The Conduct Science Podcast: Human Language – Timestamps
00:00 – Intro
01:16 – Factoids
09:54 – What is language?
16:25 – How did language evolve?
29:23 – The cognitive trade-off hypothesis
37:28 – How language affects how we think
47:29 – Guess that color!
50:13 – Language in the modern world
01:04:50 – Outro and ending
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Join Tom and Mitch as they explore the fantastic world of human language! Where did it come from, how did it evolve, why are we the only species that has developed it and how much does it affect the way we think? Language in the modern world is changing so rapidly with the internet and phones but is it a bad thing or is it simply the next evolution of language? Come and find out! Music by: Joakim Karud – https://soundcloud.com/joakimkarud.
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Human Language – Transcript
Tom: Hello Ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Conduct Science Podcast. But today we are deciphering how lexicographers used together the lexicon of language. If you want to check out all the latest goings on, you can go to conductscience.com. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter by searching @conduc science. And please use the #AskConductScience. We’d be more than happy to answer your questions on this show. I am your host Tom Jenks. Once again joined by the weaver of words, Mitchell Gatting.
Mitch: Hello there
Tom: And today’s topic is the human language. So Mitch, how are you? How are you doing today?
Mitch: Um, I’ve been better I’ve been bitten by a, a bit of the old hayfever bug, it’s come to town
Tom: Oh, I fell youI wake up every morning just getting smacked in the face with, hayfever, ah its a nightmare. Absolute nightmare.
Mitch: Yeah, it’s been really late this year. I’ve been a bit concerned because it normally it comes a bit earlier, but now it’s just twice as hard and just beating me. I’m not enjoying it, not enjoying it.
Tom: I even have to buy eyedrops. Oh, that’s, that’s our first. It’s a first for me. Yeah. But diverging already. We’re doing well, so yeah, today’s topic is the human language and as usual I’ve prepared some factoids for everyone. So I’ll jump in with the first one, which is in the world there are around 6,000 to 8,000 different languages, unique languages. And that completely depends on your definition of a language, which I’m sure we’ll come onto later. And we are losing about one language a week.
Tom: Yeah. One language a week is being lost.
Mitch: Would it be, would it be lost or to be like absorbed?
Tom: Um, it’s also because you got to think some languages, like 30 people speak them like Cornish.
Tom: I mean, so when the, the last of the line I suppose doesn’t pass that on, that’s when it becomes lost. I mean, you’ll still have the writing I guess, but maybe, I think this was to do with like commonly spoke.
Mitch: Yeah. So it’s a breakdown your fact to even more sub facts. Uh, 2,000 of those languages are in Africa. 2,250 of those languages are in Asia and quite surprisingly, only 220 of those languages are in Europe.
Tom: Wow. That is interesting. I guess, ah, I mean I think about Africa and Asia and I think about them having a lot more freedom in their history of that make sense a lot more. I Dunno. Cause like in Europe we kind of come together as like a big bunch, you know, one union obviously. So I don’t know whether that’s anything to tie in with it or.
Mitch: Um, it, I think it comes down to a lot about the uh, influences in like the time zones and well as in like historical time zones. Uh, they had Latin and then Romans and then people broke off from that. And then you’ve got the different subsets from the base. Uh, I think they’re called groups of languages. Okay. And a group language is a language with a common origin. So Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, a lot of those have, um, Latin roots. Whereas we’ve, uh, Europe kind of got invaded many times and had many conqueror that were sort of branched over the whole of it. Um, Africa didn’t really have that. Well obviously there’s, there were times where there were conquerors but didn’t have like a ruling over everything. So it was more tribal based. Uh, I think the same goes for Asia where you had the different sort of, um, what What would you call them?
Tom: Conglomerations like little societies I guess.
Mitch: Yeah, around like different like mountain ranges you’d have different like they speak one specific way. Um, and then coastal like so far away that they see something else like, and it’s so vast. So…
Tom: And I know in like places like Papua New Guinea, um, it’s a, it’s a very small island and they have huge, like concentration of different languages. You can walk one mile and there’ll be speaking a completely different language. Like you wouldn’t be able to interchange information between those two people. That being said, 23 languages, account for over half the world’s population. So that’s, I guess comes down to the Chinese English, Spanish being big three Russian as well.
Mitch: Yeah, I was gonna say tRussain… Indian. Um, if you want a big umbrella, you could technically say African
Tom: That would be a massive umbrella. Dutch, I think all variations of Dutch are quite far round Afrikaans being a variation of Dutch.
Mitch: Yeah, definitely. Definitely Canadian. Yeah, they are. .
Tom: . Um, one interesting fact that I didn’t realize was half the world’s population is bilingual, which means here in Britain we’re doing absolutely horrendously. We are, we are not doing very well at all. We’re very lazy in that fact consideringEnglish is a very widely spoken language yet unfortunately a lot of people don’t stick to,
Mitch: I think that’s very like egotistical of us. Like it’s ingrained. Like everybody else speaks English so you know, the agreed common language. So we’re fine.
Tom: Yeah. It’s pretty awful us to be honest. But I think that a lot of people more and more do try when they go abroad. They’re not just in a restaurant shouting in English, uh, as if that would help the waitress or waiter understand better. Which I’ve seen. .
Mitch: I have also seen that, but I think that’s diminished, but that’s got more to do with the connectivity that we kind of a movement as a human race that we have now compared to maybe 20 to 30 years ago.
Tom: Yeah. I guess the language isn’t so foreign anymore. If that’s the right word to use?
Mitch: That’s a pretty good statement, yeah I like that. Language in foreign anymore and the barrier to learn is lower because there’s more resources now than there would’ve been.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. It’s far not easier to learn than it was before, but a lot more accessible, at least.
Mitch: I don’t know. I think that attributes to the ease of learning because if you’ve only got one book, like back in the day you had to go to your library and pick out a Spanish book it’d be very difficult, but now you’ve got like DuoLingo There’s many online resources that you can actually speak to people and you can have a conversation with can’t remember what the websites called.
Tom: Babel is really good!
Mitch: Is that the one where you like, say what you’re trying to learn and then someone else says, well, they’re trying to learn. And then you have to have like a partner and you speak in their language and they speak in your language and you have to like chat for a little bit.
Tom: That’s a really a good way to do it. Because the best way, I’ve spent the past, I guess near on six months in Italy and so I’m trying to learn Italian. And the best way really is just to speak with native speakers. So that is a fantastic way to facilitate that actually has a really good idea.
Mitch: Yeah. Do you know what they do in the military? What’s that? They change or every piece of technology they use to be that language they’re trying to learn. So their laptop, their phone, everything will be in say, yeah, they’re trying to learn like mandarin, not Mandarin. That’s a bad example. That’d be very difficult to learn as a communactor.
Tom: Another Latin rooted language. Alphabetical.
Mitch: Yeah, but say they were trying to learn like Spanish. Everything on their computer would be put Spanish. They would like go to only like Google dot.sp I think it is. Just everything would be in Spanish. It’s like, trial by fire. Because there’ll be a very difficult grace period of you not being able to go round anything.
Tom: And that doesn’t exactly help with the speech aspect.
Mitch: Yeah. More just read aspect of things.
Tom: But that is important, especially with like Spanish and Italian, the way every time you see a letter it is pronounced the exact same way every single time. Whereas in English it’s incredibly variable and that’s one of the things that makes it so difficult.
Mitch: Yeah. Compared. Yeah. Also with like Asian languages their like, a symbol will be one way of saying it and then two symbols will be a completely different way of saying it. And then the three symbols would be the same way, but said with a higher inflection.
Tom: Yeah. Uh, which will mean something completely different.
Mitch: Yeah. So, um, there’s a lady that I work with and she went to China and I can’t remember the word for thank you is but the way that you say thank you as you go, uh, uh, higher pitched in the middle. I think it’s like shi-shi (xièxiè) or like that sort of thing but her friend was saying it wrong and going slightly lower in the middle. So instead of saying thank you, she was saying Washie Washie and I liked that small pitch change in the middle of the word completely changed it.
Tom: Yeah. It’s very subtle compared to our language or it seems anyway.
Mitch: So it’s comparing like um, euro languages to Asian languages.
Tom: Yeah. My last factoid that I’ve got here is there are over 200 made up languages that are fully developed that you could like learn. For example, you’ve got elvish and Dwarvish from Lord of the rings. You’ve got Na’vi from Avatar Dothraki, Klingon. These are all languages you can fully learn and kind of have some sort of conversation with for all the nerds out there. There is hope. There is hope.
Mitch: There is hope for you to speak another language if you want to speak in Klingon.
Tom: Yeah, I guess we should kind of move on to what is a language then since this is kind of underpinning obviously the the episode and, Oh God, I found this so hard. This was the hardest part of the research was actually finding out what people think of languages.
Mitch: Yeah. I like, I fell into a lot of pitfalls and a lot of recurring themes that I wasn’t really sure about. So in a lot of the definitions that I found, it said the method of human communication specifically having Human in it. Yeah, and I was like surely animals communicating through, I don’t know howls or clicks or ticks, like I’m a dolphin and that would be considered a language, but a lot of these definitions said no. It’s only the method of human human communication either spoken or written.
Tom: Yeah, it’s tricky isn’t it? Because I think language at the center of what it can do is provide information to others that they wouldn’t otherwise have and allow you to implant an image into your head. I can manipulate your thoughts by telling you a sentence essentially. So if we assume that is a relatively correct definition, whether it applies to animals or humans, you’ve got to wonder whether animal communication does the same or is it just there’s a Predator here? And that doesn’t implant an image, that’s just an input. No. Yes. Okay. React as an input. React kindthing.
Mitch: I see, so it’s more than intrinsic impulse then a way of communicating.
Tom: Yeah. Whether that applies to higher vertebrates, like Cetaceans. Um, I wrote a paper, not a published one, obviously I’m not that far yet. Um, I wrote a paper on marine mammal vocalizations, so I looked at sperm whale coda’s and I think southern right whales and humpback whale. And it was very interesting. And they’re very intricate and like mother and calf pairs have very unique language between them. So if you go to one mother and calf, there’ll be speaking in a certain dialect, let’s say. Um, and then you go to another one and they’ll be speaking in a completely different one and it’s unique to that mother calf pair. But at the same time, we don’t know whether they are putting those thoughts and images and into the mind of the other or it’s just an input reaction kind of thing.
Mitch: So you’re saying that there’ll be a like a Scouse whale and then like a Geordie whale and then that their dialect is slightly different,
Tom: I guess with sperm whales dialects, it’s a bad example. But with killer whales and Orca, they definitely have dialects. They, there’s been, they’ve done a lot of work on their, on their patterns, their chirping patterns or their coda’ss, uh, what it is with sperm whales and they’ve analyzed it. And whilst kind of the base structure is the same, they have different dialects and it is 100% regional. So the ones from the Antarctic speak differently to the ones in Canada, for example. Whether they could communicate between them, I don’t know. But I also don’t think they would ever meet in the wild either. So maybe that’s something we cannot test.
Mitch: Yeah. Without being immoral about it.
Tom: Yeah. Uh, the dictionary does say, uh, as you rightly said, the method of human communication either spoken or written consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. But then language scientists kind of differ from that. From what I found in it. They, they, they can’t really seem to agree.
Mitch: Yeah. That’s one thing, that I found is there’s not real much, there’s some hypothesis that I kind of agreed, but there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t agreed and lot of stuff that still isn’t known. So that that definition that you just used is consisting of the use of words is something that could be argued because there’s what linguistic communication, which is just, you know, expressing opinion, which is command saying things. But there’s also non-linguistic communication such as laughing, smiling, shrieking, anything. And he said it’s like any type of communication that doesn’t involve words explicitly. So that Oxford dictionary definition goes against what the, actually you could argue is topic communication or go a language.
Tom: Yeah. I guess if we went back to be able to plant an idea in your mind. Would you be able to do that with body language and taking out the aspect of say sign language for example? Uh, cause then obviously yes you can,
Mitch: Well then there’s the argument and then like what’s the point of laughing then? Cause you’re not technically trying to communicate anything apart from that’s funny. Or I find I specifically find this one thing funny, it’s,
Tom: Yeah, I guess it’s a form of social acceptance and engagement.
Mitch: Yeah. And a lot of, I would say why we speak and why we communicate the way we do. There’s a lot to do with our societal trends. That make sense?
Tom: Yeah. 100%. So Charles Hockett in 1960s he tried to define the language like universally and he came up with like 13 features of a language. But some of them we know that aren’t needed anymore. Like he’s had speaking and hearing well we know that deaf people can sign and they have a equally as intrinsic and difficult, I guess concept of languages as hearing people do. He says that language has to be arbitrary. So that kind of means that the words themselves, like a book, it doesn’t describe what a, what the book is. You just know I’ve got a book like object in my hand. If that makes sense. What else have you got here that’s kind of not being discounted now? Speed generative. So there are a limited number of units that combined to produce an unlimited number of sentences. So there are sentences that you will go through your life never hearing and have never been uttered before. So that’s very interesting. But, and some of those things still hold true. There are 13 I won’t go through them all, but some of them have been kind of discounted and our concept of language is constantly evolving.
Mitch: Yeah. So there’s many things that we We’re going to dive into evolve, like involving evolving of languages and a bunch of those things that you just mentioned.
Tom: That’s a good segway into how did it evolve. And again, this is highly contested. This is, Oh God, May. This makes my brain hurt when I was like watching talks and researching about about this. I think that one of the best ones to kind of start off with and highly popular is Noam Chomsky. Did you come across him?
Mitch: Yeah, so I managed to drill it down into two camps. There’s two people. The first camp is the evolutionary adaption to survive that’s the first one. So we evolved and underwent some change in the process over time. To survive and in that process, communication via language was part of it. So, and the second theory, which is a second camp is your boy Noam Chomsky, is that we went through another evolutionary process that resulted in our brains becoming bigger I think in that essentially by-product of this evolution was that we could then communicate better and not a specific adaptation. If that makes sense.
Tom: Okay. Um, so Noarm Chomsky, his like underpinning theory was language developed from a single mutation and then kind of spread from there. So there was a single mutation that maybe caused this brain enlarging and vocal, what’d you call it? Like evolution I guess. But he kind of said the, I developed from a single mutation and it was kind of like suddenly there. And it’s widely acceptable and lots of linguists say this is very plausible. However, I think if you were to ask a biologist or an evolutionist the same. You can’t say that it is because if you take evolution and you say like the, the kidney evolved over hundreds of thousands of years or thousands of years at least because it’s very complex and we think of language as being very complex. Surely it would have have all have evolved in the same way. I wouldn’t have just suddenly been there.
Mitch: Yeah. That’s if you’re thinking that it was a evolutionary trait, but both comes do. So I think that is one thing that people agreed on that is from some form of evolution. The thing that I got from Noam was that the, in the article that I read about it was that the idea that language was a spandrel. So what Spandrel is specifically in like a mechanical terms is if you have a square and you put a circle in that square, that on touches on either side, you’ve got the corner pieces. So those are all like a by-product of you putting the square and the circle together. So it’s that we are the square, the circle is the evolution of our brain size is increasing. And as a byproduct, we’ve got this space here that is communication. So yeah, there’s, there’s that.
Tom: I came across another very interesting theory that I thought I’d, I’d never heard of or even obviously I didn’t think of before, which was that language came around because of social learning and theft. So for example, we think of chimpanzees and higher apes as smart because they use tools to get termites out of a tree or from a bee’s nest. Uh, they get honey with like sticks and stuff like that. But if they could communicate, if they could learn socially, they could really communicate, their tools would get better over time. Right? So with Homo Erectus, we can see that they made quite an efficient handaxe. But for 1 million years, that design never changed for 40,000 generations. They never managed to pass on maybe a better understanding of how to build a better axe, what works best. So when they think that social learning started to come in, that we could express ideas like language obviously was a complete facilitator for that. Uh, being able to communicate with each other. So that’s what they call cumulative cultural evolution in a big group. Everyone’s got lots of ideas so we can together like evolve and everything around us comes from that. The lights in our room, that computers, our phones, everything really comes from us being able to communicate and work together. However, say I was teaching my offspring to build a really good handaxe and my neighbor’s offspring or my neighbor was there listening in. It would be unbeneficial for me to leak that information to a com-competitor and evolutionary competitor, you know, who might take my resources. So our neighbors, for example, maybe not like next door neighbor, but neighboring tribe. So they think language came around in a way to isolate individual like families or tribes so that their information couldn’t have been taken by unwanted people. So it means that my, as groups like got larger and evolved to combat this visual theft, instead of being able to just show you with on my hands how I’m doing it, I can explain it to you and much more detailed without the risk of someone else getting the same information and perhaps beating me to the prize.
Mitch: Okay. Yeah, that’s, I can get onboard with that.
Tom: And that all comes along with being a, bipedal, bipedal because as we stood up from being, you know, the apes that we once were, it freed up our hands for gestures. Like especially Italians. They’re very, you know, gesture oriented. They can speak without, you know, using their words. Not that I’m saying that apes of course , but um, yeah, so freeing up our hands allowed us to create gestures and you know, communicate in that way. But then as we started making tools, our hands were tied down again. Now we are carrying a spear or something like that. So we needed another way to communicate and vocally was possibly the best and most convenient way to do that. So that’s why I came up with, that’s the theories that I found. I kind of went, okay, I have four more, fall more in line with this then definitely Noam Chomsky I think.
Mitch: Yeah. So him being the second camp, the first, the first camp, which was evolutionary adaptation, which aligns a bit of what you just said. Um, so some researchers called Steven Pinker and Paul Boom. I’m not sure if you found them in your travels.
Tom: No, I don’t think I did. My travels across the web.
Mitch: Yeah. Uh, in their paper, natural language and natural selection, they are theorize that a series of calls of gestures evolved, um, over time into a combination of complex communication or language. So their theory was that as things became more complicated around us when we were in that stage of sort of using tools hunting, that sort of, that scenario, humans needed a more complex system to convey the more complex information to one another. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Um, the example that they gave was that if a early man sees a group of deer, he wants to hunt, he grunts it down to his partner. That means there’s a deer nearby a on one day a storm comes in and the hunter notice that the thunder scares the deer away. As a result, the hunter goes hungry until the storm passes. Over time, the same hunter also learns to recognize the warning signs of bad weather, dark skies, and increased wind. And the early man realizes that when the sky darkens and the wind picks up, he needs to tell his hunting partner to speed up the pursuit of the deer. Therefore comes up with a series of grunts that referenced both the deer and the bad, weather that series of grunts was the beginning of an evolutionary adaptation that eventually became a language.
Tom: Okay, so are they saying this happened in one individual? Or this would have happened over generations?
Mitch: That would have happened over generations. I think what they’re saying is as we became like we use more tools, we found more things out about the world. We realized things are more complex. And because things are more complex, we needed a more complex way of communicating those things. Things evolved from just a grunt to two grunts to three grunts to okay, we need to grunts and then some clicks. So you’ve got grunt then a click and then okay, that’s not enough. We now, it’s like saying if you had like three, the three main colors when you have like grunts, two grunts, three grunts in there. Okay, that’s great. Where are you gonna combine to those colors? You’ve now got four colors that you need to do. So you go grunt two grunts through grunts. Okay. Well four grunts is a bit ridiculous to be doing this. Just created another noise for the fourth color and then continuing on, you’ll eventually get to a point where you’ve got a very complex sort of system that you can use to describe things.
Tom: Yeah, that seems logical. I can get behind that.
Mitch: So that’s the difference is that they believed that it was an evolutionary adaptation that went over time and that wasn’t just a byproduct of our brains getting bigger.
Tom: Yeah, no, I think that’s correct. And then we also from that have to assume that language kind of started that process before homo sapiens were formed. You know, this kind of started in homo erectus or something like that.
Mitch: Yeah. And then that would be the underpinning. Grunting would be the basis and then as it went further on, yeah,
Tom: and one of the like the tradeoffs evolutionary trade-offs was so you know, the larynx is kind of where our vocal chords are. It’s what we use to compress air to speak in every single other mammal. It is really high on the throat. It literally, so its main purpose is to stop food going down the Esophagus, the windpipe, so you can’t choke and it in us, it’s moved further down. In other mammals it’s literally a stopper. It is like impossible to get food past it. Unless it’s small enough. So the tradeoff was it must have been incredibly beneficial for us to move that larynx out of the way and be able to speak, but also give us the risk of choking. I mean choking is one of the highest risks of death as a human.
Mitch: Is it? Is that is that a legit, have you been away and found that, that, that the fact?
Tom: Yeah. Uh, um, so I was listening to the infinite monkey cage as I normally do. Very interesting. And they had a linguistic expert, evolutionary expert on, and she was like, this was her theory that she’d been working on. And especially in people who have strokes for example, and they kind of lose a bit of control over their mouth. Their number one, risk becomes choking and choking is a, I mean, what if you’re just lazily chewing your food and you don’t swallow it properly and then your dead, you know, it’s something that can happen to everyone. So that was like kind of her argument for that.
Mitch: Yeah. Well cause can’t don’t, babies have the ability to swallow and to breathe at the same time, but that’s gets lost.
Tom: Do they? wow I’ve never heard of that!
Mitch: I’m pretty sure, uh, at like an early age.
Tom: How though?
Mitch: Why and how does the human babies swallow and breathe at the same time at birth, At birth, the epiglottis and soft palate touch during quiet respiration with the mouth closed. During breastfeeding, the larynx elevates which allows the epiglottis to interlock with the soft palate. This allows the baby to breathe and swallow at the same time. Adults can breathe through the nose where newborn baby isn’t forced to breathe through the nose as it, I don’t always. So yeah. As a, as a baby. Um, is it swallowing? There’s many different arguments and stuff, but
Tom: That’s a whole rabbit hole… that’s next week’s episode! No I’m joking
Mitch: Well it seems like a, they don’t swallow, but they kind of like open their throat.
Tom: Uh, okay. So, um, in which case it’s, oh, that would make more sense. Yeah, for sure. It’s like someone downing a beer at the pub. They just open their throat.
Mitch: Yeah. Like I’ve, I, this is a rabbit hole. Apparently mouth breathing is very bad and it not healthy habit. .
Tom: . All right then. What for babies?
Mitch: No, for just humans, just humans in general.
Tom: Damn mouth breathers.
Mitch: Yeah. Filthy mouth breathers. .
Tom: . Um, so one of the other evolutionary tradeoffs that I became very interested in was the cognitive tradeoff hypothesis. Um, I don’t know if you’ve looked into this.
Mitch: Yeah, yeah I did some research into this as well.
Tom: So it basically tries to answer the question, why haven’t other animals developed languages? So the, the best example to look at is a chimpanzee because if you look at their oral structures, they have, you know, it’s not too different from ours at all. It seems like they would have the complete ability to replicate our sounds and languages if they wanted. And you can train, you can like train a chimpanzee to use sign language and you can have a conversation and it’s not going to be the most indepth conversation you’ve ever had. However, you know, they can answer your questions or tell you where things are and things like this. So Tetsuro Matsuzawa who’s from Kyoto University in Japan, is championing this research and he’s doing amazing work for this side of science. And you know, he looked at the brain structure between human and chimp and it’s like it’s pretty much identical. So where does language fit in? So he devised a test for these chimpanzees and it’s completely like they do it of their own free will. They come in to the test chamber only if they want to do it. Otherwise it’s complete free range facility. And what they do is they show these chimpanzees as number sequence from one to 10 and it’s one to nine on the screen, right? As soon as they click the number one, all the other numbers are covered with squares and they have to remember whereabouts on the screen, on the screen, what they were and what square they were under. And they’re given 0.3 seconds to do this and they can do it. So in 0.3 seconds they can remember exactly where nine digits are on a screen covered by a box and the exact order. Humans cannot do this. They, they just can’t do it. You can go on. If you type it in, you can go to Google, the cognitive trade off hypothesis, you will find a test to be able to do this yourself and try it is so hard. I failed miserably and gave up pretty quick. So what they think is that we have lost our short term memory detail aspect of our brain and we have gained the vocal language aspect. And when you compare the parts of the brain that these are in, in compared to the humans and the chimp, it’s very similar area as well. So they’re thinking this is really what’s happened because chimps, you know, they live in the, now they live in the immediate, you know, is there a predator? How many are there? What do I need to do? And so they’re thinking as chimps kicked us out of the forest and into the open Savannah cause that’s the running theory of what happened. We didn’t need our detailed short term memory anymore. And communication cooperation was the driving factor through our survival. But yeah, so that’s something I thought so interesting. I was like, oh God, I could do a whole episode on just this. I think if I, if I needed.
Mitch: See I, some research on this as well by also drilled down into the problems with this research.
Tom: Oh, fantastic. See, this is why I have you on! Come challenge my ideas.
Mitch: Yeah. So there’s like three loose things I found about it. So one is that we have the same brain structures chimps is what you thought you said, but we have three times as many neurons as the chimps. So there wasn’t any like necessity into us losing anything to gain these new facilities of talking because there wasn’t any sort of preclude to an evolutionary bottleneck of us being like, we don’t have the facilities to do both. That was the first day I came up with.
Tom: My immediate thoughts. That would be, okay. So does neuron density directly match up with the ability to have dual control of this, for example. So we have the visual cortex and it takes up maybe the same amount of space as it used to, but maybe now we’ve got more neurons there. But maybe we just have a more powerful visual Cortex, not a, an ability to do more with those neurons. Does that make sense?
Mitch: You’ve just mentioned the Cortex, which is my second issue.
Tom: Oh yeah.
Mitch: Was that um, well the video shows, which is part of the, um, the doctor Matsuzawa um, where he showed was short term memory, which in humans is mediated by the limbic system and not by the cortex. Cause in two different locations in the brain that are firing between the two different animals. So only we have concentration does the memory my great to the Cortex, the limited resources, there might be the source of the tradeoff, but then again, our larger number of neurons might mitigate the tradeoff.
Tom: Yeah, that makes sense.
Mitch: And then the third one was the recent evolution of chimps or humans are being completely different environments with different survival needs. So the difference might be additive rather than a tradeoff. So instead of it being a cognitive trade off, it’s a cognitive adaptation due to environmental circumstances.
Tom: Yeah. And allowing us to shift our memory power that we didn’t need anymore anyway. To rather than, as you say, being a trade off. Just a complete adaptation in itself.
Mitch: Yeah. And to build upon, the last one is kind of like the overarching loading into that is like humans have much more of an open social structure or we have successfully proven our abilities to live in crowded cities of tens and thousands of like in one place. Doing so kind of requires a shorter term memory in the essence of social cohesion and sort of, what would you call it?
Mitch: Well, yeah, the day to day runnings of how you interact with people that aren’t like you don’t hold grudges. Grudges dis dissipate there not hold for generations. You don’t need to like remember sort of names that you meet with people in the street. That’s not how we work as a society unless we have been introduced and you are there for while then you do. So there’s that.
Tom: That would presume then it’s a very fairly new adaptation going back a couple of thousand years.
Mitch: Yeah. But then compared to what was the, is it primates that they did it on? Orangutans? What were the test subjects for the other one,?
Mitch: Chimpanzees, they have a very delicate social cohesion. Um, where one incorrect howl or if you have the hunting and one person does something wrong specifically it can cause like unbalances and injustices is that they will remember for a long time whereas that won’t work in a human social structure. Yeah, for sure. So that’s one of the reason why that the different trade offs may not work in comparison to why there’s a trade off.
Tom: Yeah. Okay. I can get behind that. That makes sense. Definitely. So the economy’s tradeoff hypotheses or something I hadn’t heard of before and I was like, oh this is really interesting and you can check out a lot more about that. Vsauce did a really good video on it and that’s about 20 minute deep dive into everything. And they actually went to see Tetsuro Matsuzawa at Kyoto. But obviously in that they didn’t include these plot holes, which I feel stupid right now for not looking at, .
Mitch: . No. Yeah. I had to go do a little searching to find them because it is quite agreed hypothesis now. That it works in this, this way. So like obviously, oh, I take everything with a pinch of salt. Gotta be like, well, why does this not work? Um,
Tom: No but that’s a, that’s perfect. That’s exactly what everyone should be doing. And that is science, isn’t it? That is what science is
Tom: But that, that goes on very well to how our society shapes our language and even how our language shapes us and the way we think. So was it last episode or the episode before? You’re talking about the Lancaster bilingual studies? And how they perceived time three, wasn’t it?
Mitch: Three episodes ago yeah.
Tom: How they perceived durations. So that was incredibly interesting and I looked a bit more into that kind of thing. And this woman had a, had done a study with this Australian aboriginal tribe called the Kukatja, and they use cardinal directions only. So if I said to you, uh, you know, the pen on the, your cup is to your left, right. They wouldn’t say that. They’d say your cup is to your south east or move your cup a little east for me please.
Mitch: See. Yeah. I think I’ve come across this before where a lot, there’s a lot of people that, uh, due to their environment and survival, they need to know which way’s south, east. Like they know they need to know points on a compass, variable to their location. And using that as their sort of, because it wouldn’t be like they’re sat at a table randomly and they would say like, I’ll do it east. They would actually be like, oh, move your, um, move your bowl or plate nautical west. You see what I’m saying?
Tom: Well, what do you mean nautical west in that sense? You mean it would be to that persons nautical west?
Mitch: No, no. So it has actually the nautical west as in, it’s a compass west, not just that person’s west.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry. Yeah, that’s what I was meaning to. Yeah. And what you were saying about orientation, is that absolutely correct. So these people say stay oriented incredibly well and much better than like evolutionary theorists thought the first humans could back. You know, when we were roaming the Savannah and things like that, they didn’t think it was possible to stay this oriented because they can go into a building, they can, you know, stay preoccupied for a very long time and then you can ask them are west, south, south, east and they’ll just instantly tell you. Whereas I can’t do that in my own home.
Mitch: Uh, I think I used to not be able to do it, but as I’ve used, uh, like Google, this could sound very like ah, technological like addicted here. Uh, as I’ve used, um, Google maps a lot more like get to places. I’m much more aware at where my north like compass north is. Like right now, like at any point in the house, I could tell you which way north is
Tom: And I guess once you establish that, you always know that wall is north.
Mitch: Yeah. So I noticed specifically that like to my left that is always going to be north. There’s also, like the sunsetting, so you know, I know she wastes west, but I think going to places, using Google maps is it orientates itself. So it’s north. So if I get to a place, I know that if I park on this street here and going this direction, I know that if I go to the house, the front door faces north.
Tom: Okay. See I always have it zoomed in on the car. So it orientates itself with the car. So it doesn’t point north whenever I’m a,
Mitch: Oh, I know. Yeah. I’m not one of those barbarians that watches on a map, no, no, I have that as well. But I mean like when you get there, it then goes, oh you are here, this is, you’re on the map. And then you go, okay, like this is, and then it, then it, then it automatically goes to north as up the screen.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. These people also have like a very different perspective of time, but not in the same sense as the bilingual study. So if you ask kind of, you know, an English speaker, the direction of time, they’ll say oh its… they’ll usually draw an arrow from left to right. And that’s the way we write Arabic. Normally draw from right to left. That’s the way they write. But this tribe time isn’t tied to the person. You know, we of think as time as very personal thing, like our time moves forward. But this tribe think that time is tied to the landscape and moved from east to west. So no matter where you ask them, they will always just kind of point along the floor from east to west in that direction and saying, well that’s the way time goes.
Mitch: I like that. Kind of poetic in a way. Because it’s the movement of the sun, isn’t it?
Tom: Yeah, exactly. And there’s some languages I found, you don’t think about it. You know, especially with English and today’s study, we use numbers so much. There’s some language that don’t have a number list. Like they don’t have words for numbers above like five.
Tom: Yeah. So with like English, we know how to count the total. You Go, you know, if you got a bunch of balls in front of you, you go, right. There’s one, two, three, four, five, six. And the last number you said is the total amount of balls there are. There are some languages that, because they don’t have a number list, they can’t tell you the total number that they have real problem tracking totals of numbers or numbers of things because it doesn’t exist in their language.
Mitch: Imagine being like one, one, one, one, one. Ah, no dunno how many there are.
Tom: I imagine it, it’s like obviously, maybe it’s like below 10 or something, you know, do with like simple trading purposes? You’ve got to have some concept of numbers or you might just say, Oh, I’ve got three and two. Rather than saying I’ve got five. But I think these are probably more for the tribal and not, I don’t want to say simplistic languages cause they’re not more simple to us, but if, you know what I mean with that?
Mitch: Yeah. Yeah. There’s another interesting thing about you say numbers that, um, I’m not sure if this goes beyond and goes into the realm of what you’re saying, but I know as English speakers, uh, our brains can automatically recognize up to five things. And without training this as much as we can. So if you, um, saw four dots in a wall, you don’t have to count each one and your brain can just be like, “bink” it’s four and if you see 5 five, it just gives like “bink” it’s five a nine. You kind of have to be like, okay, well there’s five and then four, so there’s nine.
Tom: Oh, that was exactly how my head process works. Yeah. .
Mitch: Yeah. So, um, that’s something that you can train. So I’m not sure like, uh, like you can be like, okay, you can, I think like on a brain training app that are like, you have to do it really quickly and then over time it adds more. And then when it adds more, you can be like, okay, I can recognize up to eight. I can recognize up to nine instantly. Um, and then
Tom: I’ll get my Nintendo ds out with the brain. .
Mitch: . Um, well I wonder if that affects those group of people. Like do they have the ability to be like, okay, well there’s a of like full things over there. Do they, would they be able to be like,
Tom: I’d presume they’d know it? because it’s difficult isn’t it? Because you’ve got to presume, okay. Is that just a human thing? But just because we’ve given a word to it, we immediately kind of make that association. But if they do have numbers below five or 10, then you, you presume that they could do that. Or, I would. Anyway. I remember you speaking about colors. What was it, say a couple of episodes ago, you said like if someone you know, has their Durex… dulex “Durex”
Mitch: . This podcast is brought to you by a Durex family friendly entertainment. .
Tom: . Uh, something you said a couple of episodes ago is if you have your Dulux color chart out and you look at it often, you can tell different shades of colors if you give them names. It’s a lot easier for people to do that. Who can, who often look at different shades of colors in English. We are very geeneral with our colors. We say, oh that’s blue. But it doesn’t give an indication at what type of blue that is. In Russian for example, they have a word for light blue and a word for dark blue, they are totally separate words. It’s not just light blue and dark blue. They are distinguished separate colors.
Mitch: I would say Navy
Tom: Yeah, that’s fair. But Russian people are far, much faster at figuring out different shades of colors than English speakers are, because they have this different association of names.
Mitch: Yeah. So I recently, uh, was at a pre drinking scenario session. Um, personally wasn’t drinking, I was being a sensible driver. Um…
Tom: Good good.
Mitch: But there was this game that we, uh, we have to go round in the group and then part it, it was just a mini game of, you had to point and name things in the room that were blue. Right. And, uh, the group of people I with were a group of like a VFX artists and artists. And it caused a massive commotion because I pointed out this like, um, box of blister plasters that I was like blue and they were like, it’s teal. I was like, I’m pretty sure that it’s a type of blue in there. Like, no, completely different mate. It’s a teal And I was like, well, okay, I’m going to be like that. .
Tom: . The issue of going to parties with VFX artists.
Mitch: . So you know, that is, it proves the case if you know and aware of these different colors. Like if I go on to duluxe.com and go, oh, I want to click on yellow or then it comes up with honey mustard. Would you know what that looks like off the top of your head? Yeah.
Tom: I’m imagining kind of like an English mustard, but without the black bits in it.
Mitch: Yeah, pretty much. Or do you know what Daffodil white is?
Tom: Is it white?
Tom: Then I am lost.
Mitch: Yep. That’s, there’s another, uh, Lunar Falls,
Tom: That sounds blue
Mitch: Which is a type of yellow… really?
Tom: I dunno, uh, moon. I associate with being blue for some reason.
Mitch: Interesting. Okay. That’s, that’s that, as language would go that’s also quite interesting as well because
Tom: I dunno whethe that comes from like anime or like films. Do you know what I mean? Like the moon kind of being shown is this blue, but that was my immediate thought.
Mitch: Okay. I’ll pick a random color and then you got to tell me what a big primary group is part of.
Mitch: Let me find a, okay, here we go. Um, uh, pressed thistle
Mitch: No, that would be a powerful, my friend.
Tom: Pressed thistle. Right okay. Zero for one. Off to a good start.
Mitch: Uh, okay. Got another, this is a good one. Um, oh wait a minute, this is not good . Copper blush,
Tom: Copper blush. Well, copper is obviously that like reddy-orange blush is something girls put on their face to make it reddy-orange. So
Mitch: That’s bluser mate, but yeah continue.
Tom: Uh, I’m going to go with red.
Mitch: Oh, so close. It was orange.
Tom: Oh, well I’m gonna give myself half a point there. .
Mitch: Okay. Yep. Ooh, these are quite giving away. Okay, here we go. Buckingham
Tom: Is that like a rouge.
Tom: No I’m not thinking of a rouge. Oh, what’s that? Maroon?
Mitch: Nope, it’s not maroon. Ah, uh, obviously it is through royal green. So it is green
Mitch: Yep. Geez, like um,
Tom: I need to step up my color game
Mitch: You do! uh, there’s just so many that I would argue, like if I said gentle fawn at you, what would you say that was?
Mitch: No, that would be a warm neutral.
Tom: Right. I think we need to be starting having chats with these. Do you dulux colour people is, I don’t think they know what they’re on about. They’re giving off the wrong impressions.
Mitch: Yeah. There’s just, there’s so many different things you can put into this this week, our sponsor is a Dulux. All your painting needs, .
Tom: . Well, not really, but hey, if anyone at Dulux is listening and wants to sponsor us, you can reach us on kilo,firstname.lastname@example.org. . Uh, so one of the next things I wanted to talk about was text talks and language in the modern world. And you know how obviously language is still changing very rapidly, even more rapidly now than maybe it used to and something that people kind of talk about a lot, especially now. I remember being younger and like the is like, oh the youngsters talking in that rabble, you know, on their phones again. And you know, there’s a lot of people who think it’s a massive issue to speak in text talk, you know, like LOL, ROFL, these kinds of thing and you know, it’s making such a big impact on the world at the moment. I’m, I was listening to radio one in the car the other day and they had a lexicographer on and this is someone who chooses what words are accepted into the dictionary and they are adding in MILF to the Oxford dictionary.
Mitch: That’s just, that’s just bad though.
Tom: Um, yeah, so I can’t break down the acronym on this episode. I’m pretty sure a lot people know what that is. But yeah, they are adding that into the dictionary because it is used so much, you know, it’s not them deciding what words they want in. They kind of just look at us.
Mitch: I don’t think that should be the gauge of what gets put into the Oxford dictionary though. Cause that’s, surely that’s what the Urban Dictionary is for. You don’t, you don’t, what’s like what gets used a lot?
Tom: But you do cause all the swear words are in there, LOL is in there
Mitch: Yeah. I don’t, I totally think it should be as an official, well LOL shouldn’t be in there cause it’s like a brief, abbreviation acronymL.O.L.
Tom: It is… But I do have a story about why it may not be so bad.
Mitch: Um, yeah. So I get like that maybe that should be an informal dictionary that’s got these kinds of things in. But yeah, I don’t necessarily agree with them putting like MILF dictionary.
Tom: I mean yeah, neither do I. That it is a bit of a stretch. But when a word becomes used so commonly they kind of don’t have a choice.
Mitch: Um, it depends what the definition of and why they’re running the dictionary. If it is a catalog for future generations of popular words that get used, then go for it. But I don’t see it as that.
Tom: No, I don’t think they do either
Mitch: Not sure if that’s my interpretation of what the dictionary is.
Tom: No, I think that the dictionary is something that’s like a current thing is not for future. I mean yeah, you can look back at an old dictionary and see the words that are in there, but it’s a current, you know, lexicon of or list of our lexicon I guess.
Mitch: I see. I can’t see it. The thing is I can’t see like a teacher in a classroom like editing someone’s work and being like Jimmy has been there and, and he’s written oh yeah. And her mom was such a milk and then the teacher’s like circled the word milk and gone, uh, use the dictionary. Find out what you actually meant. .
Tom: . That would be an interesting scenario.
Mitch: It spelled M I L F come on Jimmy!
Tom: It’s got to to have happened somewhere. At some point in the world you’d imagine the chances of it happening are, it must happen at least once.
Mitch: Yeah. So the thing that I’d like, cause this is like language in the modern world and thing that I looked at was arguments that the, our language is de-evolving. So it’s going backwards.
Tom: Okay. That’s interesting, why do you think that?
Mitch: So obviously obviously it’s evolving cause we’re going forward, but it’s evolving into a more simplistic state. So
Tom: What, with the use of text and things like this? Or are you talking about language, as it, by itself?
Mitch: I’m not, I’m not speaking specifically for, for other like uh, countries and other languages. Like, I don’t know, can’t speak them but for English. I found there’s a bit of research done into like the emphasis on learning new words for past generations was higher. Like I’m not sure this is just like a slander at our educational system could be that. Um, but I know that w through when I was growing up and going through the educational system, there wasn’t really much focus about learning new words and knowing what superfluous means and using it correct in a sentence. Whereas I think a lot in older generations and throw back to decades and decades ago, it was a sign of your intellect and your education was much more important. So you would try and learn these words that would be useful because they have a niche word for a niche setting that nowadays you would use four words to describe like you’re using too many words to over objectify a sentence when you go. Okay. Well you just, that sentence was superfluous, which is a paradox .
Tom: In itself.
Mitch: Yeah. There’s that. There’s also going through the text speak emoticons
Tom: Oh that’s true.
Mitch: Some people see emoticons like you said as a bad thing and then adults are like, Ooh, these young kids using these emoticons. Even though my parents definitely use emoticons, got evidence of that. But there’s a whole other sort of group of people that believe that which I’m quite with them, that with the technical advances of the current age that we’re in. Um, our ability to communicate faster and like around the globe, like internationally and like using the worldwide web has evolved that there needed to be a process that evolved with it to convey our emotions better.
Tom: Yeah. As if like facial structures and stuff like that emoji’s are a logical next step.
Mitch: So it’s kind of one of those things that you think that at some point technology that all things are inevitable. So there are certain advances in our history that you would say all things are inevitable. It’s like cars I think is agreed that everything led up to cars. Like cars being invented was always going to happen just because of the way that things progressed and I feel like emoticons is also in that Kettler fish because back in the day you would have to use letters, you would emote more. You explain how you feel. You would have the time to do that. When you write emails, you would have the time and you’d have the space to write that. Then texts came along and it wouldn’t be as easy to communicate your feelings because you were capped. There was like a limit and I know back when I was a child on pears you go or things like
Tom: 10p a text like
Mitch: e that’s less than a tweet. You had to use other things and emmoticons was a way of filling that gap of being able to display how you’re feeling or I know that I’ve come acrop it before online where I’ve said something sarcastically and someone’s been like, you’ve really, really think that that’s disgusting. I’m like, no, it’s a joke. I’m being sarcastic. It’s a joke. And they’re like, oh well you can’t really tell online and certain systems are now being created like emoticons or I think in certain online circles, forward slash s means everything before is sarcasm. And then those sorts of systems are always going to be inevitable because you need ways of displaying that you’re laughing or you’re happy or you’re sad. Like you can’t write. Ha Ha. 20 Times after you read something cause it’s kind of a bit like brilliant cause that’s a waste of bytes and costing you. But if you have an emoticon of a smiling face, it’s quick and it displays the right emotions.
Tom: Yeah so I uh, I came across another like kind of theory for this. So people as you say, like the oldest generation kind of look down at this and think it’s maybe a bad thing. But if you look at the whole existence of humanity as if it were 24 hours, writing only came in at 23:07 for the last 53 minutes of our humanity’s existence we’ve had writing. So then you’ve got to think, well what is writing? Writing is actually very different to speech language. Language is kind of broken down into speech and writing because if you’re writing an essay or something or you’re just writing a not in text form, you know one, writes No one speaks the way they write and no one writes the way they casually speak. If you’re just having a casual conversation, we use like little, like sections of six or seven words when we’re just having a casual conversation. That’s kind of the average for different people. And it’s not how you would write a formal letter or an essay or even just as you’re writing down. And like in the past as you were saying like it was knowing words was a way to show your education or status for example. And people used to go and watch other people just speak for a couple of hours. Well written things. So this is the first time in history that we are being given the opportunity to write like we speak. It’s seems to be a natural progression because before, whilst we had like typewriters and computers and you know other things like that, it wasn’t efficient to write how you spoke. Whereas now this is kind of coming as like an emergent property from texting. So LOL obviously means laugh out loud, but it even in its lifetime it doesn’t anymore. It’s kind of got a much more subtle meaning to it. Like people say, I forgot my email password LOL. That’s not funny. No one’s laughing in that situation. . It’s not like, but that’s something that’s commonly done. Like you don’t say LOL if you’re actually laughing out loud anymore. It’s got a much more subtle meaning to it. And texting language, even just within English is developing its own like speech protocols that languages have themselves. So what I mean by this, LOLl is a pragmatic particle. It’s what linguistics, linguists call a pragmatic article, which is a word or phrase to fill gaps in discourse. So in real life we’d say, you know, just to kind of extend,
Mitch: Um, ummm, ummmm
Tom: Yeah, exactly. LOL is the texting equivalent of, uh, and then, uh, there’s one that I’ve never seen before, but people are using is they write slash literally write the word slash out and it’s what linguistic or linguists call a new information marker. It’s a word or phrase to use to transition topics. So they’ll be talking about something and then they’ll say slash and then they’ll talk about something completely different. Whereas in normal speech we’ll say, um, makes you think, Huh, and then talk about something else. You know, it never actually made you think, but it’s just a way for you to change topic, accepted in an acceptable way. Yeah. And something I found funny, ah, this is all like kind of summed up in a, I’ve sum this up from a Ted talk, by the way. So I’m not going to claim any of this information as being mine, but, so this kind of shows that maybe text talk is coming into its own kind of separate language. So all teenagers and stuff kind of have a semi-bilingual brain because they interchanging in between this text talk and normal speak as if they were bilingual in it. So it’s, there’s also some research to suggest that it’s improving the cognitive ability of teenagers because people who are bilingual have a much more higher cognitive power. And there’s one funny thing that this guy said, so people obviously the old generation always complain about how youth use language. And there was this guy in 63 AD who was complaining about how the youths of the day were speaking Latin and he hated the way that they were using their Latin. Um, obviously he was used to a more traditional Latin and he was like, ah, God, I hate the way these kids are speaking Latin. And what he was actually talking about was what went on to be French. .
Mitch: . Brilliant.
Tom: Yeah. So that was, I thought, quite funny. But yeah, I guess like especially as you were saying with this global communication, my kind of final question for you might be, is it our inevitable destiny that we will end up with a single global language?
Mitch: Um, well, going from what you sat at the start about language is dying if that rate continues then yeah, I think there will be warm, continual language that everything evolves into.
Tom: Yeah. But I think it’d be, it’s very important to hold onto our, you know, language is something that’s so deeply tied to culture and heritage and stuff. So it would be a shamef or the world to lose that. And I know I’m speaking as a Brit who hasn’t learned another language. Um, however, you know, it wasn’t my decision, but like, yeah, uh, I think it would be a shame.
Mitch: You could always learn Tom.
Tom: Oh, I am, I am attempting to, I can’t say it’s going swimming. But I can, I can hold my own in a conversation. So yeah. I don’t know. Learning another language is completely eyeopening. I mean, before I did it, you don’t realize kind of how different other people see the world and yeah. This is really, it’s fascinating. Really. I have a kind of final factoid I, I found, so in the EU, you know, we speak like 27 different languages, um, or something like that. What was, what was the fact that you said at the beginning?
Tom: Okay. 220 in the European Parliament we speak 27 different languages and that’s not very, you know, logical because they spend, okay how much do you reckon they spend on translation each year?
Mitch: Um, oh it’s going to be ridiculously high isn’t it? It’s going to be like, is it in the millions?
Tom: You guess mate.
Mitch: I’m going to say it’s going to be, um, £20 million?
Tom: No, it’s 1 billion.
Mitch: Oh $#%*. Oh, excuse me. .
Tom: . It’s alright I’ll edit that one out again. One Billion Euros. Sorry. 1 billion Euros. I’m not sure the equivalent in pounds. However, 1 billion years a year because they’ve got to cover every, you know, you got it from English to French. And then they got a cover from English to another language and then they’ve got a cover. If you don’t speak either of those languages, the translation from French to your language and English to your language so you can get both of them and times that by 27 oh it just expands immensely. But yeah, I think we are coming up to the hour now if not already over. Um, is there anything you would like to add?
Mitch: Nope uh, I mean just the simplistic facts that can wait for another time.
Tom: All right, fantastic. So thank you everyone for listening and joining us on this lexical adventure that we seem to have found ourselves on. Uh, if you want to out all the latest goings on, you can go to conductscience.com. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter by searching at conduct science. Make sure to drop us a follow. If you have a question, use the #AskConductScience and we will answer your questions on this show. Next week we will be talking about evolution and next Wednesday, which is the the 10th , I will be releasing my interview with Dr. John Boyd, a top psychologist of the world at the moment. And we’re looking at time perspective, so make sure to check that out. It was an incredibly interesting conversation. However, that is it from us this week, so we shall see you guys…. A-next time