If some fetuses make choices, logically they have language


I have a flowering vine that chooses to release scent at sundown and into the early evening.

(Nick Levinson) #22

It’s interesting that some microorganisms and maybe some fetuses make choices (@Christy) as it means they’re selective and why they select what they select would be interesting to understand, in the case of fetuses because they become babies and adults and understanding their choices from an even earlier stage than now generally acknowledged would be interesting in understanding adults. It’s an additional means of understanding the world around us. It might lead to more social interaction between fetus and mother, although in the first years or perhaps decades it would likely be haphazard and mostly meaningless to one party and ineffectual for both (that’s part of a learning curve). For microorganisms, for those potentially helpful to humans we might want to learn how to encourage them to do what we want apart from breeding colonies through genetic selection and for those harmful to us we might want the additional tool of discouraging them, especially useful for any dual-use microorganisms that we don’t want to destroy. But I’m not worried about practical applications for the knowledge now. Curiosity is a good enough ground for many investigations and analyses, including this one.

You wrote, “all pure, untestable speculation”. Some; not all; it built on what is known of some microorganisms. Untestable, much of it, yes; we’ve had many as-yet-untestable hypotheses and some have eventually been proven wrong and others right and others remain unknown. Nothing wrong with figuring this out. The chemist’s table of elements took known data and built a theory around it that was used to predict the discovery of elements with certain characteristics and that turned out to be correct. Much of Einstein’s work was not proven until decades after he died. String theory, the last I heard, still is wanting for empirical proof and I read that Nobels are not granted without that.

As to fetuses, I made a list, mostly I think of signifieds that would be represented by noun-like symbols but some by verb-like symbols, some years ago and I might dig it up again soon. I think I included kicking as a possibiblity, but only as a possibility. Now, I was focusing on the principle of fetal choice.

You responded to my statement that “[b]y definition, without a signifier a potential signified cannot be a signified” with “[b]ut that has to do with communication, not thought. Concepts can exist mentally before they have words attached to them, before they can be communicated to others.” I am indeed posting about communication, including intrafetal communication. A concept needs a symbol for both internal and external communication. Try to develop one example of a signified perceivable by a person but without a signifier.

Communication need not be only with others, as noted above. It can be with self and is useful for memory and prognostication.

From me: “Those are social interactions.” Your response: “I don’t think they really count. The mother is not responding to the baby.” Yes, she is, even if only in the nearly minimal way of being assured that nothing bad happened due to her earlier transmission to the fetus. And if a sergeant says over an intercom that soldiers should stay where they are and then shuts off the intercom, we can still say that the sergeant communicated with the soldiers, even if the soldiers never in their lives talk to that sergeant and even if they disobey and go somewhere, as long as the soldiers understood the sergeant’s order.

You wrote, “Chomsky does not say that any actual language is hardwired into the brain . . . .” I didn’t write that he said that. I wrote “part” in “the part of natural language that is biologically determined (see the work of Noam Chomsky et al.)”.

Home heating systems (@Argon) probably don’t make choices like you or I do, not even when controlled for complexity or speed of choice (for example, a common thermostat is designed to always turn heat on when the sensed temperature rises past a user-preset threshold and never otherwise, so that would be classified more as an automatic response and not as a choice); but you might want to argue for a device run by artificial intelligence as harder for me to counter. AI now has practical applications (IBM says it has reinvented itself around AI and its Watson system). AI is still developing by following what is being learned about how humans think. I’m not an expert on AI, but I don’t think AI methodology other than speed has leapfrogged ahead of humans by much; computing often works in ways brains don’t but usually with definite limitations brains have less of, so AI and cybernetics (which Norbert Weiner wrote on in the ca. 1950s) are mostly behind where human brains are. So I’m not sure I’d use even AI as a model for choice in biological systems.

Philosophically, some argue that no one exercises any choice, because the universe is wholly predeterminative, meaning the Big Bang’s initial conditions determine what you and I do. If you’re outraged and say so, that, too, might have been inevitable. I prefer to live as if we have choice. Whether laboratory scientists are wrong to understand choice as they do has largely been settled in their field even though some (not all) philosophers would disagree.

Much of what used to be in the realm of philosophy has moved into realms of science, with scientific method, and I prefer things that way. Much in philosophy is inconsistent.

Inanimate objects are definitely not microorganisms. I don’t know whether microorganisms are composed partly of inanimate objects but I doubt they’re composed entirely of them unless every atomic particle and energy quantum is an inanimate object, which would make the term “inanimate object” largely pointless to use in discourse about life. So, given how we usually use that term, I doubt that a microorganism is entirely composed of inanimate objects.

I don’t and didn’t doubt that nonchoice phenomena occur in organisms of any size. I accept, without looking, that the Yi-Huang-Simon-Doyle paper supports nonchoice. I’ve been posting about “some” microorganisms. Showing an example that is not choice does not disprove that choice exists in some other circumstances.

You certainly may disagree with any scientific paper and the thinking behind it; many people disagree with many entire fields. I’m not scientists’ manager and issues with their fundaments should be taken up with them, as they can make warranted changes to their own papers. I wouldn’t agree that choice is impossible or can’t be found (if that’s even your view), since we tend to find it in most humans.

@beaglelady: I’d leave that (“I guess we can claim that plants make choices also” and your vine making a choice) to (I think) botanists to verify. I wrote of some microoorganisms and some other organisms (e.g., people) as choice-makers. I didn’t mention plants. If plants don’t make choices, that says nothing about whether some microorganisms do.

(George Brooks) #23


come on…

I’d say If microorganisms don’t make choices … it says nothing about whether some plants do.

Why don’t you start with defining consciousness?

Without consciousness, you don’t have choices, or language. And even the New Testament doesn’t seem to think consciousness is enough. Infants, toddlers and youths all are, for the most part, conscious. But not a single one of them gets baptized in the New Testament. Only adults.

The Catholic Church believes that children are baptized in an implied way. But that works best if there is at least one specific example of such a thing. And there isn’t.

So… why do I even care that festuses make choices and have a language? Sometimes my son’s mother was pretty sure he was running a tennis tournament in the womb… now That would be Interesting to document!

Please, can you stop dancing around with the rhetoric? Why does it matter if fetuses have language?


I never suggested that humans ‘make choices’ like thermostatic control systems. What I’m saying is that microorganisms can at best be thought to ‘make choices’ at a level more akin to thermostats than to what we classify as human decision making processes. This is evident in the reference you provided and in the bacterial chemotaxis system I referenced above. Specifically, E. coli exercises the same level of ‘choice’ in swimming toward a chemoattractant as a heating system does when turning on after temperatures drop below its setpoint. We can model such systems mathematically and physicochemically on the basis of how each component works. At no point in the math or the models does a human-like factor of ‘choice’ appear. No language either, just fundamental chemistry.

I don’t disagree with the authors of the paper you referenced earlier. I understand they are using the word ‘choice’ in a colloquial, anthropomorphic manner. I understand what they’re saying because I’ve worked in the same general field and am familiar with the literature and the particular lingo. My disagreement is with your interpretation of what the authors actually meant by ‘choice’.


I’m following your lead here. Why wait for botanists to verify? You haven’t verified your idea that fetuses make choices with any doctors, have you?


Nick, it might help if you could specify your operating definition for ‘choice’. What is involved in the act of choosing and what would constitute the most basic, simple example of an event where a choice would be made?

(George Brooks) #27

Nah… @Argon, it still doesn’t create a dog that hunts.

Let’s just agree - - fetuses have language.

Now what? It’s not like there is anything that can be done with that notion…

(Christy Hemphill) #28

Actually, Acts 16:31-33. Households included youths and children. It’s the major biblical argument for paedobaptism today.

(George Brooks) #29


I’ve already read this treatment before… yes, yes…

But without a single specific example, it’s merely implied… not specified. That’s the very definition of the distinction between “imiplied” and “specified”.


But wouldn’t a childless household be unusual? Or was that a criterion for having the household baptized?

(George Brooks) #31


I suppose a childless household would be unusual. But the question is not whether the household is childless, but whether there really was a practice of infant or toddler baptism in any of these households becoming Christian.

We assume it. It is plausible. And yet you would think there would be one documented case of a child being baptized somewhere in that book… and there isn’t.

It’s implied, not specified.

(Nick Levinson) #32

Matters of faith are best addressed by someone else, not me, and they are. I’m interested in science. And why it matters is already addressed above. What did you (@gbrooks9) think was merely rhetorical? I intended no mere rhetoric.

I haven’t seen a scientific claim that consciousness is needed for choice.

Practical applications can come later. They’re not needed in order to establish or disestablish the point.

That choice in those microorganisms that have it is less complex than that in humans is likely; I agree. I’ve replaced “language” in my conception of what happens with some microorganisms and some fetuses with biocommunication system that includes symbols, and that partly reflects the lower degree of sophistication. I didn’t define “choice” as I don’t want to go beyond what the paper said where it was found; and I don’t need to define it other than implicitly in that way, as none of us is arguing that any fetuses have choice but less than what the studied microorganisms had. Likewise, we don’t need an example of choice in microorganisms that have it beyond what the paper said in order to build on its point.

Whether E. coli is among the set of microorganisms said to exercise choice is something I don’t know and didn’t claim. Without such a claim, E. coli is irrelevant.

I haven’t addressed thought (@Christy) as a concept separate from communication. Less is necessary in thought than in communication. Thought may be prerequisite to communication but communication can accomplish more and that’s important.

If fetuses can’t have language because language is more sophisticated than biocommunications that include symbols, then it’s likely that neonates don’t have the full capacity for language either, even without awaiting words and syntactical rules, but develop that capacity until they can start to understand parents’ words and syntax. That seems plausible.

@beaglelady: I haven’t verified whether fetuses have language or biocommunication that includes symbols; I asked about fetal choice in an earlier topic linked to in this one and I built a logical basis for finding fetal language from what scientific research had already found about some microoorganisms and brought it up in this topic’s opening post in order to ask about the logic. Your points about plants don’t refute what I claimed and seem off-point. If you want to ask or explore whether plants choose, start a topic. There’s been much interesting research in botany in recent years and a new topic might bring it out.

(George Brooks) #33


Well, if we don’t need consciousness for choice, then you could just as easily present us with a case that rocks make choices as well.

I have no idea what you are doing here with this topic. I think you can cancel my ticket for the 2nd show.

Waiter ?


Children have always been welcomed into the faith. Baptism is analogous to the Old Testament rite of circumcision.

(George Brooks) #35


Yes, of course. You are speaking traditionally. And from the Roman Catholic viewpoint, you might even be speaking metaphysically.

But I also know that the Eastern Orthodox community has also written things along these lines:

“Frankly, the Church likes to baptize infants to give parents comfort, but not for any theological reason.”

I don’t have the time to find where I read that… but I did read it. The Eastern Orthodox communion is millions wide, and millions and millions deep (in the sense of time elapsed). The only reason I’m bringing up this point is that there are is lots of variation on what to do with the children …

Not everyone is sold on the Augustine formulation of Paul’s words…


Was that an official pronouncement from the EO church? If you don’t mind, please find a reference. The sacraments are not given simply to give parents comfort.

(George Brooks) #37


I’ll see what I can do.

Your lack of imagination regarding all the reasons why Churches do things is rather surprising to me.

That’s the point of traveling abroad … to find out that not everyone thinks like we do.


It shouldn’t be a matter of imagination. We should go by what the official doctrine of the church denomination is. I expect the same for my own church; you probably expect it for your own.

(Nick Levinson) #39

I don’t know the prerequisite/s for a microorganism to be able to make a choice, other than possessing a biocommunication system that can include symbols. We originally referred to self-consciousness and then to consciousness. But we adult humans likely make some choices subconsciously. If so, consciousness (self- or other-centered) may not be necessary to choice-making, but consciousness that includes sub- may be; that last I don’t know. No one’s claiming that a rock can make choices but they are that some microorganisms do. If those that do have consciousness or subconsciousness, then a requirement (if any) that (sub)consciousness be present is met. If they don’t have it, then there’s no such requirement.

(George Brooks) #40


Did I misunderstand you then? Your reaction to the the discussion I read in the Eastern Orthodox paper was your disbelief that it was different from your tradition.

Assuming I wasn’t imagining what I read, that would still be your reaction, yes?

Frankly (again, assuming I wasn’t imagining things), I was a little surprise to see the discussion go in that direction myself! I really had no idea there could be that much divergence on such a topic.

And then I was surprised yet again when the Russian Orthodox church basically agreed with the Roman Catholic position!