in the first place.  Having said this, the experiment would have been more neat than illuminating.

Oh Well.

Language Evolution and Tetris!

Hello, people of the Blogosphere!

Why not take some time out from your dedicated reading to do a little language evolution experiment!  And all you have to do is play Tetris!

The Evolution of Tetris

… and learn an alien language.  It takes no more than 10 minutes.

The instructions and game are here:

Due to me being a terrible programmer, it’ll probably crash or do some weird things.  But it’s all in the name of pseudo-science!

P.S. – users of the latest Firefox will need to update java.

Language Evolved due to an “animal connection”?

New hypothesis of language evolution. Language Evolved due to an “animal connection” according to Pat Shipman:

Next, the need to communicate that knowledge about the behavior of prey animals and other predators drove the development of symbols and language around 200,000 years ago, Shipman suggests.

For evidence, Shipman pointed to the early symbolic representations of prehistoric cave paintings and other artwork that often feature animals in a good amount of detail. By contrast, she added that crucial survival information about making fires and shelters or finding edible plants and water sources was lacking.

“All these things that ought to be important daily information are not there or are there in a really cursory, minority role,” Shipman noted. “What that conversation is about are animals.”

Of course, much evidence is missing, because “words don’t fossilize,” Shipman said. She added that language may have arisen many times independently and died out before large enough groups of people could keep it alive.

Nothing but wild conjecture as usual but still interesting.

Original article here.

Bayesian Bilingualism

Recently, David Burkett and Tom Griffiths have looked at iterated learning of multiple languages from multiple teachers (Burkett & Griffiths 2010, see my post here).  Here, I’ll describe a simpler model which allows bilingualism.  I show that, counter-intuitively, bilingualism may be more stable than monolingualism.

Continue reading “Bayesian Bilingualism”

Language – An Embarrassing Conundrum for the Evolutionist?

Hello! This is my first post on the blog and whilst I didn’t want it to be an angry rant after I found this youtube video there seemed little could have been done to avoid it.

This is a video by a creationist named “ppsimmons” who writes on the front page of his youtube channel that he “apologizes for not knowing enough to scientifically refute the evidence for creation nor for being clever enough to “scientifically” support the theory of evolution.” And yet he feels to be enough of an authority to make videos refuting evolution using ‘science’.

I know I shouldn’t let this annoy me as much as it obviously has, I know that there will always be creationists out there and I know that these creationists will never listen to anything I have to say. However, in this case, I’ve decided to respond mostly to set straight the interpretation of Robert Berwick’s words used in this video.

Continue reading “Language – An Embarrassing Conundrum for the Evolutionist?”

An article a day… starting some time soon

Having handed in my disseration and, with the notable exception of graduation, all but completed my course, I’m now free to spend much more time working on this blog. From now on I’m hoping to post at least an article a day — varying from research-related posts to just my reading for the day. Probably the most pertinent thing to write about is what I have been working on over these past few months, but being a precocious topic-hopper I’m going to provide a video of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an economist who appears to hold a lot of sensible views about the economy.

N.B. The video I was watching doesn’t appear to be compatible with wordpress. So, here is the link to that video, and the video below is a far shorter segment from Newsnight. It’s dumbed down to the extreme, but you get the gist of Mr Taleb’s stance. Enjoy.

BBC is impartial, apparently?

…Or so the news story goes:

BBC director general Mark Thompson said that if the corporation transmitted the appeal it would be “running the risk of reducing public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in its wider coverage of the story”.

It always amuses me how the BBC retains a sense of commitment to impartiality when it continually fails to adhere to these standards on an almost daily basis. A greater irony is that through their reluctance to broadcast the Gaza Appeal, the BBC inadvertently drew the attention of Tony Benn, who decided to tell everyone the charity’s address live on BBC News (scroll down article to see the video). So now I guess the BBC’s just left with its principles…

To donate, visit: (see BBC, it’s not that hard!)