I want to follow out this idea of a bestiary of possible languages I raised a little earlier: the whales, the chimps. I have a bright student, a biology major, in my Imagining Science course this semester & this morning we watched fifteen minutes of an interview with Stephen J. Gould in which he was asked about the transgenic crossing of a human with a chimpanzee. Gould averred that it would be a very interesting experiment, but then stated unequivocally that "it must not be done" because, he said, it would be hard to imagine a more unethical experiment--an experiment that would produce, possibly, a being who would be able to use human language to tell us about "the chimp side of its nature," thus getting round the fundamental assumption behind Wittgenstein's remark, in Culture & Value, that, "If a lion could speak, we wouldn't be able to understand him." Anyway, my intelligent & sensitive student took Gould to task for impugning the value of chimp consciousness. "Many animals have languages," she said, "just different from ours." Since I had to get on to introducing the notion of paradigms that hour, I told her that we would spend an hour of class time later in the semester on problems of language, but suggested that whatever it is that animals are doing when they "communicate," it might be best to call it something other than language. What is much more difficult to explain to such a student is just exactly what it is about human language that differentiates it from all the other forms of animal communication with which we are familiar. Superficially, they look the same. But in fact I think we denature animals' i-behavior (where "i" stands, a little lamely, for "interaction") by equating it with human i-behavior; given what we know of biology, it appears that even plants exhibit i-behavior in the form of chemical secretions that are highly specific as to circumstances in the environment. What dolphins do, what tomato plants do, is amazing. We ought to stand in awe. Why do we need to believe that those beings are up to the same stuff we are up to? It's a big damn world.
Christopher Robinson & Joseph Duemer read Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations